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The Sailing Safety Tether Issue

By April 28, 2012

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Two weeks after the terrible Farallones sail race disaster that took the lives of five of eight sailors aboard the sailboat Low Speed Chase after an unexpected wave washed six crew overboard into cold water, Byron Chong, one of the three survivors has issued his account of what happened - to correct some inaccuracies in news reports and to share his thoughts about what is needed to prevent such tragedies.

Chong concludes that "it is obvious to me now" that he and other crew members should have been tethered to the boat to prevent being washed overboard - where one drowned and four more were lost at sea. And it's not even an issue of personal choice, he argues, because if any crew member goes overboard, the entire remaining crew is also put at risk because by the actions they will now have to take to attempt to rescue that crew.

Two days later, the Coast Guard district responsible for that Northern California area called for an offshore racing stand-down to review safety issues in offshore sailboat races. US Sailing has also begun an independent review of safety procedures. As terrible as the Farallones tragedy was, perhaps some good will come from this increased safety awareness.

But it would be a mistake if the sailing public concluded that it is only offshore racing or sailing that carries such risks. Statistically speaking, most fatal accidents occur during common, everyday situations in relatively calm water when the sailor is not particularly feeling at risk. In other words, safety is not an issue only when offshore or in big waves - it's something every sailor should think about every time he or she gets on a boat.

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