If its been more than five or six years since your life raft was inspected, theres a good chance that it wont deploy properly in an emergency, and survival items stowed inside may also be expired. The hassle and expense of inspecting a life raft-something youve likely never used or will use-often deter owners from having it repacked as often as it should be. To find out exactly what the process entails, Practical Sailor observed the inspection and repacking of a five-year-old, eight-person Viking recreational-grade life raft at a service center in Boston and toured a Winslow service facility in Florida.
The radio crackles with an emergency dispatch: A sailboat is sinking 50 miles east of Cape Hatteras. Theres no EPIRB signal, just a garbled mayday overheard by a commercial ship. The weather is snotty and getting worse. Within minutes, a Jayhawk helicopter and Falcon jet are airborne, roaring toward the search zone, where theyll meet up with two unmanned drones launched from a cutter on patrol. Sound far fetched? Not really. Early-generation unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) armed with lightweight cameras are already being deployed on limited search missions. Fitted with high-resolution cameras, infrared, and other sensors, the drones cover wide swaths of ocean forup to 20 hours without refueling.
This is the second article in a Practical Sailor series that takes a close look at US Sailings recent reports on three tragic sailing accidents last summer. The first article covered US Sailings report on the Severn Sailing Association accident involving the drowning death of 14-year-old Olivia Constants in Annapolis, Md. This report focuses on US Sailings investigation of the tragedy involving the light-displacement sloop WingNuts, which capsized during the Chicago Yacht Clubs Chicago to Mackinac race. The US Sailing report focused on four key elements that might have been factors in the accident: crew experience, weather, boat design, and safety equipment. Practical Sailors own investigation and reporting fills in some gaps in the US Sailing report, particularly regarding safety gear-tethers, harnesses, and PFDS-and its role in the event.
In 2010, West Marine voluntarily recalled two tether models (SKU #9553512 and #9553504), the same model tethers worn by Mark Morley and Suzanne Bickel the night they died. According to West Marine’s recall notice on its website: “West Marine has discovered that under heavy load, the shackle end may not release. “
The US Sailing report makes several specific recommendations to prevent future accidents such as the one that involved WingNuts, among them:
Every two years, some 150 offshore sailboats line up in Newport, RI, to race roughly 650 miles to Bermuda, a semi-tropical island in the western Atlantic, almost due east of Charleston, SC. While this is a relatively short ocean passage, it is not always an easy one. Boats have met serious gale conditions and dodged hurricanes during past editions of this race.
Sometimes, it seems that safety is a dirty word in the boat-building industry. A favorite marketing catchword is “blue water cruiser.” We assume this means a boat capable of going to sea, rather than a boat designed to tiptoe along the shore.
Although the Icom GM1600 marine VHF handheld radio is not meant for use as a recreational marine VHF, Practical Sailor was interested in determining whether the unit’s survival-oriented design might make it a good choice for inclusion in a life raft or ditch bag. We were also interested in comparing its specs to another marine electronics product, the Standard Horizon HX850S VHF handheld, one of the top picks from our most recent series of tests (April 2009, July 2009, October 2009, December 2009).
In October 2006, Practical Sailor tested infants life jackets and our top pick was MTI Adventurewears Bay Bee 201-I, one of the few jackets we looked at that met our chief criteria for an infant life vest: flotation that turned the infant face up and kept his head well above water, comfortable snug fit, easy donning, and a wide grab strap near the top that allowed someone to easily lift the child from the water or dinghy.
Joe and Lee Minick added an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver to the nav station of their Mason 43, Southern Cross, and have used it for several years in some of the most heavily traveled waters of the world. Required on large commercial vessels, AIS devices add a whole new dimension of collision avoidance, transmitting dynamic information about a vessels speed, course and position plus static information including a vessels name, call sign and Mobile Marine Service Identity (MMSI). With a Class A AIS and a more recent Class B AIS system for small craft, AIS changes the landscape in marine navigation. The Minicks report in Practical Sailor proves how useful AIS can be for cruisers and other small boaters.