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WILL HELMETS BECOME AS COMMON AS LIFEJACKETS?
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The Publisher
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Oct 12, 2011, 10:24 AM

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By Elaine Bunting, Yachting World

A helmet saved me the weekend before last. If it didn't save my life - and quite possibly it did - it definitely saved me from a serious head injury and very likely a brain injury. Most people don't make a 100% recovery from a brain injury. I took a major hit while cycling, but more of that in a bit.

Helmets are so well adopted by cyclists and horseriders that it seems slightly shocking to see someone riding bareheaded.

They are fast becoming accepted in other high risk sports, such as skiing, and are beginning to be seen in sailing. Think of the Extreme 40 circuit, or the new America's Cup AC45s: everyone has to wear a helmet to protect themselves on these fast-paced, capsize-prone multihulls.

There's a good argument for wearing a helmet on a smaller boat as well. According to the Coastguard and RNLI, being hit by the boom is one of the most frequent causes of injuries on board.

The problem with wearing a helmet, though, is that in normal civilian sailing circles no-one else does. Let's face it, if you turned out for weekend racing looking like Wallace from Wallace & Gromit you'd get some funny looks.

One sailor has come up with a great answer. This is Tom Tait, and he has produced a sailing helmet that looks like a yachting cap. -- Read on: http://tinyurl.com/YW-101011


The Publisher
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Oct 12, 2011, 10:25 AM

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From Tom Arthur, New Zealand:
I was interested to read Elaine Buntings article on Helmets in issue 3445. In NZ approximately five of us Europe Dinghy sailors wear helmets. These boats have very low booms and if you forget to ease the vang before a gybe there is no room between the side deck and the boom.

While practicing repeated gybes alone one day in fresh winds, I made the mistake of forgetting to ease the vang. As I dived across the boat I took the full force of the boom onto the top of my head. Fortunately my helmet took the force and there was no injury to me, but without the helmet I may well have ended up unconscious in the middle of that lake without another boat in sight.

Helmets also keep your head warm in rain or wind and are not in the least uncomfortable. We use a motley assortment of old bike, kayaking and even a cricket helmet.


From Paul Newell:
On the topic of whether helmets will become as common as lifejackets (Sbutt 3445), this is something I've been considering doing for some time now. There a several personal reasons for wearing protective head gear:

1) We have an old Tornado cat that still has some spectacular turns of speed and coming up all standing with a nose-dive at 20kts+ has all the potential for personal injury.
2) We have an old Half Tonner with a very low boom that could hit the cockpit crew (I know I could lift the clew but that causes an even bigger problem with the runners).
3) Our foredeck hand has been hit more than once with the head sail clew ring during the tack (He's a slow learner!!)
4) We have a RIB that is capable of close to 40kts.
5) I have now lost too much hair. I no longer have the benefit of getting any pre-warning that I'm about to be hit on the head or for that matter walking into something. Now that I have to wear glasses for close work some of the peripheral vision is impaired when using the wretched things.

One of my sons used to wear a "Gath" hat for wake boarding. My recollection is that they looked something like the helmets that the BMX cyclists use and very similar to the hats the Extreme 40's use i.e. a snug fit without too much bulk. Any head impact is probably not as severe as a motorcycle crash and the padding can be proportionately less.

I'm sure that others have a different list of reasons but it comes down to one thing: "Where do I get one of these hats from?"


The Publisher
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Oct 12, 2011, 2:02 PM

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From Ian Morrison:
Regarding the story about helmets in Scuttlebutt 3445, anyone who is concerned about the appearance of wearing head protection while sailing should consider a bump cap insert for a baseball cap. Go to Amazon and type “bump cap insert” into the search line. Options exist for all wallets. My wife has been wearing one for years (no-one has noticed!)


From Seymour Dodds:
On the topic of helmets for sailing safety, how many is it that get bonked by the boom? The U.S. Coast Guard (Dept of Homeland Security) publishes annual accident statistics, but unfortunately they don’t have a boom bonking stat: http://www.uscgboating.org/statistics/accident_statistics.aspx

Based on 40 years of boating accident reports, they say to wear lifejackets and - the big one - don’t drink alcohol. Not a one boom bonking death in last year’s 23 sail-related deaths. That’s cruising, racing and big ocean deliveries. Wanker, pros and wannabees.

Still helmet hustlers could argue yacht racing accidents are under-reported. Only the insurance companies know for sure, but the Machiavelli in me has a sneaky solution.

Usually the S.I.s say “all boats must obey State and Federal laws." I know of a compound fracture finger at this year's Big Boat Series which clearly needed something beyond first aid, which also means an accident report was required within 48 hours. If it was not filed you could protest and get the boat tossed. Boy I’d love to see the US Sailing Appeal on that one!

Helmet manufacturers should support their claims with data - not anecdotes. And with the “Wear Helmets” pennant up just below the “wear lifejackets” flag, those who need advertising revenue could move on to another issue to drum up reader response.


The Publisher
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Oct 14, 2011, 6:25 AM

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From Gary Wood:
Regarding helmets, 15 or so years ago we were in a Sloop Tavern race (a true "beer-can") in Seattle. One of my crew was Jim Williams. Jim and I had sailed together for many years - on Merlin in the Vic-Maui, on his Cal 40 Blue Marlin, on my ¼ tonner, and on my present cruising boat. As we approached the leeward mark we saw a guy in the water who had fallen off his boat, with another boat picking him up. I went a bit by the lee to go around them, and announced to the crew that we might be jibing soon. Jim didn't hear me, and the boom smacked him in the head. As he laid on the deck bleeding like a just caught salmon, he said "It's OK, it only happens to me every 30 years!" My comment back was something about it was the first time we were leading, and he got his head in the way of the boom. A helmet would have helped that evening!




The Publisher
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Oct 14, 2011, 6:25 AM

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As a teen I knew of a crew on a local boat die from a boom-related head injury. I think about it often when the boom is not stable. And let's not forgot how noted sailor Bruce Goldsmith was knocked out of his J/29 into Lake Erie four years ago, dying from a gybing boom blow to the head. This past summer, deaths in the Chicago to Mackinac Race were attributed to blunt force trauma to the head. As we learn more about the after effects of head injuries, a helmet doesn't seem that extreme an idea.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt


The Publisher
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Oct 16, 2011, 9:50 AM

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From Bill Elmer:
A few years back, thanks to a window seat on a cross country flight on United (can they make the seats any closer), a couple days after the flight I felt something funny in my lower leg. It was diagnosed as a DVT, or blood clot. I was quickly on blood thinners (Warfarin) and cautioned to avoid being bonked on the noggin as it could cause a hemorrhage. Still racing the big boat at the time , I found a very stylish skateboarder’s black carbon fiber helmet. I received a few off color comments from the friendly competition, but hey, I didn’t want to check out quite yet.


The Publisher
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Oct 16, 2011, 1:59 PM

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From Margaret L. Herzog, PH.D., Clinical Psychologist:
I was pleased to see the recent article regarding helmets for dinghy sailors. I have been concerned about the risks of concussions in dingy sailors for many years. My son, at age 15 , was hit by a boom during a microburst , thrown out of his laser and was found face down ,unconscious in the water.

Despite a terrifying accident, poor protocol subsequent to the accident and a major concussion, he thankfully recovered from the event. The neurologist whom we consulted with instructed him to wear a helmet for all future sailing in winds over 13 knots, to reduce risk of future concussions. Though he wore a helmet for one year, he did not comply with the recommendation after age 16, through 9 seasons of high school and college sailing. A helmet sits in the closet in his home bedroom. You can imagine how ridiculous a young man might feel, being the only sailor in a helmet in the entire East Coast.

Subsequent to the accident, I contacted the US sailing youth division regarding the risks to youths in the sport . I recommended a study to look at concussions in youth sailing with an eye toward introducing mandated helmet use in youngsters. My inquiry was minimized by the youth committee chair, who indicated that the "data" only suggested that ocean sailors incur concussions. When I followed up and asked if there had been adequate studies looking at youth sailing, I discovered that there had been minimal formalized data collected.

Subsequently, I contacted helmet manufacturers to inquire if a prototype helmet for sailing could be introduced. I was told that the prototype could readily be made, however there was no market for the product. In other words, the consumer market needed to indicate the need, in order to introduce the product.

It seems as if sailing is one of the few 'motion sports" that ignores the issue of the risk of concussions. Helmets are utilized in most motion sports including skiing, snowboarding, biking, rafting, kayaking . In addition, professional and school sports have looked at the risks of activities subsequent to concussions and have created protocals to protect athletes.

In an age when proactive and responsible attention to the risks of brain injury is de rigeur, the mores in the sport of sailing and US sailing is indeed behind the curve in looking at the risks of dingy sailing in youths, college sailors and adult sailors. US sailing should devise a mandated reporting system of incidents of concussions. Youth and college sailors should be mandated to wear helmets above 13 to 15 knots of wind. Given the potential velocity of the boom during an accidental gype, the need to protect the head with a helmet is as critical a Coast Guard approved life jacket for dingy sailors.


From Dean Dietrich, Tiburon, CA:
I might as well add my boom story since it is unique. Several years ago, I was racing wing 'n wing with the Alerion Express 28 fleet in San Francisco. As we approached Alcatraz from the City side, the boat on my right was yawing considerably, momentarily locked rigs with a boat to his right, and then careened over to my boat. Our bows struck at about a 30 degree angle, with his boom initially to starboard (he was on port tack) causing him to heel over and jibe. His boom swept across the cockpit of my boat where I was sitting on the starboard side; I regained consciousness at SF General Hospital. I suffered some nerve damage to my eye, but now I am OK. The moral of the story: the boom that hits you may not be your own.


The Publisher
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Oct 17, 2011, 3:55 PM

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From Jim Gardiner:
I was crew for Tom Grossman delivering his maxi trimaran Kriter VII across the Atlantic to England for the 1980 OSTAR. It was just the two of us, but as it was a singlehander most sail and course changes were a one man operation. You often reefed by tacking the boat, backing the jib and then putting the helm down to hove to the boat.

While Tom was sleeping, I was shaking out a reef but the helm released and jibed the boat with my back to the boom. I was swatted across the boat like a baseball, and only just caught the lifelines as I was looking at the water upside down. Tom never woke and I never told him. I am sure to get an email about this now.

Later in 1988 I raced with someone in England who made a cap that had a skull plate inside. I bought one and still have it somewhere. It was discounted because it was not a good seller. I rather thought it was a good idea.


The Publisher
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Oct 17, 2011, 3:57 PM

Post #9 of 14 (54633 views)
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From Lynne Shore, Olympic gold medalist:
In response to Margaret Herzog comments about her son's head injury and wearing a helmet for safety - I am a believer in wearing one after a freaky accident occurred while I was racing Lasers this summer.

In avoiding a collision with a sailor after rounding the weather mark in a windy 18-20 knot breeze with big seas, another sailor tacked in front of me on port tack. Even though I was on starboard, my Laser was hooked into a large wave going fast, and my maneuverability was minimal. The choice I had was my bow hitting the other sailor square in the head - and possibly killing him - or healing very far to weather to get the boat to bear down hard and try to avoid a dangerous situation.

In a split second, boats collided, I avoided injuring the other sailor, but I got pinned between the two boats and my boom hit me in the head. The boats then twisted together, flipped back and I was clocked in the head with the boom again. Down I went.

Extremely dazed and confused, I was lucky that a line was tangled around me and I surfaced. I have to commend highly Hyannis Yacht Club for their excellent strong execution of rescuing me. Within minutes, they were on top of me, they accompanied me in, had a team take my boat, and I went in the rescue wagon to the hospital.

This head injury - a massive sub-dermal hematoma extending from my left eye to the back of my head 5 inches wide and an internal rattling of the brain - was a major concussion which put me out of commission from work for two weeks, sailing for eight weeks, and included many doctor's visits, CT scans and a black face that my kids had a good time chuckling at my expense.

I’m happy to say I finally got back into the saddle at the Masters New England Championships. Luckily it was light (5-8 knots) for I was a bit nervous getting back into the boat. Although, I still have headaches which are slowly subsiding, and my memory lapse is going away, to Margaret's point I purchased a helmet and will be using it whenever it blows over 13 knots.

Whether you are young or a seasoned veteran, head injuries are a silent killer! And they can happen to anyone. Kudos to the America's Cup teams for being wise and making helmets a safety item and a fashion statement! And a special thank you again to Hyannis Yacht Club for their professional rescue efforts.




the.squirrel
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Mar 20, 2012, 8:08 AM

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Hi All

I am a bowman based in Sydney, Australia I have recently gone to wearing a crash helmet all the time (Gath Surf Convertible with visor) with Go Pro Camera. I have found the above extremely comfortable.

In must parts of Australia the UV is so bad that you wither have to wear an all round hat or rash guard with high neck protection to get around putting sunblock on all day on the race track, after wearing the crash helmet I will never go back to a normal hat ever again, so much more freedom of movement without a hat on.

Once you wear a Gath you will never go back again.

Thanks

The Squirrel


Ryan Wood
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Mar 21, 2012, 7:10 AM

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Does our sport really need a series of head injury related deaths and/or disablings in order for this issue to come to the front and be addressed? As others have said, in some of the extreme class, helmets have begun to be used much more frequently. I would not be opposed to wearing a helmet myself. As a Laser sailor, I have had my share of knocks on the head and I would like to use my head for other things besides stopping the boom on its way across the boat.

As a cyclist, I am already used to wearing a helmet. It wasn't long ago in the sport of cycling that helmets became mandatory on the proffesional level. This decision was the result of much deliberation after speeds were increasing and several deaths occured from head injuries. I don't believe we need to wait for any more of that to happen before this decision is made.

As I said before, I would not be opposed to wearing a helmet myself. As far as appearance goes, your appearance doesn't affect your ability on the race course. I know that when I get all my gear on, I probably look a little bit ridiculous especially to a non-sailor. But this doesn't affect my finishing results, in fact the funny looking hiking pads and boots and other various clothing items possibly help improve my racing. In the same way, having a helmet that bears the brunt of the impact between your head and the boom on a windy gibe could keep your head clear and you in the race. I am all for this addition to the safety of our sport.

Ryan Wood


cheap_trick
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Apr 9, 2012, 6:04 PM

Post #12 of 14 (52213 views)
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I can definitely see the positives for wearing a helmet sailing, but I can't see it catching on with many younger sailors unless it becomes mandatory.

And I don't know that 'only wearing a helmet over 13 knots of breeze' is the way to go - I was wishing for a helmet the other weekend when I narrowly avoided being hit by someone else's boom in 8 knots of breeze. People are always going to do silly things on the race course, regardless of the wind-strength!

In this instance, it was mixed fleet racing and I was rounding the bottom mark with a laser inside me - I gave him room as per the rules. He was running by the lee & decided it would be a good idea not to gybe before rounding the mark (for some unknown reason) so he tried to round the mark on the opposite gybe to everyone else, bore away too far and crash-gybed and hit the mark. Luckily I saw what was happening and I was able to duck quickly enough to avoid his boom hitting me in the head!


Solent Sailor
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May 6, 2012, 7:59 PM

Post #13 of 14 (51406 views)
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Re: [Ryan Wood] WILL HELMETS BECOME AS COMMON AS LIFEJACKETS? [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Ryan, Are you now wearing a helmet every race?


Ryan Wood
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May 11, 2012, 7:55 AM

Post #14 of 14 (51317 views)
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No I am not. But a couple weeks ago, I was sailing a Laser in 25 knots of wind wishing I had one.


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