Tether recall likely no factor


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.

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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