Single purpose emergency equipment - help or hinderance?

Discussion in 'All Things Boats & Boating' started by Autodafe, May 7, 2009.

  1. Autodafe
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    Autodafe Senior Member

    In a thread on the multihull forum a side discussion started on ways to improve boating safety in general, and the effectiveness of lifejackets (PFD's) in particular. For some time I've felt that modern trends in safety legislation towards a focus on more equipment haven't been consistently good, so I've started this thread to field some opinions from those with more bluewater experience than myself.

    My position is basically that safety equipment can distract people from actual safety, and is often not effective enough to merit this risk.

    First let me say that I do think PFD's save lives in some circumstances. I'm not advocating anyone not wear one when they want to. I wear one myself when traveling far in an open motor boat.
    However I also think the benefits are exaggerated by people looking for a quick fix for boating fatalities.

    I've expanded my position a bit more below. This is not specifically against PFD's, but any single purpose safety equipment, liferafts, flares, EPIRBS etc. I should also mention that my focus is on adults engaged in blue water cruising.

    I saw a boating safety pamphlet once that had five pages describing all the safety equipment that "responsible" boaters should carry, and one line that said, roughly, "Always operate your boat (and crew) within its limits".
    I feel these priorities should be reversed.
    I don't have the figure to hand but there's some statistic that 90-something percent of boating accidents are preventable.
    Why not focus on prevention? Ideally of course people do both, but at the moment the publicity on safety equipment distracts people from the more important behavioral aspects.

    Safe boating in my book is about paying attention to the boat, the weather, the waves and the crew all the time, day in, day out, and proactively managing as required. Safety equipment may occasionally be helpful, but if it makes sailors even a little bit complacent in their behavior, or if it takes money that could have been spent maintaining or upgrading the seaworthiness of the boat then it seems likely that it costs more lives than it saves.

    People like safety equipment because it gives a perception of safety with very little effort, and it addresses their big fears: eg, "But what if the boat sinks? - we'll all drown!" "No problem - I've fitted a liferaft" ignoring the fact that the probability of a well maintained boat sinking quickly are so small as to be negligible. In terms of probability the $5000 spent on the liferaft would be more effective if you installed an on-board defibrillator for use in case of a heart attack.

    I have attached a pdf of an excellent essay on human risk perception by Bruce Schneier. The author is one of the most respected computing security authorities globally, but this essay applies equally to boating.

    Attached Files:

  2. masalai
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    masalai masalai

    Some is sensible to combine some not -

    I like blow up PFD's as they are not so combersome to wear OFTEN and should be worn always when 'on deck', have a strobe light and mirror and maybe a couple of smoke-flares (individual choice) and one of the new personal EPIRB's.

    A dingy with lots of floatation and an overhead shelter stored on one of the buoyancy chambers, as well as a survival kit, is for me the preferred option as a 'liferaft'.

    STAY with your boat unless it is ACTUALLY sinking or uncontrollably burning. Launch the dingy if you like/must, carry a sharp knife to cut the rope that secures it to your boat and only cut that rope when your floating home is sinking - not before.... there are bound to be resources that can be recovered and its mass may ease the savagery of the water as you will be in the lee....

    But as you say - be forewarned and avoid getting into an adverse situation in the first case:D:D:D:D
  3. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member

    In this you are right on, but the problem with this is most fatalities are the result of just the opposite.

    First let me say, I am retired USCG with 34 years, 25 of which was spent working in Boating Safety, Most of my experience is with boat manufactuers, but I also spent many years investigating boating accidents and working with the CG Auxiliary. You are right, 90 percent of boating accidents are preventable. I have said for years that there is no such thing as an accident, or at least they are very rare. Most boating "incidents" are the result of a series of events and decisions, one or more of which led to the occurrence.

    Anyway, to answer your question; The USCG and other boating safety organizations stress safety equipment for lots of reasons.
    1. For the most part the equipment performs it's function.
    2. Boaters involved in boating accidents probably weren't using very good judgement to begin with.
    3. The accident usually happens suddenly and without warning, that is, no time to put on PFDs or grab other emergency gear.
    4. If everyone paid attention and was a good sailor we would have only a fraction of the accidents that do occur.

    The type of accident scenario you are thinking about, offshore crusing, is actually rare as boating accidents go. The typical accident occurs in a 16 - 20 foot outboard motorboat, in protected waters, on a nice sunny day, and usually in the mid afternoon. Contrary to popular myth, with the exception of personal watercraft operators, the person at the helm is a mid fifties male with 200 or more hours of experience. The most common accident is hitting something or someone, but the most common fatal accident involves falls overboard or capsizing, that is, people are thrown in the water. This almost always happens suddenly and without warning. Almost 100 percent of the time the person who drowns is not wearing a PFD of any kind, but if they had been, they would have survived. More often that not the person who stays with the boat survives, the people who leave it or try to swim to shore die.

    Like deaths with people wearing seat belts, there is a handful of fatals every year where the person was wearing a PFD. Usually they involve alcohol or cold water (hypothermia) or a samll number of cases where the PFD was worn improperly or way to big (they slipped out of it.)

    So the wearing of PFDs is important and can prevent fatalities (not accidents).

    Yes, some people become overconfident and to reliant of safety equipment, particulary GPS and electronic charts and other gadgets. But usually it's just complacency, failure to watch where they are going, going too fast in crowded environments, at night and in rotten weather. Alcohol is estimated to be involved in about 66% of the accidents but this is a hard one to nail down and there are no firm stats on this. But surveys and investigations over many years have shown this to be the most probable percentage.

    As for other safety equipment, often the required amount is simply not enough. For instance fire extenguishers. The USCG requirement is woefully inadequate if a fire lasts more than 30 seconds or is fueled by gasoline. Any boat with an inboard gas engine should have a automatic fixed fire fighting system. It's the only thing that will stop a fire in it's tracks.

    As for PFD's my only beef for years has been that many foreign made PFDs are not USCG Approved, but they are much better than soem US made PFDs. You can use them, as long as you have the required amount of USCG approved PFDs on board. This is a rather silly requirement and should be changed, but I got nowhere on that on.
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  4. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect


    Your point is somewhat analogous to that of bicycle safety.

    In Australia, a country you're familiar with, introduced a law to you must wear a crash helmet when riding your bicycle on the roads. This was, to lower the death and serious injury rates. Well, 10 years after introducing the law what did the stats show...not a decrease, but a slight increase. Why?..because those felt the "safety" aspect had been dealt with, ie I've got a helmet nowt can hurt me now. As a consequence riders were more "risky" in their behaviour, resulting in the slight increase in deaths/serious injury rates, much to everyone's surprise.

    Once a risk has been identified, and then to "mitigate" it, all it does, is just shift that risk to another location, it does not remove it from the system.

    It is the role/responsibility of everyone involved with the sea, beit designer, builder, sailor etc, to be vigilant of all the risks and take appropriate action. However, it must be recognised that in taking such action does not remove the risk entirely since the lower probably risk that was previous ignored more than likely becomes the dominate and higher risk, as a consequence!

    It is all about understanding the whole, cause and effect....not 'just my little bit'
  5. Autodafe
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    Autodafe Senior Member

    I like your thinking on liferafts Mas, a nice solid dingy with plenty of foam and sealed compartments, plus somewhere solid to clip a safety harness sounds a lot safer than a rubber raft, and is actually useful day to day :D

    Ad hoc, I remember the same debate when the bicycle laws came in, but I hadn't checked the recent statistics. It's nice to see (not that accident stats are that nice...) the theory hold true.

    It's a bit of a slippery slope to argue on though, because it's true that in the right circumstances the safety gear could save your life, so an obvious conclusion is that forcing people to carry/wear it must make them safer, right?

    Ike, I agree with you that car seat belts and boat fire extinguishers are a good example of safety equipment not to throw away, but I could argue that if having a fixed detector/extinguisher means that you feel safe installing a petrol/gasoline engine instead of a diesel then it may not enhance safety that much. If you have a leak and a spark on a hot day then no amount of extinguisher is going to stop spontaneous rapid disassembly.

    On the PFD issue, one of the (many!) good things about the USCG is that they publish some decent statistics on Boating Accidents. Yes, they show that only 8.2% of boating drowning victims are wearing PFD's (37 out of 454, excluding children and personal watercraft users, 2007), but the Life Jacket Observation Survey shows that 8.5% of boaters (excluding children and personal watercraft users, 2007) are wearing a PFD at any given time, so the statistical safety of a PFD is arguably very small indeed.

    Statistics are tricky things, and I will admit there could be many factors that are I haven't taken into account that affect the outcome, but there is certainly some food for thought there.

    It's a good point you raise also about the highly variable quality and utility of PFD's. I recall a study a few years ago that found that some common and Aust. approved models failed to support the head out of water, and were very easy to slip out of.
    Last edited: May 9, 2009
  6. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member

    Ad hoc, your bicycle argument would not hold up to scrutiny. You have to look at more factors than just the number of fatalities (outcomes in statistical speak) You have to also know the amount of risk. When the bicycle helmet law was passed, how big was the population of cyclists and how many hours per year did they use their bicycles? The helmet may have decreased the incidence of fatalities from head injuries but it does nothing to prevent accidents.

    The only true number that allows you to measure the effectiveness of an intervention (something that is supposed to prevent the outcome) is exposure. Exposure is measured usually in hours. The unfortunate thing is that in most recreational activities like riding or boating it is almost impossible to obtain even an approximation of exposure. So some other less reliable means of measuring risk is used. In boating it is accidents per 100,000 boats. That we can measure.

    So once you have a means to measure, then the resulting statistic has meaning. For instance when the Federal Boating Safety Act went into affect in 1972 the annual number of boating fatalities was around 1300. Over time that has been reduced to between 600 and 700. But the really significant factor is that in that same time the number of boats and number of boaters (and hence the number of exposure hours) has increased dramatically, approximately 5 times what it was in 1972. So something has intervened to prevent fatalities and accidents.

    No single factor can be attributed to the decline though because multiple rules are in place going all the back to the Motorboat Act of 1940 when inboard gasoline powered boats were required to have ventilation. So what is it? Is it education, engineering (standards for boats, and safety equipment) or enforcement. It really doesn't matter as long as they are all being used and there is a decline in the number of fatalities.

    Autodef; My point wasn't clear. It is that most of these things, such as PFD, fire extenguishers etc, do not prevent accidents. They only prevent the wrong outcome, and only if used appropriately and in a timely manner. A life jacket does you no good whatsoever if you don't have it on. A fire extenguisher does you no good if you don't know how to use it and it is not immediately at hand (the law says readily accessible) and serviceable.

    The fixed system is not there to make you complacent or to give you a false sense of security. Gasoline is extremely dangerous. It's common use in our cars and boats on a daily basis without too many incidents is what make us complacent, just as growing up commonly using 110 V AC makes us complacent. We either forget or are never told just how dangerous this stuff is, until we do something stupid, like a child sticking a metal object in the wall socket.

    The fixed system is no guarantee. Yes if you have a leak the fire is going to continue to be fed and will more than likely reflash. The fixed system is ther to prevent the reflash, by eliminating the oxygen. That is why if you have a fixed system it must also, shut of your engine, shut off your blower, and completely displace the oxygen for long enough that the engine compartment will cool to the point where reflash won't occur.

    My point in all of this is that safety equipment rarely acts alone as a single thing. It is almost always part of a system. Your EPIRB is useless without having programmed in the boat name and other data, the satellite to receive and retransmit it, and the person listening back at the shore.

    A PFD is no good unless, you know how to use it, use it the way it is design to be used, and maintain it. Most people just stow their PFDs in a locker that is out of the way, and don't even remove the plastic bag it came in. They buy cheap 5.99 type II horsecollar lifejacts at Wal-Mart and think, ok I'm all set. That's complacency!

    The other thing that makes us complacent is image. What is the average person's image of boating? The industry has worked hard for decades to promote an image of boating as fun, recreational, and safe. Actually not much wrong with that, but it does make people complacent and plays on the ignorance (not stupidity) of the newcomer to boats. Alcohol is another factor. A long as boats have been around, alcohol and recreational boating have been considered as partners. Unfortunately, like with driving a car, the two don't mix well, but changing the image is extremely difficult.

    Anyway I'm getting off track.
  7. Autodafe
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    Autodafe Senior Member

    Ike, thanks for taking the time to go into this with me, I appreciate the perspective of your experience.
    I'd say we're in agreement on just about every thing in your posts :) The one thing I was questioning was your assertion:

    The point I was trying to drive at was that it is at least conceivable for safety equipment to actually have a negative effect, through increased complacency, or misuse or whatever, so it is important to promote and legislate with a reasonable degree of careful consideration to what the real world results may be.
    Due to the difficulty in collecting stats on every relevant aspect of boating it is very hard to say if this is true for any given item so the key is to select and improve safety initiatives based on results. You also made this point:
    But as I was getting at with the PFD drowning stats, the results for PFD use do not clearly show a benefit.

    For the three years 2005-2007 (these are the only stats I've checked so far) usage rates of PFD's by adult boaters has been almost identical to the proportion of drowning victims wearing PFD's, suggesting no benefit to PFD use. The sample size of drowning victims over the three years is large enough for this to be statistically significant.

    It may be that this is due to some unconsidered factor, such as the quality or maintenance standards of the average PFD, but I feel that this needs to be studied and explained before the blanket advocacy of PFD's is warranted.

    It is interesting to note that there *is* a clear statistical benefit to PFD use for personal watercraft (PWC) users, with a large majority of users wearing PFD's and 70% of PWC drowning victims *not* wearing PFD's. In most areas PFD use is legally required on PWC, and the statistics back that one up.

    I don't really want to make a major stand on the PFD issue though. It irritates me when government appears to make legislation merely to be seen to be "doing something", but I don't see PFD's causing much harm, even if they have equally little benefit. As you point out something is being done right to have reduced boating fatalities so dramatically in the last 35 years.

    Liferafts are another ball game. As Masalai alluded in his post, there are many well documented cases of sailors prematurely abandoning ship in heavy weather and subsequently drowning after being swept from the liferaft. In most cases the boat they abandoned survived. Had they not been carrying a liferaft they would have stayed on board and survived. This is obviously offset by the people who survived by entering a liferaft when their boat went down. Whether liferaft survivors outweigh liferaft victims is something that, in light of the inquests and reports into Fastnet '79, Queens Birthday Storm and Sydney Hobart '98, seems unlikely, particually given the fact that boaters not equipped with liferafts are likely to make a more focused effort on saving their boat, and will not spend precious seconds launching a raft and loading emergency kit, so boats that sink after they were abandoned may not have done so if they were not abandoned.
    If anyone does have statistics on this it would be great to hear from them.

    I hasten to add that I think there are circumstances in which liferafts are a good idea, such as aircraft, and passenger ships, where the majority of people have no possible role in attempting to save the ship, and where the decision to abandon ship is moderated by a large number of professional crew.
  8. marshmat
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    marshmat Senior Member

    Some interesting points have been raised by several contributors.

    To clarify the USCG's PFD usage report mentioned earlier ( ):
    The 8.5% figure is the percentage of adults who reported wearing PFDs in 2007, not including PWC operators.
    Including youth and jet-skiers, the 2007 figure was 21.4%, roughly the same as in previous years.

    From the 2007 boating statistics report, also mentioned earlier ( ):
    The two most significant causes of death were drowning and trauma, with figures:
    Drowning: 49 wearing lifejacket, 427 not wearing lifejacket
    Trauma: 52 wearing lifejacket, 85 not wearing lifejacket

    And consider the boat types most associated with drownings:
    Open motorboat (230 drownings)
    Canoe/kayak (97)
    Cabin motorboat (33)
    Sailing yachts barely even register.

    It should be kept in mind that, on most boats, lifejacket use increases in adverse conditions, such as bad weather, when the risk of getting thrown overboard (or into some hard object) is greatly increased. So it would not be at all surprising to find that in conditions where a lot of people are injured, a lot of them were wearing lifejackets. This doesn't say that lifejackets make you more likely to get hurt- but it does suggest that you're more likely to get hurt in conditions that are bad enough for everyone to want to be wearing lifejackets. A good reason to be extra cautious in bad conditions.

    What these figures, along with those mentioned already in this thread (and those around them in the reports) tell me is that most drownings happen when people are caught by surprise, in boats that are too small to give them time to react. And that, in this type of situation, there is a definite benefit to the lifejacket.

    Another factor to consider (and this might be better discussed by a psychologist than an engineer) is that among the small-boat crowd, folks like myself who almost always wear a lifejacket tend to be pretty cautious, and very aware of safe practices and things like right-of-way laws. Whereas, those who flaut the COLREGS, ignore daymarks and keep an open beer at the helm tend not to wear lifejackets (although the converse is not always true). I haven't seen any formal studies on this connection, but it is very obvious on the busier waterways around here. Our Coasties and cops certainly seem to think so; they very rarely stop to check a small boat whose crew are wearing PFDs and behaving safely, while not wearing PFDs in a small open boat- or not having them obviously close at hand- is often taken as a sign that "this one will get a courtesy inspection".

    Now, on the liferaft issue.

    I don't carry one. (The average 6-man raft is, fully inflated, not much smaller than as my runabout and comes with about the same price tag.) If I were going offshore in a larger boat, I would carry one. And I'd make sure myself and my crew got professional training in how- and when- to use it. I don't think this is a piece of equipment that one should just blindly fit and expect to work when needed- training and maintenance are essential.

    I have been told, by folks who should know, that there are two times when you use a liferaft: One is when you have to step up into it from the deck of your flooded, sinking yacht. The other is when you have a hard time seeing it through the smoke coming out of your burning boat.

    The problem comes when people carry a raft, but don't know how or when to use it. Then it gets deployed unnecessarily, and since nobody knows how to use it properly, it gets swamped anyway.

    Same goes for EPIRBS. Good to have- if you know how and when to use it. A bloody nuisance to the SAR teams if someone sets off an unregistered one because of a minor injury.

    I believe that Autodafe's initial point is valid and correct. That is: The presence of safety equipment is not a 'quick fix' for incidents, and in and of itself will not prevent incidents from occurring. If people want to be ******, no amount of legislation can possibly stop them. Education is the key: education on how to stay out of trouble in the first place, and then on how to use that safety equipment to get yourself- or that boat that hit the rock a mile away- out of a bad situation if one happens.

    About fifteen years ago, Canada mandated a complement of basic safety gear (lifejackets, bailer/pump, anchor (or oars on small boats), distress signals, etc.) on even the smallest boats. Along with requiring small-craft operators to take an exam proving they know at least the important regulations (right of way, buoys, gas filling, etc) and the basics of how to safely operate a boat (cheap, very easy, and good-for-life). Safe-boating awareness has certainly increased. Behaviour on the waterways is improving. The cops are being lenient- they'll charge you for drunken helmsmanship and for not enough lifejackets, but for most other missing-gear infractions, they'll give you a chance to get the gear you need and get out of a ticket. It'll be a while yet before good statistics are available, but so far, things seem to be working out fairly well.
  9. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member

    Auto def and Marshmat: you both make very valid points.

    Regulation should never be a knee jerk reaction and never based on "well we should do something!" That's what the proponents of prop guards would like the USCG to do, but I won't get into that morass. Regulation is supposed to be based on a demonstrated need, in fact that is what the law says.

    (c) In prescribing regulations under this section, the Secretary shall, among other things—
    (1) consider the need for and the extent to which the regulations will contribute to recreational vessel safety;
    (2) consider relevant available recreational vessel safety standards, statistics, and data, including public and private research, development, testing, and evaluation;
    (3) not compel substantial alteration of a recreational vessel or item of associated equipment that is in existence, or the construction or manufacture of which is begun before the effective date of the regulation, but subject to that limitation may require compliance or performance, to avoid a substantial risk of personal injury to the public, that the Secretary considers appropriate in relation to the degree of hazard that the compliance will correct; and
    (4) consult with the National Boating Safety Advisory Council established under section 13110 of this title about the considerations referred to in clauses (1)–(3) of this subsection.

    One of the considerations has to be public input. The laws on proposed regulations require that any Federal agency request public comment on them.

    One of the reasons I retired when I did was because in some cases this was not being done properly and I had serious problems with that. (not by the Office of Boating Safety though, I might add. We were always very rigorous in following the rules for proposed regualtions, too much so in some cases.)

    I agree that in many instances the ready availablity of liferafts makes many people complacent. But even more so the ready availability of rescue makes some downright stupid. You are right that very often the abandoned yacht is found later doing just fine, but the people hit the panic button and get hoisted off or taken off by a ship, when if they had just known how to ride out the storm they would have got beaten up a bit but survived. Frankly this is one of my pet peeves and one the USCG has wrestled with for years. Strictly from a cost standpoint. That is, how much do we spend on unnecessary SAR cases? The need to respond has never been in doubt and never will be. It's the aftermath that is being questioned.

    As for false SOS, that can net you a very hefty fine and has. You better be able to prove it was unintentional or not under your control. It costs thousands of dollars per hour to launch a helo or boat and the uSGC and other rescue services don't take kindly to false alarms.

    As for PFDs the biggest benefit to PFD's is two fold. Children and Hypothermia. Children rarely know what to do in an emergency ( although I have met some who would put adults to shame) and requiring children to wear a pfd is necessary, but it is absolutely critical to make sure it is the right size and put on correctly. It always astounds me how many adults drown trying to rescue a child, whereas if the child had on a PFD they would both be alive.

    The other benefit to the PFD is survival in cold water. Yeah sure, if you are going out in really cold water (like Alaska or the North Atlantic), you should probably have a survival suit, but few recreational boaters do. A PFD can make the difference between death and survival for soneone who gets hypothermia in the water. Hypothermia brings on disorientation and eventually loss of conciousness. A great example of disorientation was the 4 football players who went in the water off florida. The only survivor was the one guy who had on his lifejacket and who stayed with the boat. The others actually removed their pfds after they had been in the water a while. That is a direct result of disorientation from hypothermia. Usually though that doesn't happen (I mean taking it off) Usually the person passes out. AT that point the pfd and imminent rescue is all that's going to save them.

    Also the point that safety equipment doesn't always prevent accidents is true. Accident prevention is only achieved through education, experience and constant vigilance by the boat operator. A touch of enforcement is also very helpful. Safety gear mitigates the outcome and hopefull prevents a bad outcome.

    Yes, you are right. When the USCG or other water cops see people doing the right stuff they usually pass them by. Why waste your precious time and tax dollars on people who know what they are doing? They look for the people who are doing something risky or stupid, like drinking, bow riding, running at high speed in crowded areas, and so on. Overloading is a big one. Of course, outright breaking the law is also a biggee.

    "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." R. A. Heinlein
  10. Autodafe
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    Autodafe Senior Member

    There's not much for me to quibble with in the last two posts! :D

    Definitely agree with you on the question of unnecessary rescues. How to discourage people from spurious callouts without stopping others from signaling early enough in a real emergency is a thorny problem. Fortunately not my problem :) I guess that as you both point out education is key for any new equipment.

    Where there is a very clear evidence based rationale for particular equipment - such as PFD's for Children and PWC users, or oars in a outboard powered dink then legislation is a valid option in my view. Otherwise I'm a big fan of *informed* choice.

    Continuing on the life raft issue:

    I personally wouldn't carry a life raft offshore (unless some better evidence comes along before I head out) but as long as it's not mandatory then people making different choices is fine by me. I heard a rumour that Chile was talking of mandatory carriage of liferafts by cruising yachts though...

    My main reason (besides having other plans for that money :)) is that when disaster does strike I don't want to faced with a tough decision about what to do with those vital first minutes:

    "Do I launch the liferaft and load supplies, or do I try to save the boat?"

    Short handed cruising I feel it is reasonable to think there may not be time to do both, nor to decide which is the better option. By the time the life raft is inflated and lashed to emergency bags, water bottles and the boat, the fire may well be beyond control, or the water may well be over the floorboards, with no hope of locating the hole. Seconds count.

    Obviously the ideal solution is to carry a raft, but focus on saving the boat till the last minute, and then head for the raft. However, I know that if the raft is on board, all the time I would be thinking "Is this the last minute?, do I have everything ready near the raft? What could tangle the raft as the boat goes down? How long will it take to inflate and load? Is it time now?" when I should be focusing entirely on the task at hand.

    So I make my decision to stay with the boat before leaving port. There doesn't seem to be enough data to be able to say if this is a good choice, but there isn't enough to say it's a bad choice either. I'll take my lumps as long as it's clearly *my* choice.

    Life is a risky business (historically with a 100% fatality rate), with sailing being a relatively safe part of it. As long as people are given access to up-to-date education and information resources I think the more that capable adults learn to assess their own risks and work out their own preferred mitigation them the better.
    Last edited: May 12, 2009
  11. marshmat
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    marshmat Senior Member

    Hard to argue with that :)

    I'm not sure what other countries recommend regarding this issue. In Canada, the Radio Aids to Marine Navigation provides some guidance, which our Coast Guard says is given in accordance with IMO Circular MSC/Circ.892 and ICAO/IMO IAMSAR Manual v3. Not that I care where they got it from, it seems prudent:
    - Mariners should immediately notify the Coast Guard of any situation which is or may be developing into a more serious situation
    - This allows SAR authorities to start planning for various contingencies without actually launching a rescue effort
    - This notification places no obligations upon the ship master except to advise the Coast Guard when the situation has been corrected

    In other words: If things are getting hairy but there's no need for a Mayday or Pan-Pan call, call the Coasties on whatever radio they're monitoring and let them know where you are, what you are, and what situation you're in. They won't actually commit any resources until you call "Mayday", but if you do, they'll already know the situation and will have had time to plan for it. And if you straighten it out yourself, no harm done, they just chalk it up as a planning drill.
  12. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member


    And they will know where you are. For about a decade the USCG has been attempting to "take the Search out of Search and Rescue". What really costs and takes a lot of time is the search. If you can eliminate the search you save money, save time and save lives.

    By all means call the CG and tell them what is going on and keep them posted. Then if you do say Mayday, they can come right to you.

    Autodef you are right. Sailing is relatively safe. Most people who go into sailing realize the need to take a course and learn how to sail. So they have a leg up when they start. Small sailboats, when capsized, are usually easily righted and sailed away, and no one gets hurt. Collisons between sailboats are at slow speeds compared to power boats and usually some damage occurs but usually no one gets hurt. Plus most sailing is done on prtotected waters with other sailboats nearby and rescue is imminent (Thank God for that. Been there, done that.) Larger sailboats are usually self righting (with some noticeable exceptions) and can be pumped or bailed out and sailed home, if necessary under reduced or a jury rig.

    These kind of things simply don't happen with power boats and the results are often catastrophic.

    I think current life raft technology is remarkable. When I was growing up liferafts were pretty simple and crude, and having to go into one was almost riskier than staying with your boat. It was one of those, the cure is worse than the disease, kind of things. But as you said perhaps the ready availability is cause for becoming complacent. But if it were my boat and I was going offshore I would want one, and an EPIRB, and a SAT phone, a some other modern gadgets. That doesn't mean I wouldn't bother to learn how to do without these things.

    Last but not least is practice. I learned the hard way the value of drilling. I the military you drill and drill and drill again until you can do it in your sleep or the black of night with no light. Few boaters do this. Cruising sailors are better at it, some even practicing man over board and abandon ship drills. Research and experience has shown that in an emergency people almost always do what they were trained to do. If they weren't trained they don't.
  13. Capn Mud
    Joined: Apr 2008
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    Location: Jakarta

    Capn Mud Junior Member

    Safety Managemegment Hierarchy

    The safety risk management hierarchy of controls used in workplace health and safety systems is relevant here for the very reasons some are outlining.

    For boating (and specifically the issue of the boat sinking and people drowning) the hierarchy in order of priority would go something like.
    1. Elimination of the Hazard (Most effective): While the nature of boating means you can't remove boats from water and still be boating you can maintain your boat well, monitor weather conditions etc and if too high a risk avoid going out where that is possible.

    2. Substitution of Hazard: Sail on land? Not really possible and anyway it introduces other risks of injury.

    3. Engineering Control: Safety rails etc to stop people falling overboard. Are they in good condition and will be effective when called on (I myself have twice gone overboard due to an ineffective safety line - lesson learned)

    4. Adminisitrative Control: Safe operation procedures and training. The lore of good seamanship has long been a resource that has saved people's lives when appropriately understood and implemented.

    5. Personal protective equipment (Least effective): PFDs, safety harnesses and even life rafts probably come into this category.

    The point being that this reinforces points made in this thread that safety equipment, particularly PFDs, are by no means the be all and end all of boating safety.

    Last edited: May 13, 2009
  14. Autodafe
    Joined: Jun 2008
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    Location: Australia

    Autodafe Senior Member

    That sounds like the way things should work Marshmat. A lot of the SAR work near where I am (Sthrn Tasmania) is bushwalking (hiking) rescues, where it is common for bushwalkers have no training, no radio or sat phone, and the EPIRB to be unregistered.

    Ike, absolutely on board with the value of practice. "Drills are skills" as they tell us in the military.

    I also really like that way of putting the point across Capn Mud, as this is a design forum a lot of the members must be using the hierarchy of controls every day :)

    It's pretty impressive to have gone over twice from dodgy lines, it puts home the value of routine maintenance checks!

  15. Ike
    Joined: Apr 2006
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    Location: Washington

    Ike Senior Member

    Good sysnopsis Capn'

    I would add education and training. It is far too easy today to get in a boat and sail away knowing nothing! Make the newbees get an education. At least the basics of safety, the nav rules, basic navigation and seamanship.

    When I went to USCG Boot camp, before we were allowed to step in a boat we had to learn to tie six basic knots (Egad I can only remember four!), learn the terminology and basic safety stuff like how to propely wear a life jacket, what do all those damn lights mean, etc.

    A for instance: the NFL guys who died an one survived. If they had simply been trained not to anchor by the stern (extremely dangerous in a small boat with a transom) they may be alive today.
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