Recently we had higher winds at Lake Pleasant than on an average race day and two people landed in the water after a knockdown under spinnaker. The water temp was only about 60 degrees.
The remaining crew members struggled to get the boat back under control and the boat moved away from the two crew in the water fairly quickly. Two competitors trailing them offered assistance, but the people in the water, trying not to interrupt racing and thinking that the Mark Set Boat would be there any second to pick them up, declined assistance and the competitors sailed on.
As it turns out, the Mark Set Boat crew was about as far away as they could be at the time, essentially anchored because they were dealing with a mark. It took them several minutes to free themselves from their situation before they could get underway.
By the time that the Mark Set Boat was able to find the people in the water, about 15-20 minutes had passed and those in the water were showing first symptoms of hypothermia. Once they were safe on board, they were given some blankets and taken to Pleasant Harbor Marina where they were transported to the Fire Department. They were treated and released and everyone was okay.
After this incident, the Commodore called a meeting of the Fleet Captains and we conducted a Safety Review. The major point was that the group really wanted to reiterate to everyone is this:
If there is someone in distress, don’t just ask if they need assistance. Stop and help, even if that means you just monitor the situation and communicate what’s going on to Race Committee and, if necessary, the local authorities. If you find yourself in distress, accept the first help available. You can’t assume any more is coming.
In the RRS, safety is literally Rule 1. It states that “A boat or competitor shall give all possible help to any person or vessel in danger.” In an emergency situation, you’re obligated to render assistance to someone as long as you can do so without endangering your own vessel.
So, when someone goes overboard or there’s a vessel in danger, it is the responsibility of the closest vessels to render assistance. Often that is another competitor. If you are a competitor providing that assistance, you are eligible to request redress after the incident. If you are the boat receiving assistance, under Rule 41 (a) you would not be penalized for accepting that assistance.
Finally, as a skipper, you are ultimately responsible for the safety of yourself and your crew. You have to make the right decision for you and your crew, given the totality of the situation. That includes wind, sea state, temperature, equipment, crew experience, vessel capabilities, etc. We see this reflected in Rule 4, which says that “The responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone.”
As we approach our biggest event of the year, let’s all take a moment, review our own safety procedures with our crew, and have a good time, safely.