Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Three Mile Harbor, East Hampton, NY
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I love sailing and most of the time regard it as a very safe activity. BUT... there are certainly situations we get into which involve risk, and sometimes those situations are not easily avoidable. Nothing feels better than having come through those situations intact (more or less) and feeling we have wrestled with the nature and won.
Contrary to many of my fellow sailors, though, I suspect that much of the statistical data we read understates the risks, not overstates them. The reason is that the amount of time the average person spends on the water is quite small. When we see statistics for commercial transportation, the meaningful stats are given in deaths or injuries per passenger mile. The stats for boating accidents are usually given as just raw numbers.
On a gorgeous July Sunday in perfect sailing conditions, I can look around the marina or the mooring field and see it filled with boats. Until we know how many hours the average sailor spends on his boats, the raw data tells us little about safety. Even many people who think of themselves as pretty active sailors will add up their hours and find that they are actually under way less than 100 hours per year. And there are a lot less sailors around than one might think. So the overall average presented in the USCG report of approximately 6 deaths per 100,000 vessels of all types tells me little about the safety of sailboats. But I can do some comparison.
Almost all of the Sailnet readers sail boats that qualify as "mechanically propelled." The total of state registered auxiliary sailboats was only about 56,000 in the 16 to 26 foot category and 58,000 over 26 feet. (I know this omits documented vessels, but they are probably lost in the rounding). Thus, a total of a little over 100,000 boats. I suspect many never leave the dock. The total fatalities on boats known to be auxiliary sailboats was shown as 15 in 2008.
So, to my surprise, auxilliary sailboats actually have a higher fatality rate per vessel than the average of all boats, including a lot of people I would have thought to be higher risk -- the fishermen or hunters who regard a boat as transportation, those who know nothing about boats (if they sail they almost have to know something or they can't get under way), those who travel 40 knots in crowded waterways while drinking, etc. Since there are no stats on usage, as opposed to number of boats, I can't get much out of this. What I do get, however, is that the raw numbers are less comforting than I would like.
Will I stop sailing? Not on your life -- or mine I suppose. But I will continue to pay great attention to the safety related threads and try to learn as much as I can from other people's mistakes. After all, I am not only the captain of my fate, I frequently take those I love most aboard.