by Steven Jung
One of the reasons why we enjoy Hobie sailing is because it is one of the fastest and more thrilling kinds of affordable water sports that you can find – especially when the wind picks up. Unfortunately it can also be one of the more dangerous sports if one uses poor judgement in determining the overall safety factor of the conditions.
Safety is purely an judgement call! Safe conditions for one person may be totally unacceptable for someone else. Article 3.1 of the Standard Sailing Instructions state, “…If wind, wave, or water conditions make you doubtful of your ability to handle the conditions, retire from the race.” If your sail was uneventful, who is to say that you took reasonable precautions to sail safely? On the other had, if you had an incident while sailing, who is to say that you didn’t take reasonable precautions to sail safely?
I rate the saftey factor into 3 categories:
Regatta/ Rescue resources;
a) Individual Preparation
Sailors of all skill levels should ask themselves, “Am I skillfull enough to handle the prevailing conditions?” Whether you are competing at an organized event or just daysailing at the beach, you and no one else are responsible when you (and your crew) decide to go out on the water.
Secondly, you should ask yourself, “Have I prepared my equipment to handle the prevailing conditions?” This means that your boat and all it’s standing rigging should be well maintained, that you are wearing adequate foul weather gear and life jackets just in case you fall overboard, and that you are carrying the proper safety equipment (i.e. knife, whistle, flares if you are cruising).
b) Regatta/ Rescue Resources
On the other side of the coin, event organizers should take reasonable care to decide whether they have adequate rescue resources to run an event. The IHCA Class Event Manual (1995) state a 3 chase boat minimum per course but who is to say that that this is adequate (Let’s say that it is blowing like stink and that there are 90 boats out on the water.) They could conceivably have 9 chase boats out on the water and not have adequate rescue boats available. Obviously the more rescue boats the better.
The bottom line is that the race organizer (usually the PRO) decides whether or not it is safe for EVERYONE to race given the available rescue boats and conditions.
c) Prevailing Conditions
Regardless of your skill level and number of chase boats available, there comes a point when the prevailing conditions are so severe that it is better to stay on the beach rather than risk yourself, your boat, or someone else’s life who might have to rescue you. Don’t be selfish. Recognize when to stop sailing due to unsafe conditions.
Over the last couple of H20 Continental Championships, this point has been raised. A motion has been put forward to limit the racing to 25 mph (Please correct me if this is inaccurate). I’m not sure if I agree with a fixed maximum because it’s always subject to protest but I agree with recognizing when to call if a day.
It is the responsibility of everyone to use their common sense when sailing in heavy winds. Event organizers are responsible to recognize when the overall safety of the race course is at risk. Rescue boat personnel are responsible to recognize when their safety is at risk. Individual skippers are responsible to recognize when their own safety is at risk.
If we all take on this safety mentality, we’ll be better sailors for it.