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 recall was initiated by a letter to Practical Sailor in which a reader described how the split-ring on his release lanyard failed, preventing him from being able to open the snap-shackle. West Marine concluded that although the reader’s tether was not sold by West Marine, the company found a similar problem in its tethers. Although no one had reported being harmed because of the split-rings, the company decided to issue the recall. We have found that some split-ring failures occur when trying to open the snap-shackle while the tether is under loads as low as 150 pounds. In addition, PS has learned that some tether snap-shackles will not open under loads varying from 150 to 350 pounds, even when 50 pounds of pull are applied to the release lanyard. We have noted this problem in tethers made or marketed by other manufacturers, not just West Marine.
Chuck Hawley, vice president of product development for West Marine and the chairman of the US Sailing panel that investigated the WingNuts tragedy, pointed out that the component that prompted the recall—the split-ring that connects the release lanyard to the snap-shackle—was intact on both victims’ tethers. He told Practical Sailor that he does not believe there is any relationship between issues surrounding the recall and the WingNuts fatalities. We agree, but we also believe the fact that both victims were wearing recalled tethers deserved mention in the report in order to prompt investigators to more closely examine the performance of safety equipment used that night.
For photos and details on the lanyard split-ring failure and quick-release snap shackles, search “tether recall” at www.practical-sailor.com.