The Special Regs provides two types of prescriptions: “shall” commands mandate safety practices; and “should” advisories are recommendations that aid seamanship. Many are event-specific, like the requirement for watertight bulkheads for Category 0. Yet numerous prescriptions apply to all boats, for example this very good one: “Sea cocks or valves shall be permanently installed on all through-hill openings below [the waterline]. . . .” Some prescriptions combine commands and advisories, such as: “A foul-weather suit with hood shall be provided for each crew member. It is recommended that a foul-weather suit should be fitted with marine-grade retro-reflective material, and should have high-visibility colors on its upper parts and sleeve cuffs.”
Using the Special Regs as a reference, cruising sailors can judge for themselves whether a “shall” makes more sense if it is read as a “should.” But for the racing sailor, there is no option because the Special Regs is part of the racing rules. That’s true even when a rule is foolish. An over-enthusiastic rulemaker can react to a perceived problem with excess alarm and write a regulation that should have been left as a simple advisory. Here’s an example from the Special Regs: “A strong, sharp knife, sheathed, attached by a lanyard, shall be provided readily accessible in each cockpit.”
A nice idea, that. But, really, if we carry a folding knife or a Leatherman (or, God forbid, a sheath knife without a lanyard) are we at much at risk as a crew in a boat with no shut-off for a through-hull? Why can’t I, the sailor, decide what type of knife to carry? And then there’s the issue of enforcement. Who on board will turn in a skipper to the race officials because the wrong kind of knife was at hand?
Fortunately, such silliness is rare in the Special Regs. Like any good body of rules, it usually mandates commonly understood essentials while encouraging owners and sailors to come up with their own solutions. But the knife mandate does illustrate a point. Even in a pastime with a safety record that is the envy of all outdoor sports, we are not exempt from the urges on the part of well-intended individuals, first, to drum up alarm and, then, try to end it with a new regulation, no matter how narrowly written, unpopular, poorly drafted, and unenforceable that regulation may be.
I expressed my opinion of the rule in the following comments that I sent in (and that are archived with all the others on US Sailing’s Safety site).
|"I have never met a person who would turn in a friend to the authorities for violating a law concerning behavior."|
I have never met a person who would turn in a friend to the authorities for violating a law concerning behavior. A law must be capable of being easily and clearly enforced by observers, for otherwise it's a bad law. Unenforceable laws are instantly disregarded and soon inspire cynicism. A rule requiring crews to wear PFDs in a day race or a distance race started in daylight is enforceable because the boat is visible to officials and competitors. Not so at night.
The backers of this rule must be alert to the enforceability question because they have not advised requiring that harnesses actually be used by clipping them on, an action that's often invisible to one's shipmates. What are we to make of a law requiring possession of an object and not insisting on use that makes the object effective?
“The afterguard declares that our foremost concern is the safety of our crew and boat. We have inspected the boat's safety gear and find it ready for use. Our crew has devoted at least two hours to practicing crew-overboard rescues. We have a written Standard Operating Procedure for the wearing and use of PFDs and safety harnesses during the race at any time when there is any risk of falling overboard. We shall follow that SOP ourselves and impose it on all crew members.”
A signature on such a statement has legal and ethical implications that, I think, are far more enforceable than the proposed rule.
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