Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Yacht Rolls, Crew Tossed In Water, Life Or Death?

Bavaria 38 Takes A Whipping

Lives Are In Peril

Many non-sailors can't envision what happens when a boat rolls over.  Some equate it to what most everyone has seen, a car wreck.  Upside down cars don't favor well, for the vehicle or for the occupants.  There is always the exception.  I assisted with a rollover on Colorado's treacherous I-70 descent into Denver.  After a pickup flipped in front of me and came to rest on it's top, I was able to coach the terrified driver out of the shattered passenger side window.  She barely had a scratch on her.  The State Patrol  arrested her for D.U.I.

Getting back to boats that do the same thing.  It is not the same thing, really.   Nearly any boat that stays upside down for long enough will sink. While a power boat is more like a vehicle in that it tends to stay in whatever position it is in, right side up or wrong side up, until a massive force changes it's position in the water, a sailboat rarely stays upside down for long.  The nature of the beast simply does not allow for a boat with a keel as heavy as most sailboats have, to stay inverted.

In the above video, the boat suffers a knockdown but does not appear to have become inverted.  A power boat that is tossed onto it's side is probably destined for 180% roll to inverted.  Sailboats tend to right themselves.  They actually have an index to measure how stable a boat is.

Safety Harness, photo Piplers of Poole

I found the video Velero Vocado En Zumaia "Sailboat Flips In Zumaia" difficult to watch for very personal reasons.  I was advised in advance the boat and the crew all survived and it was still hard to watch.  On the one hand, it was reassuring to see the Bavara 38 right itself.  On the other hand, it was difficult to watch what appears to be a combination of a crew incapable of rescuing their mates tossed into the churn, along with a crew that was woefully unprepared and therefore failed to assist their friends who were tossed into the water.
Many changes have occurred since the Fastnet Race of 1979 and the Syd-Hobart Race 1998 that cost the lives of crews and in which several boats sank.  Crew have lost their lives using prudent safety equipment of the time.  In those days, a tether was used to keep the sailor with the boat.  Unfortunately, the tethers lacked a quick release device.  With significant weight on the tether, they were unable to get either end of the strap to release.  A crew who knows they are in for a heavy swell or heavy weather should always be tethered to the boat with a tether that has a quick release device at the sailor's end.  When I go into heavy weather, which is not often, and when there is a single person on deck regardless of conditions, my rule is, you tether onto the jacklines.

1979 Fastnet Race Official Report

Tethering by itself is not enough.  If the tether allows the sailor to be tossed into the water so that his hands are under the water, many experts, because they have been there, say it is impossible for the sailor to get his hands and body free of the water and pull himself to safety unless the boat comes to a stop.  The better practice is to rig the jacklines tightly at the center of the boat, with a jackline that will leave the sailor suspended at least partially out of the water.

Dual Release Nuatic Expo

Crew should always be prepared for a man-over board emergency.  In the video above, it does not appear they were prepared, or if they were prepared, that they took any action.  Part of it is, they couldn't do much or the Bavaria 38 might have been rolled again.  Part of it may be crew training and the availability of ready to throw man-over-board flotation devices.  Most people think of man-over-board as a single person in the water.  As the above video shows, it is sometimes several crew who find themselves swimming.  More than one flotation device may be needed.  Preferably, the flotation device has a line attached to it to at least keep the swimmers with the boat, which is easily spotted, rather than afloat somewhere in the water, where bobbing heads may not be visible to rescue craft.  A well prepared crew is already wearing a harness with an inflatable flotation device.  They are thinking ahead, knowing rescue may never come, and staying with the boat is their only chance for survival.

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