As the yacht club worries about the safety of laser sailing and generally tries to improve on safety, I am struck with how simple safety seems to be in the context of high school sailing. I was thinking about the most important changes required to make yacht club sailing safer, and here are the top five.
- Always wear a life jacket – on docks, in row boats, in sailboats, in rescue boats, everywhere on the water.
- Wear the proper clothing. Sailors must stay warm in the boat or in the water. No cotton except in July and August. Wetsuits, drysuits, polypropylene layers, nylon, fleece, spray tops and pants, foul weather gear and combinations of these provide a myriad of good choices. Cold water is a serious safety hazard that is frequently underestimated; it literally leaves you gasping for breath and rapidly saps your strength.
- Practice and master capsize recovery. Knowing how to right your boat and having the skill to do it makes capsizing an inconvenience rather than a catastrophe.
- Have skilled rescue boat operators. Training, testing, and practicing are invaluable. Being able to maneuver a motor boat in a rescue operation takes more skill and know how than just being able to drive a boat.
- Practice rescues. Nothing develops skill like practice, and it seems unreasonable to think that people who do not practice rescuing boats and boaters would be any good at it
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against using radios, cell phones, life rings, lines, towing harnesses, or any other of that good stuff. It’s just that none of those made the top five list.
Several observations about the top five list are relevant here:
- In high school sailing, all of these things are mandatory and automatic. No one – even a grownup – goes on the water without a life jacket. Sailors must wear clothing in which they can capsize and remain reasonably comfortable and functional. Sailors practice capsize recovery before they practice sailing. Rescue boat operators are certified (usually by at least US Sailing), and we practice continually by being on the water so much. By doing the five most important things, we keep it relatively simple and have an impeccable track record (knock on wood) without the extra hands or better equipment that would be nice if public school financing permitted.
- All of these things are improvements in our habits and in ourselves. Enhancing safety is not primarily a matter of better equipment, but it is a matter of improving our own behavior and skills. We are the safety equipment we have been looking for.
- Laser sailors regularly do the first three things on the list, the ones that the sailors can do for themselves. Doing these things make them far safer than sailors who don’t do them.
- Rescue requirements are drastically different for the sailors who are prepared by doing the first three things than they are for those who are not prepared. The prepared sailors need rescue support only for a freak accident, while unprepared sailors can get into serious trouble very quickly even with the most able rescue crew.
Yacht club planners should consider all this when formulating safety plans.