Mandatory Use of Flotation Devices
Will Save Lives

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (10/03/98)
By Ray Pendleton

The 2,225-mile long, L.A. to Honolulu, Transpacific Yacht Race - or Transpac, as it is usually referred to - is still eight months away, but it is already making news.

According to a recent press release, the Transpac board of directors, after several months of consideration, has adopted the precedent-setting rule of requiring all crew, during the race, working on deck at night, to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs).

This new rule goes well beyond US Sailing's current offshore sailing Rule 5.01 that states: "...all personnel on deck shall wear personal flotation while starting and finishing without exception, and at all other times except when the captain of the boat directs that it may be set aside."

Transpac's rule also stipulates that while PFDs may consist of fixed or inflatable flotation, they must be equipped with strobe lights to make overboard crew easier to find.

Such a device is credited with saving a crew member aboard the Ultralight Displacement Boat (ULDB) 70 Evolution, who fell overboard at night in the Newport Beach, California, to Ensenada, Mexico, race last April.

Historically, Transpac - which began in 1906 - has never lost a sailor during its subsequent 39 races, although a few have gone overboard and been recovered. But, with the development of faster boats, the risks have escalated. A ULDB surfing downwind under a spinnaker at 20 knots can travel a mile or more before the crew can get it turned around to effect a rescue.

In creating this new rule, Transpac is reacting to a series of tragic incidents that have occurred elsewhere over the last few years, including the loss of prominent sailors such as Japanese America's Cup skipper Makoto Namba and France's legendary Eric Tabarly. Both incidents occurred at night, and neither sailor was wearing a life jacket.

In early September, veteran seaman Carl Myers of Honolulu and Long Beach, was lost when a large rogue wave washed him off the 50-foot sailboat he was delivering from Hawaii to Seattle. Chief proponent of the new rule was Robbie Haines, a Transpac board member, an Olympic gold medalist and a veteran Transpac campaigner who was most recently aboard Roy E. Disney's record-setting ULDB Pyewacket. "I'm delighted to see the Transpac be pro-active in this," Haines said. "I've lost a lot of friends." Prior to adopting the rule, the Transpac's board had given some consideration to the alternative of the crew wearing harnesses tethered to the boats' lifelines or other attachments. The idea being to eliminate the crew falling overboard in the first place.

But it finally reached the conclusion that such a requirement could lead to a greater risk of tethers becoming entangled or caught up in winches or other hardware during critical maneuvers.

This new rule is bound to bring out some adverse opinions from people who resist change. In fact, Transpac board member Peggy Redler voiced some anticipated negative reactions to it.

"There are always people who will object to wearing seat belts of motorcycle helmets," she said. "The question is, would you feel better knowing your son or daughter or husband or wife or friend was wearing a life jacket out there?"

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