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Trapeze safety
Team McLube


The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 1:24 PM

Post #1 of 27 (143847 views)
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It was on June 23, 2011 in Annapolis, MD when fourteen-year-old Olivia Constants died during her Club 420 class out of Severn Sailing Association. Olivia and her skipper had capsized, and the hook on Olivia's trapeze harness got caught on the rigging and prevented her from surfacing.

Click here for past details, with more commentary included below.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 1:44 PM

Post #2 of 27 (143830 views)
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US SAILING conducted three independent panel reports on accidents that
occurred in 2011 involving U.S. participants: the 2011 Chicago Yacht Club
Race to Mackinac accident involving Wingnuts, the youth sailing 420 tragedy
on Severn River, and the Rambler 100 incident.
CHI-MAC (70 pages): After two sailors' lives were lost during the recent
Chicago Yacht Club-Race to Mackinac, the Chicago Yacht Club, the race's
organizer, requested an independent study of what happened and to consider
what lessons might be learned and also to make recommendations. Here are a
few of the findings:

* The crew of WingNuts was very experienced, most of them having raced in
numerous Chicago-Mac races or similar races, and most of them having
extensive experience on WingNuts. In fact, this was the fourth time that
several of them had sailed WingNuts in the Chicago-Mac.

* WingNuts was a highly inappropriate boat for a race of this duration,
over night, without safety boats, and in an area known to have frequent
violent thunderstorms. Her capable crew and preparation could not make up
for the fact that she had too little stability, which led to her being
"blown over" by a severe gust.

* Six of the crew members, including one who was below decks at the time of
the capsize, were able to free themselves from the vessel but Mark Morley
and Suzanne Makowski-Bickel were unable to free themselves and died as a
result of head injuries and drowning.
YOUTH (25 pages): Severn Sailing Association requested a review concerning
the accident and response involving the fatal accident of a teen sailor
participating in the Severn Sailing Association youth program in Annapolis,
MD. Here are some of the findings:

* The accident was caused by a chain of small events. Had Olivia not been
dousing the spinnaker at the moment the boat jibed accidentally, she
probably would not have been pressed by the boom and vang into the area of
the trapeze, where she inadvertently hooked onto the bail and became
tangled in the rigging. Evidence that this connection was accidental is
that the hook was in the wrong eye on the bail. While the accidental
connection might have been avoided had there been a nubbin or guard under
the hook, nubbins have been known to obstruct a connection or make it
difficult to disconnect. The harness did not have a quick-release system,
but this also is not a reliable cure-all.

* According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Olivia's death
was an accidental drowning, with no head trauma or other serious injury.
Like many drownings, this one occurred extremely rapidly.

* Both sailors wore appropriate Coast Guard-approved life jackets. As
Sarah's brave effort indicates, the life jacket would have floated Olivia
up into the air pocket had it not been for her entanglement in the rigging.

* The conditions were not excessive for the boat and crew. While the crew
was somewhat inexperienced with spinnakers and trapezes, they had sailed
this boat all week in more wind, without trouble and with caution (as the
early spinnaker takedown indicates). Both had had been trained in capsizes
and recoveries, though not in a trapeze boat.
RAMBLER (12 pages): As a result of the US yacht RAMBLER 100 losing their
keel and capsizing in the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race, US SAILING conducted a
Safety Review to answer two questions: What should American Sailors learn
from the RAMBLER 100 capsize during the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race and what
improvements to US SAILING Procedures and Regulations might prevent a
reoccurrence of this incident. Here are some of the safety reviewer's
observations and notes:

- Digital Selective Calling (DSC) was installed but not used
- Handheld VHF never made it topside
- Satcom C was installed but not turned on
- Have not found the 14 ton keel yet. Salvage cost exceeds value of metal
in the keel.

* Many things went very seriously wrong. The fact that there were no major
injuries or casualties can be credited to the calm and professional manner
in which the crew worked together and helped each other but LUCK also has
to be mentioned. Had any one of several fortunate circumstances been
different the outcome would surely have been significantly different.

* No casualties or injuries should not be interpreted to mean that serious
corrective actions are not required. All offshore racers, especially those
with canting keels and movable ballast, should at least have access to a
grab bag and a liferaft from an inverted position.
Conclusions should not be made based on the report excerpts listed above.
Please read the complete report. These three reports can be found in their
entirety here:

Direct link to youth report:

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 1:59 PM

Post #3 of 27 (143827 views)
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From David Greene:
When I was 13 years old "1967", I participated in the Junior Sailing program
and my first Port Huron to Mackinaw race. The first evening the wind started
building and I was sent forward to douse the shoot. Standing on the bow
pulpit I lost my footing and was fortunate to have grabbed the pulpit as my
body slipped through it, no life preserver and no harness. Not uncommon at
the time. In retrospect I think I was too young for the task assigned.

My point is there has been no discussion that Olivia was too young to be on
a boat requiring a trapeze and using a spinnaker. Maybe the discussion
should be raising the age upon which we allow our children to participate in
specific racing activities. My suggestion would be using Jib and Main only
until one is 15 or 16 years old and even then having required tests with an
adult on board. Which side of the scale "fun in sailing or win at all
costs"? At 14 or even 15, I am not sure one is mature enough to handle all
the potential dangers.

Having lost our son at age 18 "died following a swimming incident" I am
sensitive to the things we allow our children to do possibly not realizing
all the dangers presented. My heart goes out to her parents as I know the
pain they are suffering.

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:01 PM

Post #4 of 27 (143826 views)
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From Howard Bentley:
Commenting on the letter in Scuttlebutt 3463 by David Greene, I am very
sorry about your son and also the recent tragedy, however, age is but one
single consideration whether risky activities are appropriate for minors.
Age does not accurately or consistently reflect one's sailing experience,
one's ability, or one's physical and mental maturity to handle all
situational variables.

I went to school with a man-child of 17 years old that left high school
early to sail in Perth and try to challenge for the Americas Cup. He did
the bow, at 17. That simply would not have happened with nanny state rules
specifying age minimums. Would you deny such an opportunity based on the
results of a dissimilar comparison?

Many activities can be risky and sometimes very bad things happen, even
with total preparation. The onus is ultimately on the participants, the
skipper, parents (if minors), and the sponsors of activities. We do not
need rules created based on an emotional response to tragedy.

Age restrictions only prevent people from gaining experience, experience
that is best learned early and often. I was fortunate to have skied in
nasty places early on and ended up with skills for a lifetime. Skills I
never would have had without all the early childhood risk.

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:02 PM

Post #5 of 27 (143825 views)
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The recent release of the US SAILING inquiry into the youth sailing
accident that occurred in Annapolis, MD on June 23, 2011 revealed a
sequence of events that resulted in the drowning death of 14-year-old
Olivia Constants. Scuttlebutt legal consultant Cory Friedman files this
report that focuses on the trapeze system - a key contributing factor in
the fatality:
A few years back Julian Bethwaite came out with an innovative trapeze
system that might well have saved Olivia Constants' life had she been using
it. Instead of a hook on a spreader, the harness has a slot in the
spreader, which is a curved aluminum plate. Instead of a ring on the
trapeze adjuster, there is a semi rigid plastic tube with a plastic ball on
the end. The ball goes into the slot at the bottom of the spreader and
stops at the end of the slot halfway up the spreader. Compression of the
plastic tube between the edges of the slot keeps the ball from slipping out
when not under tension, but makes it easy to unhook.

This system is less likely to accidentally unhook than a hook and ring. It
is also easier to learn than the hook and ring and transition to a hook and
ring if desired should be no problem. Because there is no hook, it is
virtually impossible to accidentally get hooked to something and the
mechanics of the system make it virtually impossible to get twisted around
so that you can't unhook, as Olivia did. The ball simply rotates in the
slot and you can intentionally unhook even under tension, unlike a
conventional hook.

The system is quite elegant from a design and engineering perspective, as
well as cheap to manufacture. Unlike quick release hooks, the system is
virtually foolproof, has no mechanical parts, and can't unexpectedly fail.
I'm a little surprised John Rousmaniere didn't mention the system in his
report, which might have led to a different conclusion.

I bought two sets. Naturally, there was no way I was going to convince the
family teenagers that they should use a system none of their friends were
using and might put them at some theoretical competitive disadvantage,
although I think it might actually be a competitive advantage. Luckily
nobody drowned.

It might make sense to consider making such a system mandatory for junior
trapezing. If it was mandatory, no one would be at a disadvantage.
Obviously, someone can still get tangled in rigging, but, as the two other
examples in the report demonstrate, that is less likely to be fatal. It is
the hook that is really dangerous.

The commercial existence of such a system gives Olivia's family a
substantial leg up in a defective design products liability/wrongful death
suit against the harness manufacturer, boat builder, vendors, etc., as it
proves a safer system is practical, an element of a products liability
case. It also bears on the potential negligence of any junior program that
continues with existing hook and ring systems.

Junior programs may think their form releases and the RR's will protect
them, but don't bet on it. The fact everyone uses the existing system is no
defense. Just ask the owners of The T.J. Hooper in Judge Learned Hand's
famous admiralty case every first year law student reads. Sailing has
inherent risks, but there is no reason to fail to minimize them. More
importantly, nobody wants another avoidable junior sailor death.
The US SAILING report can be found here:

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:03 PM

Post #6 of 27 (143824 views)
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From Paul Ludgate:
It makes me want to throw up seeing comments like this in Scuttlebutt 3465:

"The commercial existence of such a system gives Olivia's family a
substantial leg up in a defective design products liability/wrongful death
suit against the harness manufacturer, boat builder, vendors, etc., as it
proves a safer system is practical, an element of a products liability
case. It also bears on the potential negligence of any junior program that
continues with existing hook and ring systems."

Most certainly it was a tragedy to take the girl's life, but all that will
come of this type of action is that some lawyers will line their pockets
and our "nanny state" will try to ensure there is one less thing that may
harm us. Perhaps we should not be on the water at all. After all, drowning
is a distinct possibility whenever we venture off terra firma

COMMENT: I received several calls and emails today, all critical of Cory's
comments and my decision to publish them. The purpose of this report was
not to drum up business or dismantle youth programs, but rather give
thought to insure today's standard equipment remains the best solution, and
for sailing programs to review the tools they believe will protect them in
the event of an accident. My apologies to anyone who was offended by this
intent. - Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:05 PM

Post #7 of 27 (143823 views)
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From Ken Katz:
I write to not merely defend Cory Friedman's piece on principle.
When I went to the web to find a picture (of the Bethwaite
Trapeze Harness that Cory described), I found the motivation for Julian
Bethwaite's innovation haunting in the truest sense of that word. Here are
Julian's words from 2002:

"Five years ago, I flew into Helsinki, Finland for a meeting which
coincided with the running of the 49er European Championship. On my arrival
at the airport, I was met by an utterly distraught young woman named Lotta.
We drove straight to the hospital to find my friend, Magnus, on oxygen.
Miraculously, he was OK given the ordeal he had just been through.

"Lotta and Magnus had been sailing my boat in the European's; the wind was
very fluky but they were having fun. One particular gust seemed to
disappear but then hit them unexpectedly. After almost rolling to windward
and re-gaining their footing, they capsized to leeward. Lotta was thrown
beyond the jib and Magnus found himself lying across the shrouds.
Apparently they laughed a bit about it as the boat did what most boats do
when there is a large weight on the shrouds and started to 'turn turtle'.
This was nothing out of the ordinary but what neither of them knew was that
Magnus's hook was around the shrouds and as the boat rolled very slowly,
the hook slid down the wire until it was too late. Magnus could not get
un-hooked and was pulled under the water." -- Read on:

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:06 PM

Post #8 of 27 (143822 views)
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Trapeze harness entanglement is a known cause for drowning or near death
events in sailing. In the U.S., the drownings of a 420 crew this past
summer and an 18 footer crew in 2008 were attributed to the trapeze
harness. And when Scuttlebutt spoke to several elite skiff sailors, they
believe harness accidents are far more common than is publicized. Skiff
champion and designer Julian Bethwaite was so motivated by a personal
experience to seek a solution. Here are his comments:
I designed a quick release harness, and used it for about three years. On
that harness the hook comes detached when you pull a string. We were about
to go into production, had the dies ordered, but then I loaned the harness
to a sailor on Lake Garda and learned he had taped the hook so that it
wouldn't come off. Such an adjustment rendered the harness pointless, so I
realized that this was not a sufficient solution if people were going to
defeat this feature.

So then we went looking for ideas that couldn't be manipulated. We tried
maybe 20 different options until we settled on the ball option. We also
tried a hook on the wire and a ring on the harness, and that worked quite
well. But we found the ball design to meet our goal, and while we make
them, it is not a product we actively market, partly due to confusion with
the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) which requires a
removable hook, and obviously our harness doesn't have a hook.

(ISO 10862:2009 specifies requirements and test methods for quick release
devices as a component of the small sailing-craft trapeze system worn
whilst afloat. The quick release device is intended to quickly release the
wearer from entrapment and minimize the risk of drowning in the event of a
failure to release from the sailing-craft trapeze system by other means.
The quick release device is intended to be easily accessible and operated
in all conditions that might occur whilst in use, including when a craft is
capsized or inverted.)

There are no standards from ISAF on harness design, so we probably sell a
hundred of the harnesses a year. It is a good solution, it works, though it
does take a little practice to adjust to it. We are looking at some new
tooling to improve it, which I believe to be the ninth revision. I think
the 49er took that many revisions to get it right, so maybe we are there
with the harness too. But certainly the ball system we use offers a far
lesser chance of entrapment.

Beyond harness design, the other contributing factor is the rigging. Think
about all the lines in the boat. The big issue now is that spectra lines
float whereas the older ropes would sink. We used to have wire for the
trapeze wires, and they would sink, but now the spectra trapeze wires
float. The spinnaker halyard floats, which is why in the 29er we have
mandated that you have to have a spinnaker halyard gobbler so that the
chance of entrapment by a loose halyard on the floor of the boat are
significantly reduced.

So with an overturned boat, these new lines are all floating. And the hook
on the trapeze harness is designed to hook on things. Unfortunately, people
are still very slow to change their mind, to consider other systems. The
current fixed hook system on the trapeze harness is what we all have grown
up with, so perhaps the thinking is that if it was good enough for us, it
is good enough for our kids. But as the sport becomes more popular, I am
thinking that this notion is incorrect.

Bethwaite harness:
Quick release harness:
It's standard for the 18 footer class to not require PFDs to be worn as
they are found to contribute to entrapment after capsizing. And some
experts contend the crew on trapeze boats should always carry a knife as a
safety measure for entanglement. The U.S. Coast Guard is currently seeking
comment regarding the need for approvals of Inflatable PFDs for children
ages 13-16; the age between when they are mandated to wear a PFD as per U.
S. Coast Guard Regulations and when they can legally wear an Inflatable
PFD. Comments are to be posted here:

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:07 PM

Post #9 of 27 (143821 views)
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From Charles Aucreman:
I heartily agree with Julian regarding the dangers of harness hooks (in
Scuttlebutt 2482). I sailed P-Cats and Hobie 16's and 18's for many years
starting in 1967. Most of those years were in the 18's. I too became
concerned about the standard hook-up. Somewhere along the line, probably in
the mid-70's, someone started producing a harness exactly what Julian

My crew and I used those ball & socket rigs for many years, at least till
the late 90's. I could never figure out why everyone didn't. Safety,
obvious, but there were tactical advantages. We never had an unwanted
release. When coming into a tack, we would pull up slightly on the trap
handle, releasing the ball, and swing onto the deck in one easy motion. The
pulling on the handle helped create a nice roll tack. We also never got
zinged in the teeth by the metal ring, because it wasn't there.

As Julian say's, Spectra has changed things, floating and all that. I
haven't used Spectra on a small boat much. Question: Can you cut it before
you drown? That's assuming you know which one(s) to cut, and don't panic.

Julian, good luck with your project. Stand up and shout it from the
rooftops. It will save lives, which is more important than everything else
we do.

COMMENT: Near as I can tell, the fixed hook trapeze harness system is the
most popular and most dangerous system, and that carrying a knife may help
in the event of entrapment under water. While these risks might be
manageable by an adult, I wonder how much of a concern this is for young
sailors. I'm also wondering if there are more young sailors on trapeze
boats than in the past. Considering the growth of the C420 and 29er fleets
in the U.S., it would seem to be so. - Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:07 PM

Post #10 of 27 (143819 views)
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From Steve Palzy:
I have been reading about the trapeze harness conundrum. Let me get this
right. Youth sailing programs promote trapeze doublehanded boats, and the
standard trapeze harness is universally considered dangerous. But because
it is the best solution for racing, people look the other way. And the only
advice they can give these young people if tangled under the water is to
cut the lines or else you may die.

Did I also read that the harnesses with the detachable hooks are not
popular because you lose the hook when it is activated? Yea, better to risk
a life than to lose a hook. Are any parents of youth sailors concerned
right now?

From Bruce Thompson:
We at the Chicago Corinthian YC Junior Fleet have continued our efforts to
ensure the safety of our 420 sailors.

First, we sealed and inserted foam into the mast (similar to the top
section of a Laser mast). Next we bought new mains with a laminated foam
top panel to provide flotation. Those actions are complete. We are now
approaching manufacturers to design and implement additional levels of

We have approached the manufacturer of the Water-buoy ( to
obtain a heavy duty version to use as an inflatable masthead float set to
auto-inflate in event of a capsize. We have also approached the
manufacturer of quick-disconnect fuel line fittings regarding obtaining an
analogous unit suitable for swaging into the trapeze wire above the handle
but within easy reach.

Our goal is to provide a four level "defense in depth" capability so that
the kids can immediately, and without outside intervention, ensure they can
get their head above water so as to not drown.

COMMENT: Very impressive. Now I am wondering if CCYC is in the majority or
minority in their efforts to ensure the safety of 420 sailors. - Craig
Leweck, Scuttlebutt

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:07 PM

Post #11 of 27 (143818 views)
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The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) conducted research into the numbers and contributing factors of entrapments under capsized dinghies. During their study period of 2003-2004, 44 incidents were logged.

The RYA also looked at ways of preventing entrapments by examining boat design and developing and testing rescue techniques. In addition, air gap tests were conducted under a range of boats and discussions took place with the major dinghy manufacturers.

Despite the low statistical risk, there was a sufficient range of incidents to suggest it is worth making sailors aware of the problem. Of the incidents reported, only a small proportion required medical treatment, but over one third were serious i.e. potential threat to life.

The biggest risk results from complete inversion of the boat with the sailor tangled or stuck underneath. The probability of an incident seems unaffected very much by the conditions, since a number of incidents were recorded in light winds.

Here are some of the findings from the report 'RYA Research into Dinghy Entrapments March 2005':

* The most common cause of entrapment was 30% getting ropes tangled around the body or limbs, 30% getting caught on other control lines and straps and 30% involved some part of the trapeze harness.
* The most effective rescue of a trapped sailor is to right the boat as rapidly as possible.
* Sealed masts and masthead buoyancy to have some effect in reducing the speed and likelihood of inversion.
* Modern designs with raised cockpit floor to enable self-draining have less or no air void for sailors trapped in the cockpit when inverted.
* Consideration should be given for trapeze harnesses other than the fixed hook type.
* Keep control lines short and tidy and maintain elastic so it does its job.
* Carry a very sharp, easily accessible, preferably serrated knife.

Full report:

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:22 PM

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Trapeze Safety Clinic
January 5, 2012


Most in the US sailing community are aware of the tragic drowning of 14-year old Olivia Constants in a club-supervised practice in Annapolis in June, 2011. Olivia and her skipper were part of their club’s Club 420 Travelling Team that raced against other clubs in the Chesapeake Bay area. The drowning was caused by Olivia’s trapeze gear becoming “caught on something,” which held her underwater.

Noted sailing author John Rousmaniere presented a detailed report of the accident at the USSailing Annual Meeting in late October 2011. In that report, John mentioned Long Island Sound Coach Steve Keen as having had similar but not fatal experiences. Steve is the Director of Sailing for LISOT – the Long Island Sound Youth Sailing Team, and its head 420 Coach.

Coconut Grove Sailing Club hosted its 49th Annual Open Orange Bowl Regatta this past December 27-30. 29ers, International 420’s and Lasers were the invited classes, of which the first two are trapeze classes with young sailors. Consequently, in view of the timing as the first major trapeze class event following release of the USSailing report, it was appropriate to present the latest thinking about trapeze safety to the entrants, their coaches and parents.

Coconut Grove Sailing Club’s Safety Clinic was conducted in association with its 49th Annual Open Orange Bowl Regatta on Monday, December 26th 2011 at 4:30 pm on the Lawn at the Club. Attendance was mandatory for 29er and I-420 entrants in the CGSC Open OB Regatta. Their coaches and parents, the entrants in the Club 420 Class Coral Reef YC OB International Youth Regatta and their coaches and parents were also invited. The event was very well attended, with seating on the lawn and also on the upper deck of the Clubhouse behind the railing facing the Lawn.


Coconut Grove Sailing Club Commodore Ron Rostorfer welcomed the attendees and stated that the reason for the Clinic was the tragic fatality involving Olivia. The attendees then stood and observed a moment of silence in respect for Olivia.

Ron proceeded to briefly discuss the evolving nature of both safety and performance-related sailing equipment and the need to thoroughly vet the purposes and potential side-effects of both safety and performance equipment before committing to their use.

He then mentioned Coach Steve Keen as perhaps the most advanced trapeze dinghy performance and safety person on the continent in terms of experience and thinking, and proceeded to introduce Steve to carry out the Clinic. Steve’s presentation took about 45 minutes and totally held the attention of the attendees. It was a real achievement in an effort to “stand down” and think about safety while racing in youth-oriented trapeze classes.

Steve’s presentation is highlighted as follows:

Personal Equipment
Make sure you are using your equipment as it was intended and designed, and don't buy equipment expecting to grow into it as it will not fit correctly or function correctly making the equipment unsafe. Make sure there are no rips or anything that is malfunctioning with the equipment.

Take the time to think about the systems in your boat and see if there are any unnecessary lines that can be removed. Remove all unnecessary loops in systems and think about the knots you are using in your boat. A bowline will create an additional loop that is not needed, where a "knot on a knot" (a half hitch in the rope with a half hitch around the rope) will do the same job without creating a potential hazard. Is there any hardware on the boat that is not necessary or not best suited for the job it is been used?

Identify a Situation
The first step is to identify when a coach, parent or other support boat is going to be needed for assistance. When one of the above is on the water in a situation, they will need to identify what is normal and what is not normal.

Normal - a few normal situations are below
--The sailors surface after a capsize
--Generally when a sailor capsizes and ends up in the water they turn and face the boat
--A sailor that is separated from a boat swims towards their boat

The Boat Involved – if you are on the boat involved and cannot function as above but are safe, then:
-- Yell or otherwise let your teammate and rescuers know you’re OK (perhaps you are under that boat in an air pocket).
-- If you can’t be seen and you are OK, be heard. Otherwise, rescuers will take unnecessary risks on your behalf.

Rescuers -
--When you see a "normal" capsize keep watching as the situation can change in an instant.
--When you see a situation that is not normal then you will need to make a plan for best success
--If other nearby competitors are racing, they will need to stop racing and stand by to provide assistance

Make a Plan
Once you have identified a situation where you are needed for assistance you will need to make a plan for best success. Before all else, "Rule number 1, look after number 1". You need to make sure you are able to help the sailor or sailors who need your help while at the same time making sure you are safe, so you aren't going to require assistance from someone else.

Some of the questions you need to cover when making a plan
--You need to identify who is in need of help, the crew or the skipper or both
-- Did you see the situation develop?
--Did the team capsize, to leeward or to windward?
--Did the team nose-dive and capsize over the bow?
--Is the kite up or kite down?
--Was the jib cleated?
--What side of the boat was the jib cleated on?
--Was the main cleated and in what position?
--Were the sailor or sailors thrown from the boat?
--How windy is it?
--What are the sea conditions?
--Was there anything strange or different about the capsize?
--Are there others who are going to be able to help you with the rescue?
--Where could the sailors be if one of both of them did not surface?

Execute the Plan
Once you have made a plan, you then need to act on your plan, keeping in mind your plan may change as information changes or as your environment changes, such as additional rescuers arrive, sea and wind conditions change.

Person Needing Assistance
If you find yourself in a position where you are needing help, your first step is to remain calm. If you are becoming panicked, control your breathing to bring your heart rate down so you are able to think clearly and help the situation. If your teammate needs help, again remain calm so you are able to help your teammate and others who may be on site offering assistance.
--You might be able to pass on valuable information as to where your teammate is
--What might be wrong
--Possible solution to correcting the situation
--Assist in your teammate’s rescue

"If you become panicked, you are not going to be able to help yourself or anyone else, and you might make the situation worse"

We spend a lot of time on the water in a variety of roles as race officials, spectators sailors and coaches. Keeping an eye out for what is normal and what is not normal will help keep you, your teammate and other competitors safe. There is another group of people out on the water that could need your assistance, the general public. There is a chance you will be needed to help in situation involving non-sailors. Keep in mind, "rule number 1, look after number 1".

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:25 PM

Post #13 of 27 (143806 views)
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SCUTTLEBUTT 3632 - July 13, 2012

As the Associate Executive Director of US Sailing and Rear Commodore of the
Beverly Yacht Club (BYC; Marion MA), Dan Cooney sees safety issues through
multiple lenses - what more can US Sailing do to help clubs and sailors
become more educated about the issues and what practical steps can his club
take to leverage US Sailing resources. This was the case when US Sailing
organized an independent review panel to research a tragic accident that
occurred on Severn River with a junior sailing program participant in 2011.

Cooney took the US Sailing recommendations to the BYC with the goal of
implementing new and revised procedures in safety planning. In this Q&A
with US Sailing, Cooney discusses how the Beverly Yacht Club put these
safety recommendations in motion. Here is an excerpt:

US Sailing: What did you look at first?

Dan Cooney: The US Sailing investigation of the SSA tragedy put 420 trapeze
harnesses at the top of our list. We also were committed to do something to
support PRO decision-making on GO/NO-GO calls.

US Sailing: How did you end up on the harness issue?

Dan Cooney: Our Junior Sailing representatives on the Committee looked at
all the options, but we ended up retrofitting 17 harnesses with a quick
release hook system. We are also going to require every 420 sailor to go
through drills where, under controlled circumstances, they will capsize to
windward with their harnesses on. We will have US Sailing-certified
instructors on scene and a rescue diver in the water that happens to be an
MD. The idea is to simulate a situation that young sailors may encounter
and to help them to understand how to self-rescue if necessary. The thing
that got me personally about the SSA incident was that at first people were
saying that this was a freak accident and what the investigation found out
was that while the tragic consequence was rare, entrapment itself was not
uncommon. I should have known that but I didn't.

Full interview:

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:26 PM

Post #14 of 27 (143804 views)
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From Justin Assad:
I was interested in the piece about trapeze safety and Beverly YC's methods
in addressing it. As part of my summer position leading Nantucket Yacht Club's
Junior Sailing program, I recently also moved to retrofit trapeze harnesses,
and to upgrade our older harnesses to new ones.

I was interested to find that Gill is discontinuing the only quick-release
hook/harness option they produce, and was unable to find another
dealer/supplier offering an emergency hook system (we have some Magic
Marine spreader bars here that have been hook-less for several years, as we
seem unable to get the hooks in the USA any longer). All of this one year
after the tragic incident on Severn River - seems odd: it would appear that
we don't currently have an emergency release hook system on the US Market.

While I understand that at advanced levels the quick-release hook can be a
hindrance, it does seem essential at the learn-to-trapeze level. Any
insight on this would be appreciated - what am I missing?

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:26 PM

Post #15 of 27 (143803 views)
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From Guy Buchanan:
What Mr. Assad is missing is not trapeze hooks, but personal responsibility; not his own, but as a general concept. Perhaps thanks to the discussions that went on here after the SSA death he now feels that quick release hooks are "essential at the learn-to-trapeze level". Really? Why? I learned to use a basic hook harness at 15 and taught many down to age eight to use one. I never lost a student. Indeed, in many, many years of racing trapeze dingies I never heard of a death, though many had stories of getting caught, and the potential for drowning made for many a scary "campfire story." We even used "automatic" trapeze systems, which guaranteed you were attached to the boat when it went over, yet I still cannot remember a single drowning. (I imagine they happened, just not often enough to be noticed.)

Could it be that Mr. Assad can't find his trapeze hooks because when Ms. Constants drowned, most of the responses to the tragedy were to blame the hook, the lack of training, the lack of supervision, or the lack of nearby assistance? Is it possible (probable?) that hook manufacturers are looking really hard at their culpability in manufacturing such a dangerous object? Can the potential liability possibly be worth the meager profit they get from selling them? Not since you decided to heap the responsibility on the hook. What's wrong with calling Ms. Constants death a tragedy, and leaving it at that?

Mr. Assad's question led me to the Cooney interview at US Sailing, which is probably the best example of "why sailing is dying" that I have ever read. With the best of intentions, Mr. Cooney and his safety minded friends at BYC are doing their level best to kill the junior program, the racing program, and even sailing in general. When I read this article I though, "My God! How many people has BYC lost? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? They must be dropping like flies!" Think I'm being critical? Look at what a prospective race organizer has had added to his plate thanks to BYC's safety efforts:
  • Has every participant in the trapeze classes attended a BYC approved trapeze safety course? Better check. Better run some safety courses so they can race in your regatta. That's easy, all it involves is US Sailing certified instructors, lifeguards, a rescue diver, etc. (Parents could never handle such a complex subject.)
  • Is the Go/No Go document on board? If not, no race.
  • What if the weather's not on the Go/No Go card? Who's going to take the responsibility? Better cancel the race.
  • Is the iPad on board the signal boat? Is it charged? Do we have a certified trained iPad operator on board? If not, no race. If it dies during the race can we continue?
  • Are the laminated "Emergency Communications Cards" on each support boat? Are they legible? Better check. If not, that boat's grounded. Can we run the race without it?
  • Is the new support boat working? Is it fueled? Do you have the US Sailing certified instructor lined up? Is their CPR current? If not, no race. (I won't even talk about all the other stuff a support boat "requires", like radios, etc.)
  • Has the Coast Guard Event Permit been filed? If not, no regatta.

So much for spontaneity. When I was a kid all we needed to throw together a race was one person to run the "Committee Boat".

And what about the increased costs? Paid instructors? Support boats? These must be passed on to the participants in the form of increased entry fees, (resulting in decreased attendance,) or increased yacht club dues, (resulting in decreased membership.)

What's worse, Mr. Cooney is confident that "other clubs have done more." Let's hope not. However his call for action virtually guarantees that more will be done, a new standard be set, and that insurance companies and juries will take notice of that new standard. Perhaps without realizing it, the good-hearted BYC board has heaped their club, (and possibly every other yacht club,) with heavy additional liability by acknowledging "their responsibility" to make sure all these noble safety items are done, every time, and correctly.

What's next? Mandatory helmets? (Soon for juniors.) Abolish trapezes? (Eventually for juniors.) How about a safety boat for each entrant? (Soon for juniors.) What about centerboard boats? Perhaps we should have righting standards for everything? Perhaps sailing is just too dangerous in general? Of course I'm being facetious, but when you respond to a tragedy, please, please, please think about the long term implications of your response. (Even in a Scuttlebutt forum.) I am both a sailor and a private pilot and know well the damage that "good intentions" cause. I am also a parent of teenagers and am constantly confronted by how hard it is for my children to have a "childhood", even compared to what I had as a kid.

The Publisher

Jul 16, 2012, 2:52 PM

Post #16 of 27 (143761 views)
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From Dan Cooney:
Regarding the note from Justin Assad, here's the specific gear we are using at Beverly Yacht Club. Our racing kids are not having any issues with unintended release and the system seems to be working well.

RWO Marine Products,
* Spreader Bar, with Quick Release Hook, #R4020
* Replacement Hooks, #R4023

They are located in England. The US Distributor is Oceanair Marine in VT.


Jul 16, 2012, 6:50 PM

Post #17 of 27 (143695 views)
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I assumed a response similar to Guy Buchanan’s was coming and I respect his point of view and even laughed (with him) at his totally erroneous but very humorous vision of us as “good hearted” scaredy cats who won’t run a race without a charged iPad!! Some of my friends will take up where Guy left off no doubt!

I loved the freedom (from my sisters mainly) of riding in the “way back” of our family station wagon when I was a kid instead of in a car seat like my boys are now required to ride. It took me awhile to get used to (read comply with) mandatory seat belts and I look like a dork in a bike helmet that I never wore as a kid. I get it. However, as John Rousmaniere puts it “trouble will come” and I’m proud that our club is doing the very reasonable things to give us better odds that when it does come, we avoid a tragedy.

As mentioned in the piece, our club is “not looking to become risk-averse in the extreme” and we embrace “the joys of sailing and racing despite their inherent risks”. To give some context to this our GO/NO-GO document does not suggest a windspeed at which races need to be called off – we have some fleets that are happy to be racing in 28 knots of breeze and the downhill wipeouts make for great photography. Buzzards Bay still dishes it out and our sailors heartily lap it up.

The point is we still rely on a PRO’s common sense to make good calls and still expect our sailors to take the personal responsibility to know when their skills don’t match up to the conditions. We have cancelled only one night of racing so far this summer because of electrical storms. We expect cancellations to be as rare an event as usual, perhaps rarer still now that we have spelled out the procedures giving PRO’s better guidance.

Our safety recommendations have not depressed participation. On the contrary, racing is flourishing and people are happy to have the support boat out on the course proving very useful to set truer windward marks in addition to being there in case of trouble.

Mr. Buchanan was concerned about the monetary costs and consequences. The costs for all of the safety program improvements (including gas, support boat driver salary, and one-time costs of the retrofitted harnesses and iPad) are about $3900 or less than $8 per member. This is at a club that runs 300 races a year. Not free certainly, but we are safer and getting better racing in return -- online scoring is completed on the iPad before we dock and, as mentioned, the safety boat doubles as a mark boat.

We are not naďve enough to think we can anticipate every dangerous scenario or to eliminate all the risks of our great sport. Things happen, always will. However, to simply ignore the risks that have been tragically proven out is not a course we choose to follow.


Jul 17, 2012, 8:29 AM

Post #18 of 27 (143527 views)
Re: [dancooney] Trapeze safety [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I have been sailing and racing one design dinghies since 1971 and trapeze dinghies (mostly 505s) since 1977, at the local, national and international level. While I drive more than crew, I have spent a LOT of time trapezing on these boats.

I do not recall ever being "hooked" on the trapeze system in a capsize. It is possible that it happened during this ~ 40 year period, but it wasn't a big enough deal for me to remember.

I tried the Julian Bethwaite trapeze system a few years ago and hated it. Trepeze crews grab the "ring" (I use a Ronstan RF17 as do many 505 sailors) at the top with our hand, and rotate our wrist slightly to get it on the hook. To be able to get the ring to quickly "hook up", we rely on the stiffness of the trapeze ring. I have not seen that system in use on any 505s.

The Bethwaite system uses a plastic coated wire that is too flexible, with a ball on the end. It takes longer to hook up and may not unhook as quickly either.

There is anotther detail of the trapeze system that I have not seen discussed yet. That is the shockcord that pulls the trapeze ring down to the seat tank. This is what keeps the trapeze "wire" and ring under just enough tension that it does not swing away from the boat, so the crew can grab it in the same place each time. That shockcord pulls the ring off the hook whenever there is not much load on the trapeze wire.

So if I come in off the trapeze wire and sit on the tank, that shockcord pulls the ring off the hook. I can stop this happening by raising the trapeze ring on the adjuster line. However if I come in the boat and stand up, the ring is pulled off the hook even with the ring raised as high as I can.

So in order to keep the ring on the hook I have to have at least some of my weight supported by the trapeze "wire".

I have not sailed a Club 420, but suspect the trapeze gear is rather less optimized for quick hook up and reease than on my 505.

While humans have not evolved to breath underwater, and any activity in or on the water has some risks associated with it, I do not consider using a trapeze to be particularly dangerous.

It would be interesting if we had data comparing various risks perhaps based on hours of use.

So based on 1000 hours of trapezing, what are the risks?
What are the risks of 1000 hours of day racing keelboats without wearing a PFD (I ALWAYS wear a PFD in a dinghy and am amazed that so few keelboat racers wear them).
How about 1000 hours of driving to and from the junior sailing program?
Or 1000 hours of riding a bicycle on roads, or 1000 hours of riding your bike to and from a sailing program (I am also a racing cyclist).

As a member of SSA, Olivia's tragic death deeply affected me. However I am skeptical that the risks of being hooked by the trapeze harness are actually great enough that we need to fundamentally change trapeze systems. I believe we continue to accept other greater risks in sailing.


Jul 17, 2012, 12:21 PM

Post #19 of 27 (143496 views)
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We (THE BOAT LOCKER in Westport, CT) have stocked the slot and ball system to modify your existing harness. Here are some of the details:

The safety-minded Key-Hole system offers many advantages over the traditional hook design. Its low profile design is less likely to get hooked unintentionally and the system will stay hooked until purposefully removed. A low profile means much easier reboarding and less likelihood of scratching gel coat, point loading or damaging a hull. Ball-end trapeze rings are lighter and less dangerous than stainless dogbones or trapeze rings.
The 10" Key-Hole buckle fits most harnesses. All Gul, Magic Marrine and most Hobie harnesses; it does not fit DaKine harnesses. The super-strong carbon buckle weighs only 7.5 oz. Connectors are sold by the pair and must be ordered separately.

User comment: "I had a chance to use the key-hole trapeze buckle this weekend and was nicely impressed with its usability in course racing. Not once did I get hung up trying to get hooked or unhooked on the trapeze when making transitions as expected. Far superior than any other mechanism I have used for course racing! Also, the buckle will not puncture the hull if you capsize or are separated from the boat and trying to board again... Very nice!"

Attachments: Harness.jpg (106 KB)

The Publisher

Jul 17, 2012, 5:22 PM

Post #20 of 27 (143449 views)
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From Steve Caulfield:
As Chairman of the Nantucket Yacht Club's Race Committee which oversees our sailing instructional programs and Mr. Assad, I must strongly challenge Mr Buchanan's comments on our concerns for our young people learning to use the trapeze safely and provide them with the safest equipment available.

To suggest that Mr Assad (also the head coach at Dartmouth) is "missing personal responsibility" is both uninformed and callous. Thanks in part to the thorough coverage of the death of Miss Constants by Scuttlebutt, the three sailing programs on Nantucket, ours at NYC, the program at Great Harbor Y C, and Nantucket Community Sailing (where I am also a member of the Executive Committee) under took a "clean sheet of paper" exercise over several months to review and rewrite every aspect of our safety programs.

Had Mr. Buchanan asked, he would have learned that personal responsibility at every level is the basis of all we do on the water and off, but our leaders and instructors have a greater personal responsibility than our students or their parents. Our work on safety reaches all levels particularly training of our instructors, equipping all of our instructional support boats and instructors appropriately, and working with our local Coast Guard personnel and Harbor Master.

What particularly galled me was Mr. Buchanan's comment, "What's wrong with calling Miss Constants death a tragedy and leaving it at that". I'll tell him what is wrong with that; you do not honor that poor soul's death unless you commit to a thorough and thoughtful analysis of how it could have been avoided, and implementing all learning from that analysis. That's what Mr. Assad is doing, and what we all should be doing.


Jul 18, 2012, 9:07 AM

Post #21 of 27 (143354 views)
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Mr. Caulfield is wrong. I do honor Ms. Constants’ death. I honor her courage and her ability. I honor her desire to do the thing she loved and her (certain) understanding of the risks involved. I am not against safety analysis. My aviation community does it all the time, both formally and informally. What I push against is your using her death to burden the activity she loved with additional regulations, proscriptions, prerequisites, and most importantly, liability.

Had you asked the trapeze community they’d have told you, (and did tell you,) that there’s not a problem; that there’s no need for additional support boats, or iPads, or US Sailing Certified instructors, or plastic sheets, or event permits. I believe Ms. Constants would say (have said) the same thing. Sometimes bad things happen and we grieve and move on. The only way sailing will ever be “perfectly safe” is if we prohibit it, either by fiat or by making it impossible to do. I respect Mr. Caulfield’s motives, but I believe he is on the latter path, and thus I must rebuke him.
Guy Buchanan

The Publisher

Jul 18, 2012, 11:03 AM

Post #22 of 27 (143339 views)
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I have stood at the quayside, so to speak, here in the discussion of the tragedy of Olivia’s passing for over a year, but Steve Caufield’s insightful letter in Scuttlebutt 3635, and in particular his comment “you do not honor that poor soul's death unless you commit to a thorough and thoughtful analysis of how it could have been avoided, and implementing all learning from that analysis” has encouraged me to finally say what has been nagging me for this full long year as our community has researched, agonized, and discussed what me might all do to prevent another such incident.

Missing from most everything I have read, and not surprisingly, given the commentators’ and the sport’s background as one in which we pride ourselves in a certain stoic, ‘machismo’ (for lack of a better word) is the role that a sailor’s emotional state of mind has on their response time and ability to react effectively. When we begin to sail we throw ourselves into a very foreign environment. Humans were not built with fins nor gills. Over time it is our ability to wrestle that environment, and ourselves in it, via boats and their sails (as we gain confidence, and see that we can harness the wind, make the boats go fast) that is part of what provides the joy and expansiveness of the sport. But, it takes time to overcome the fears that we all start out with.

There was some evidence in this case--and I have seen it over and over again in my own children, my own self, and many, many of the folks I have introduced to sailing--that there was a hint of fear that accompanied those 420 sailors on that gusty day. My only point here is that I truly hope we are all looking at the role our emotional states, and those with whom we sail, and introduce to sailing, plays in both causing accidents and in affecting the outcome of those accidents. I urge all of us to pay attention to how young sailors seem and behave as they gather to learn to sail , how they respond in changing weather conditions, in short, how they are from day to day and over the course of a season. Check in, with each and every sailor. Don’t ignore the signs of their emotional discomfort. Have the conversations—talk about their fears, not once, often. Play the ‘what-if’ game. Often. Over time, allow the sailors to grow by recognizing the role and benefit of addressing and confronting those fears--openly and without judgment.

My sincerest thanks to all in the community for the continued, intelligent conversation around this tragedy.

Best, Molly Mulhern

The Publisher

Jul 18, 2012, 11:04 AM

Post #23 of 27 (143337 views)
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From Eric Robbins:
Guy Buchanan has seriously misinterpreted the safety initiatives of Beverly YC and others. Far from creating barriers to sailing and racing, these initiatives will enable more of our favorite activities. As a professional race officer, I know that the fundamental principle of race management is MAKE GOOD DECISIONS. Resources such as better weather information, more and better trained people on powerboats, and handy lists of emergency contacts and procedures help the race officer make good go/no-go decisions. Having these resources, or not having them, does not make any decision for you. Nothing in what Dan Cooney said implies that the race officer does not remain fully in charge of all race management decisions.

Too many times I have had to curtail racing when the weather deteriorated, when just one more powerboat with people I trust on board, no matter their certification, would have enabled me to make the decision to continue. On the other hand, I remember starting races in a youth championship when thunderstorms brewed onshore just a few miles away, with the knowledge that the finish boat was monitoring them on a notebook computer. As soon as the storms began to move offshore, we hustled the kids back to the clubhouse after maximizing their day of racing.

When we consign our children to any organization, be it school, camp, or junior sailing, we expect that organization to have the proper equipment and personnel to keep our children safe. Parents have the “personal responsibility” to inquire about these things, and make their own decisions about the suitability of the organization for their child. If a faulty, obsolete piece of equipment fails in school or camp, and injures or kills your child, would you shrug it off with “Oh, it’s a tragedy, but it’s only one”? I think not. Similarly, we have a right to expect that junior sailing programs keep their equipment as safe as is reasonably possible. For all ages, “personal responsibility” remains a Fundamental Rule in our rulebook. No race management equipment, guidelines, or training changes that.

The Publisher

Jul 19, 2012, 9:40 AM

Post #24 of 27 (142991 views)
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From Gary Bodie:
Trapeze spinnaker dinghies are quite stable on a broad reach or run with crew to windward trimming the spinnaker and skipper sitting to leeward and steering. Most crews stand up for a spinnaker take down; it's difficult to get the pole off the mast if you don't, and it's much easier to stuff the spinnaker down if you're standing. But, when the crew's weight comes off the weather side, the boat either heels to leeward, or the skipper bears off further to compensate.

Even with a small skipper, it may not be enough to bear off to a run; you might need to bear off by the lee to keep the boat flat. Experienced skippers will stand up to balance the boat instead of going dangerously by the lee. If it's really windy, it can be better for the skipper to move all the way to the windward side and actually head up slightly as the crew straddles the middle before even starting the take down. Experienced skippers would also likely gybe first to port in this situation, and then take down on the new windward side before rounding to port.

I'm guessing that Olivia stood up and started the take down, her skipper bore off by the lee and unintentionally gybed. Olivia was then caught with the boom at her back, boomvang against the back of her legs, facing forward with possibly the trapeze wire and shroud also in her way. The trapeze hook getting engaged *may* have been incidental to her predicament.

As the boat begins to capsize and turtle, Olivia becomes head down, feet up. There's no way that she can twist around to get her face into the air pocket of the overturned hull. Her only out was probably going forward between the shroud and mast. The US Sailing report does mention the boom coming across and pinning her forward and outboard. That probably only happens if she's standing up.

I think the most important lesson to be learned is the danger of a gybe while the crew is standing that far forward. This situation would be very simple to safely replicate onshore and determine how difficult it would be to extricate yourself with or without the trapeze. And then the lesson becomes training the instructors to teach this hazard and how to mitigate. There is nothing in the report about reviewing instructional materials.

I doubt that I have ever warned anybody in a training situation about this danger myself. But I know it when I see it on a 505, and an experienced crew would recognize it instantly and immediately sit and back out from under the (gybing) boom. I think it's inescapable that operator error contributed to this accident and that the gybe was the most important contributing factor. I believe that training instructors to train sailors to recognize and avoid this hazard could save lives in the future.

Bruce Thompson

Jul 19, 2012, 10:59 AM

Post #25 of 27 (142967 views)
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Hi Molly,

Your observation that the attitude of the sailors, particularly kids, is paramount is right on. That is why we spend so much time on our swim test. We run a program that has kids joining at random times during the year, as we are based on an annual membership basis, rather then a typical camp format. But each kid gets my personal attention (usually with their parent watching) as we go over the process, before they sign up and start the test. I try to never talk down to the kids (it helps that I'm short!). We focus on how we are trying to empower them to be safe.

One part is to discuss why we require whistles. We tell them that if they ever need help they should blow their whistles (Jiminy Cricket would approve). That teaches them that screaming is not their way to dial 911, blowing their whistle is. So while they can splash and play and scream and have fun, hearing a whistle is an emergency. This is a lesson that can serve them for life. Remember that the crew of Lugnuts attracted attention in the 2011 Chicago-Mac, when the teenagers thrown into the water blew their whistles.

As part of the swim test, we instruct the kids to jump into the water taking a quick, deep breath and holding it as they fall. They are then required to blow their whistle as they surface, proving they have air in their lungs. Kids are smart, they recognize that they need air. So they adopt it as part of the game of the swim test. And they develop a good habit. Having a clear way to call for help and having practiced it, they develop more confidence. So they are less likely to panic. Keeping a cool head, having some air in their lungs and having practiced capsizing is very empowering, and a great way to improve basic safety. And they are self-reliant enough to start the self-rescuing process immediately.

As to the rest of you, keep thinking and trying out new ideas. I'm old enough to remember when the original Stearns PFD came out. It was not USCG approved. So we carried approved orange, kapok filled USCG approved life jackets in the bilge. But we wore the Stearns PFD. Nowadays, even USCG boat crews wear an industrial strength Stearns PFD!

I told you kids are SMART!


Jul 20, 2012, 5:34 AM

Post #26 of 27 (142756 views)
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Thanks to Gary Brodie for his analysis, which parallels some of mine in the report I wrote on the accident at the request of US Sailing. Whether or not she was standing, Olivia was moving around in the forward part of the boat in shifty, bouncy conditions. One of my recommendations was that the accident be replicated so each of the factors in the capsize might be identified. To my knowledge this has not happened, although some good work on rescue techniques was recently done in trials in Stockton, California. John Rousmaniere

The Publisher

Nov 20, 2013, 2:38 PM

Post #27 of 27 (129444 views)
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From John Rousmaniere:
To your list of information and resources concerning accidents in capsized dinghies, you should add the report on three days of on- and in-water tests conducted in the summer of 2012 in New York and California by Timmy Larr, Chuck Hawley, and some thoughtful and generous volunteers. The report is at

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