Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reflections from the President

A few years ago we finished a windy fall series race in the Great Lakes region and decided to sail back up to the weather mark where we thought we saw a capsized boat. It was choppy and the safety boats did not see them. After perhaps 30 minutes in the water, the three people were too cold to move or think. We pulled the coldest one aboard our Thistle, got their sails down and righted their boat, then towed their swamped boat with the other two guys in it to the yacht club, which luckily was downwind. Their distress and near disaster was a wake-up call for our team.
The loss of popular Olympic champion Andrew Simpson this week reminds us all that our favorite recreation can be dangerous. Sure, he was sailing in an extreme version of the sport, the speeds and forces profoundly exceeding what almost all of us encounter. We don’t yet know exactly what claimed Andrew Simpson. We know that the AC teams are serious about safety, but there is always some unmanageable risk. We do know, and most of us can immediately relate to, the obvious risks we see in this story - superhuman forces at work, entanglement under a boat, and cold water. 

US Sailing is the leading expert on safety and seamanship. Ten years ago, President Dave Rosekrans created a Safety Task Force at US Sailing to evaluate and re-design what we do. Our Safety at Sea Seminars are very highly rated and well-attended. We recently added Coastal Safety at Sea seminars. Keelboat cruisers and racers benefit from these training courses designed for offshore and coastal big boat sailors. The latest piece of this safety agenda is the new book, Safety, Rescue & Support Boat Handling, as part of our Powerboat Certification Series of books and courses. Highly-respected experts and considerable research drive our safety programs. No matter how nautically smart you are, you will learn something valuable reading this and attending a course. Check our course calendar for more information.

US Sailing has organized teams of experts to study five tragedies in the last two years. Read our reports and take action on your boat and at your home port sailing venue. 

The good news is that sailing has an excellent safety record compared to other water sports. We have by far the highest rate of PFD wearing among water sports, thanks to the younger generations who have grown up in a US Sailing training culture that makes wearing it the normal thing to do. The Coast Guard likes what we are doing in sail and power training and we have grants to broaden our efforts. But one death is too many; we can do better.  It starts with each of us being smart and disciplined about seamanship and safety. 

US Sailing is the source of expertise and training for boating under sail or power. Your support enables US Sailing to continue providing and improving the resources that make sailing a better and safer experience.

Tom Hubbell

President of US Sailing

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