Sailing Fatality Studies Shine Light on Tethers

Several post-accident investigations have raised questions about tethers.


The capsize of WingNuts is not the first fatal accident that has put the spotlight on the harness-to-tether connection. Since 1986, several widely publicized fatal sailing accidents have prompted inquiries into the harnesses and safety tethers used by sailors.

• Pride of Baltimore, 1986: Second mate Joseph McGeady cuts several young crewmembers free when the tall ship sinks in a “white squall,” killing four. In the aftermath, crews of traditional sailing vessels are advised to wear tethers with clips at both ends.

• White Lightning, 1999: Crew member Mark Van Selst tries in vain to bring aboard skipper Harvey Schlasky who drowns while being dragged by his tether in the Doublehanded Farallones Race.

• Business Post of Naiad, 1998: Phillip Skeggs dies entangled in lines and at the end of his tether when the IMS racing boat capsized in the lethal 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race in the Tasman Sea. Fellow racer Robert Mathews tries to release his tether clip, but finds it very difficult as he, too, was at the end of his tether.

• Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2009: Sailors Andrew Short and Sally Gordon die when their boat runs aground on Flinders Islet during the Flinders Islet Yacht Race in Australia. Post-race inquiry into the grounding suggested that Gordon, who was somehow yanked from her harness, may have survived if she had been able to release her tether from the boat.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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