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Archive for the month “March, 2016”

How Safe Are Boating Safety Harnesses? *Updated*

Spotted an article from an English boating magazine that attempts to answer a very important question for early-season boaters:

Is it REALLY safer to be tied to your boat?

Practical Boat Owner magazine in England did some informal testing of safety harnesses and tethers under rough water conditions following the drowning of a racing captain during an offshore race.  While the captain went overboard wearing both a life jacket and a tethered safety harness, and the crew immediately started recovery operations, he drowned before they were able to recover him.

There have been several similar incidents in British waters over the past couple years, so PBO decided to have their gear test team do some realistic testing using a MOB (Man OverBoard) dummy and a 38 ft racing/cruising sailboat in a fresh wind and choppy seaway.

Their findings were:

  • If sea conditions or safety considerations are such that you need to wear a tether — make it a short one.
    • No more than 800mm (~32-inches)
    • You want the tether to keep you on deck — or at least to keep your head and upper torso out of the water.
    • If someone goes overboard while tethered, you need to stop the boat ASAP.
      • Any speed over three knots is EXTREMELY dangerous to the person in the water.
        • On a long tether, there is serious danger of the casualty being drug underwater like a diving fishing lure.
        • On a short tether, there’s danger that the casualty’s body will be battered against the hull.
      • For solo/shorthanded voyages, may need to rig a “deadman” release on the main & head sails.  Being in the water and watching your boat sail away without you has got to be a really bad feeling.
        • This is a place where a yawl or ketch rig could shine.  If you could have a release on the main and headsail sheets, the mizzen would cause her to point her nose right into the wind — if you were running close-hauled.
        • This is also why dinghy sailors do not cleat down/tie off their sheets.  If they go overboard, they want the sheet to run free through the blocks, allowing the dinghy to heave-to by herself.
          • Solo dinghy sailors sometimes rig a line to the masthead with an eye splice that they put over their hand, so they can pull her over on her side if they fall in.
  • Recovery – even with multiple crew members working on it – is a problem.
    • Most effective method they found – on a crewed sailboat in a seaway – was to use a spare headsail halyard clipped into the safety tether clip to hoist the casualty back on board.
      • On a trawler-type motor-yacht, you could use the tender davit and winch to lift a heavy casualty out of the water.  (It doesn’t have to be big fella – like me – to be an unwieldy burden to lift out of the water.  Especially if he’s unconscious and/or has been in the water long enough to be suffering hypothermia.)
    • On a motor vessel, you would need to consider where you would want to mount a boarding ladder, so as to keep the casualty completely clear of the stern and propeller(s).
      • Want one on both sides, so the MOB doesn’t have to try to maneuver around a bobbing bow or stern (and turning propellers) in a chop.  Having a few tons of boat come down on your head will definitely ruin your day.  At that point, getting chewed up in the props is pretty much just adding insult to injury.
    • UPDATE:

      Yachting magazine published the portion of the results that pertain to MOB recovery to a motor yacht in a seaway.  They confirmed my assumptions that leading the casualty to the stern would be a bad choice.

      • Yachting also profiled the use of the Markus Rescue Net, a Finnish invention made of heavy webbing (www.markusnet.com).
        • The Finnish have determined through their ocean rescue experience that it is better to hoist a casualty suffering hypothermia in the horizontal position — which inspired the development of the Markus Rescue Net.
      • US Sailing posted an in-depth report on the man overboard recovery testing that lists the data developed during the testing — for those who want the detailed facts & figures from the testing.
    • Solo/short-handed sailors definitely want a boarding ladder they can get to once the boat heaves to.  A fold-down that can be reached from the water on the stern may fill the bill. Let a line trail from it if it’s not reachable from the water when the boat is in a seaway.  Your life may depend on being able to get yourself back aboard.
      • My thoughts on boarding a pitching motor yacht over the stern in a seaway apply equally to sailboats – especially the lighter racer-cruisers.  It all depends on the boat’s motion in rough water.  May want to consider a rope ladder amidships that you can roll up and tie off with a rope that dangles far enough down the side to be reached from the water?  Getting bonked on the head with a few tons of sailboat can’t feel any better that getting thumped by a trawler’s swim platform . . .
    • Self-recovery appears to be problematic, and was something PBO did not test, as they were working with a dummy.
      • The author did recommend that anyone wearing a tether have a webbing cutter stored on their life vest, so they can free themselves from the tether, if necessary.

There was an incident up in the San Juan Islands like this when I was a kid.  They were a yachting couple who had never done a MOB drill.  He went over the side in rough weather while wearing a harness and life vest, and she tried to tow him to the beach.  She knew so little about operating the boat that she just ran it right up on the beach.  Unfortunately, he was dead long before they hit the beach.

A few thoughts in closing:

  1. Every person on the boat needs to at least know how to point her into the wind and bring her to a stop.  Once the way is off, you can work out how to get the casualty back on board.
  2. Whenever you choose to go into a hostile environment – and any marine environment is always at least potentially hostile to human life – you need to prepare for whatever incidents may occur.
  3. Sometimes, the only help that will be available is what you are able to provide.

New Photos of Joshua Slocum Uncovered in an Old Family Photo Album – SWIZZLE MEDIA

Source: New Photos of Joshua Slocum Uncovered in an Old Family Photo Album – SWIZZLE MEDIA

Bill Springer at the SWIZZLE MEDIA blog has been researching some photos of Joshua Slocum and his famous sloop, Spray taken by his wife’s great-grandfather in Hyannisport, Massachusetts in 1906.   They appear to be previously unpublished.  They show Spray both docked and under sail in the harbor – as well as one of Captain Slocum striking a pose while seated on the mainsail’s gaff at the dock.

For those of you who have no clue as to what I’m blathering on about, Joshua Slocum is the first recognized private American long-distance voyager.  He sailed an old oyster sloop he was given (the Spray) around the world alone.  Now, this was before the days of GPS, Loran, RADAR, ePRBs or any other form of electronic aids to safety & navigation.  It was also before the days of auxiliary engines for small boats, water makers, freeze-dried foods, etc.  He did it old school.

Joshua Slocum has been the inspiration for many sailors who decide to strike off on their own for the far horizons.

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