When we read about a sailor lost overboard in the storm, we think about PFDs and personal locator beacons, and accept the sea is unforgiving. When we read of novice boaters drowning in a local lake, were sad, but say that will not happen us because we wear PFDs. But when we read of a PFD-equipped sailor falling overboard and dying within minutes its a real eye-opener.
Should you find yourself cast in icy water, there are few things you can do that may help.
Nearly one year ago, the Volvo Ocean Race boat Sun Hung Kai-Scallywag was deep in the Southern Ocean bound from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil when 47-year-old John Fisher was thrown overboard during an accidental jibe. (Fishers tether was unclipped at the time of the accident as he moved between stations.)
Is an auto-inflate PFD the right answer for solo offshore cruisers?
Regarding your recent Inside Practical Sailor blog post Drysuits vs. Survival Suits, I raft the Colorado river in Grand Canyon where water temps are around 50 F, even in the summer. The whitewater down there is furious and sometimes dangerous. I wear a 3 millimeter neoprene wetsuit under a full drysuit. If the drysuit rips, the wetsuit should slow down thermal loss. The problem is heat buildup in the sun. The solution is to jump in the cold water now and then to keep from over heating. On a sailboat that would be harder to do. There have been a few times sailing solo when I wore both garments, but it was pretty clammy inside. There is no perfect solution, just reasonable compromises by which to stay alive. Something to remember is that once a drysuit rips, it will take on hundreds of pounds of water. A high flotation PFD is mandatory, at least 26 pounds I would think.
Many years ago, when I was shopping for a boat to sail around the world, I sought out wiser sailors for advice. A recent college graduate, I had a ridiculously low budget but lucked into finding a boat that appeared fit for the task. It was a 32-foot gaff-rigged William Atkin ketch, a double ended Thistle design based on the Colin Archer lifeboats.