Statistically speaking, sailing is a pretty safe sport. That is, unless you're dealing with the new crop of faster boats and some advance equipment that requires training. After a spate of accidents, resulting in the deaths of over a dozen sailors, the sport looks riskier. Traditionally low-tech seamanship errors, bad weather, or gear failure caused the accidents. But when U.S. Sailing began investigating the recent tragedies they found the type of advanced equipment that should be preventing loss of life was part of the problem. It turns out modern sailing requires a whole new skill set. Here are five potentially life-saving technologies – and what you need to know about them before you use them.
Monitoring Onboard Technology
Systems that tie together autopilot, chart plotter, GPS, radar and other instruments can make it easier to navigate a boat – but make sure you're trained to use it. The complexity or the technology contributed to at least one fatal accident with a crew that was unprepared
The affordability and accuracy of SPOT and other SEND (Satellite Emergency Notification Device) devices makes them popular. But unlike EPIRBs and Personal Locator Beacons which are tied the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system a SPOT SOS call uses commercial satellites. Tragically when one SPOT device was activated in a fatal yacht accident the emergency notification went to voicemail.
Unlike traditional PFDs (personal floatation devices) it's tough to test the fit of an inflatable life vest until you actually use it. Some stores let you test fit PFDs, but if you have to buy before you try – inflate it at home to ensure it fits snugly.
Modern harnesses have lightweight tethers, reliable quick release mechanisms and are often incorporated into your PFD–which means there's no reason not to clip on. Bryan Chong, who survived a horrific accident, put it succinctly, "One person overboard puts the entire crew at risk."
Getting Help Early
During an evolving emergency, sailors often put off using an EPIRB until their situation is dire. But by radioing a "Pan Pan" (there's a problem but no lives are in danger) sailors can inform the Coast Guard of a problem early on. Then help is standing by-just in case.