Near the start of the 2018 Chicago Yacht Club’s Race to Mackinac race a sailor was washed overboard and drown. This account from his team makes my stomach churn:
The boat made three unsuccessful approaches to retrieve him, during which crew noted that his life jacket had not inflated. During the third approach, crewmembers saw him slip under the water.
No sense belaboring the point: these men watched their friend die, doing everything they could but ultimately powerless to help. This man succumbed to the elements within sight of his friends struggling to save him.
I’m not going to pretend to have the answers but this knot in my stomach is too familiar to ignore. I was at a safety at sea seminar, standing alongside a pool watching other sailors blow up their PFDs when I thought there must be a way to manually inflate the PFD I was wearing. I had just figured out how to manually inflate my life jacket when I looked up and realized the class had moved on into the pool while I fumbled with my PFD; the PFD I had needed to take off and set down to figure out. My stomach sank because I realized figuring this out after falling overboard in frigid New England waters would be a life and death struggle; a struggle where life would certainly have been the underdog. I then vowed to go through all aspects of the operation of my safety gear.
Accordingly I always politely decline when a skipper graciously offers to let me borrow a PFD or other personal safety gear for a passage. I bring my own personal safety gear because I know how to operate it, know it fits me properly, I am sure it has been properly stowed and had it’s regular maintenance completed. Confidence in my safety gear and my ability to use it is always worth the hassle of flying with my PFD.
I’m going to go back through the available information about the Chicago-Mac fatality and I suggest you do the same. In the meantime I have reaffirmed my commitment to bringing my own safety gear and making sure I am well versed in every aspect of its operation. And share as much of this information as I can on SavvySalt.