May 1, 2012

Is Sailing Safe?

The fate of the Aegean might be found in her SPOT track
 There’s a stark image available on the internet right now that shows what most likely occurred to the sailboat Aegean when it disappeared at 1:30 am April 28 while competing in the Newport Beach to Ensenada Yacht Race. The image shows the race boat’s route as it motored in a straight line then slammed into the unlit rocky cliffs of North Coronado Island at 6.5kts. Several hours later a debris field and bodies were found.

Those who don’t sail are wondering how these things can happen—and so close in the wake of the tragic loss Low Speed Chase there are even people questioning if offshore racing is actually safe. Meanwhile keyboard sailors all over the world are speculating about the how’s and why’s of two accidents that simply shouldn’t have occurred—all while mourning the loss of nine of our own.

Sailing is safe. I’ve been telling Maia’s grandparent’s this for years—and statistics back me up. People killed or injured while sailing barely make a blip on either the Canadian Red Crosses’ Boating Immersion and Trauma Deaths in Canada or The US Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics. If you want to know who dies on the water—it’s wakeboarders who drink, are male and who are between the ages 18-24. Not middle aged sailors.

Perhaps it’s because devastating accidents like these are so uncommon that these two have become international news. Or perhaps it’s because they are so inexplicable—how do two boats, both with experienced crew end up destroyed and with multiple fatalities?

As details still come in—it looks like the tragedies have less to do with inexperience and more to do with the over-confidence that comes with expertise. When you do something often it’s easy to become complacent—you skirt the surf line just a little closer than you should, or perhaps you take a look at the chart plotter, zoom way out to your destination and set the waypoint without ever seeing that smudge of solid island on your route. Then you turn on the autopilot and enjoy a beautiful night…

Almost every sailor can tell you about a moment when they realized they've charted a course directly over a reef, or how in a moment of distraction they typed the wrong waypoint into an autopilot and found themselves aiming at land. Or maybe they went forward without clipping their harness on and just missed being swept away by a wave, or maybe their hat was knocked off as they failed to duck when the boom came crashing past.

Sailing, like life, is a series of near misses punctuated by tragedy.

Accidents happen. And despite radar, AIS, and chartplotters, autopilots and EPIRBs, which should make us safer, we can become too dependent on them and make mistakes. And so now we mourn the loss of our fellow sailors and do our best to be mindful. Sailing is only as safe as we make it.


Michael Robertson said...

Yep, and reminds me of a pilots' saying: "Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous, but to an even greater extent than the sea, is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect."

Doug and Carla Scott said...


Diane, Evan, Maia and Charlie the cat said...

So heart breakingly sad--especially if it does turn out to be a stupid error. somehow that makes it worse.

Jerry Brady said...

Boat accidents can be very tragic, and many lives can be wasted in just one mistake. I heard a lot of news regarding such tragedies, and they are totally heartbreaking. It’s really sad to hear that the respondents and rescuers are not that quick in rescuing the victims, despite the fact that they were well trained for that. Well, it’s true that accidents happen, that’s why everyone must be mindful and careful all the time. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

Jerry Brady @ Lambert And Williams