An extremely thorough, logical analysis and discussion from Beth and Evans which I pulled from their website:
"This is an example of a fundamental disagreement we have with the safety
experts' approach to safety
. We do not like to rely on 'single-purpose, untestable, magic boxes' and have not carried a liferaft
on either of our voyages/boats. People say, "Well, I may need a raft and there is no harm in putting one on board." I think both elements of that statement reflect poor logic. Having the raft aboard does bring significant downsides and the likelihood the raft will be useful is much smaller than many other very low risks that we all just let go by in our lives without undue concern or special precaution. (note: there is an excellent essay 'The psychology of security", directly useful when considering safety equipment
and procedures.) Also useful and related is this article on safety and back-up planning, about the Japanese Nuclear problem, but can be related to our cruising safety and planning. And a third interesting article on safety psychology, particularly in complex systems (And how adding safety equipment
might not make you safer).
Downside analysis: The core
downside is that if you don't have a raft you will be much more focused and intent on saving the boat, and at least to us, that is important. We are willing to make the trade-off involved, of a higher likelihood of saving the boat with also a higher chance of dying if we fail to save the boat. I think that many people in their hearts don't believe they need to make this trade-off, that they can have it both ways - an initial complete commitment to saving the boat and then the raft as a backup if they fail. However, I think they are fooling themselves - they will in fact give the situation more effort and focus if they feel they have no choice/no raft, and give up more quickly with less effort if they have the raft. In the pre-raft days, people made some pretty impressive repairs
when they had no choice - Tzu Hang is perhaps the best documented but there were many many others.
Beyond that the raft may prevent you from saving your boat if the boat starts taking on water
. Below I relate one example but we know at least three first hand cases where it was impossible to find the source of incoming water
because people took the time to launch their rafts rather than immediately going below to save the boat. It's almost impossible to find the source of inrushing water once there is 2' of water in the boat. Secondarily, you could have taken that money
and effort and put in a watertight bulkhead or foam filled crash box or stronger rudder
, or fire-proofed your interior
or pulled/refit all your thru-hulls and stuffing box, etc. Finally, no matter how often people are coached to 'only get in the raft when you have to step up to it' that's simply not how the psychology of emergencies work. People panic and they are not thinking clearly and history
has clearly shown, given the option, they often leave perfectly good boats for the less good raft.
Upside analysis: The real frequency of well-found boats sinking rapidly at sea (hitting whales and containers, etc. and going down so quickly they can not be saved by a diligent crew) are very, very rare (rudders and dagger boards
with some frequency but do not usually result in rapid sinking). The likelihood is certainly less than that you will be hit by lightning
. Secondly, if you end up in one of those rare cases, our (admittedly small sample) data suggests that only about 1 time out of 3 will the raft actually work (even if it's 50% it's not so good). Finally, if you are in one of those rare cases and the raft does works, much of the time it will not protect you very well (big seas and/or cold water) or it will not help because you are in a part of the ocean with low vessel traffic/no rescue
capability. So, it certainly happens occasionally but the odds the thing will actually save your life are really, really low - probably lower than your winning the jackpot lottery. That's the upside.
As one thinks of the few cases where the raft was in fact essential to a well found boat, you should not forget the other cases where people have gotten in the raft when they should not have, and the cases when the boat could have been saved if they had not fussed with the raft first, and the cases where the raft resources and effort would have been better directed elsewhere. You can't have the first cases without the others cases. The important thing is to see if the net balance is positive or negative, and we believe the facts suggest its pretty clearly the latter.
In additional detail:
First, liferafts, like much of the available 'safety equipment', especially the single
purpose 'sealed magic boxes' do not work very well. In NZ about 20 cruising boats got together to get their rafts repacked. Before repacking they all pulled their inflation cords and about 1/3 did not inflate, 1/3 inflated but promptly deflated and only 1/3 inflated and stayed inflated (this after the rafts were on average only two years at sea). More recently, the Concordia launched 4 rafts and one failed (tube burst). That's a 25% failure rate for commercial
SOLAS grade, annually serviced and inspected, rafts. Even when the rafts inflate properly, they are dangerous at sea. In each of the well-documented storms - the Fastnet, the Sydney
to Hobart, and the Queen's Birthday storm - crew would have been much safer staying with their boats than getting in their rafts. A high fraction of those getting in rafts were injured or died while 80% of the abandoned boats were later found floating perfectly safely. Rafts are often hard to deploy. Many are simply too heavy and difficult for a single
person to quickly get over the side, and many are mounted near propane tanks
and gasoline jugs, which will destroy the raft in case of fire or explosion - one common case for abandoning ship, and the one where the raft is most critical to survival. Finally, in the cold waters where Hawk has predominately been cruising, we are almost certain to die of hypothermia in a raft before being rescued.
Second we are committed to saving our boat and sailing her home. We believe that even if the raft works it actually reduces overall vessel safety. Quite a high fraction of the 20% of boats that are not later found after being abandoned could have been saved if the crew had stayed on board. A classic example is a boat we knew that was rapidly taking on water - through a blown stuffing box seal but they did not know it at the time. They looked down below, saw water rising and took time to inflate the raft as a precaution. By the time they got below to try to find the leak there was so much water they could not locate the inrush and the boat sank, fortunately in shallow water. It was salvaged and the cause was determined to be the blown stuffing box, which would have been easy to locate and fix if they had done it immediately and not been distracted by the raft. We feel we are much more likely to be safe and save the boat if we are fully committed to saving the boat than if we have half our attention focusing on a raft.
Third, purely from an 'investment' point of view there are tools with much more bang for the buck in keeping us and the boat safe - bigger anchors, stronger hull
, watertight bulkheads fore and aft, tools and materials to effect repair (rigging, rudder
skin especially), fire retardant materials in the boat and hull, sealed locker not only for propane
but also for outboard
gas and for any paint/solvents, easy to use boom preventers and pole control gear
, proper charts
of all potential back-up landfalls, extensive medical
and knowledge, sat phone
, etc. Perhaps most importantly, we believe that multiple ways to minimize fatigue (ranging from a hard dodger
for less fatiguing watch keeping to improved sleep cycles practice/knowledge to amphetamines for short intense periods like making landfall after several days of gales) is critical to our safety. Fatigue is the number one contributing factor in bad situations and the number one hindrance in effectively resolving them when they occur. Even if you do believe a raft will actually be effective, risk-based analysis says you should fully implement all these areas before the raft becomes a priority. (Note there has not ever been a case of any vessel in the history
of either the Bermuda
or Transpac races sinking and requiring the use of a raft to wait for rescue *footnote below* - so no use in several thousand hard-sailed ocean passages).
We do carry two dry suits (and an inflatable
dinghy), which we primarily use for hull/prop/zinc maintenance
and for helming in truly foul weather. But in addition to these uses would also be much more effective for temporarily 'abandoning ship' (say to get to shore from a burning boat in a remote
anchorage - which happened to friends of ours in Chile) than a raft. They require no inflation, offer better protection from hypothermia, and are stowed away from propane and dinghy
gas, etc. This sort of dual purpose equipment
, which we can regularly use, inspect and maintain is a significantly better approach in our opinion than essentially sealed magic boxes that we can only hope will work when we need them. I was talking with the skipper
of a Transpac race
boat about safety issues and stunned to discover that, in order to save weight, the only tools they carried were the bow men's two leathermen (and a required spar banding tool) and they had no spare screws/bolts/plywood. This inability to repair even small defects seems unseaman-like in the extreme, but I acknowledge it may be necessary to be competitive in that elite racing environment
On a related topic, regarding harnesses: It is the case that the vast majority of really experienced bluewater sailors don't wear harnesses/pfd's that much. These folks have well developed 'sealegs' and know how to move and work on the vessel in a stable position. They also know when they need to clip in (although we all make mistakes
, the vastly experienced as well as the inexperienced). If you study the record
situations, the vast majority of MOB
have been from #1 situations where the crew was standing working with both hands (usually with his hands over his waist) and knocked by a sail, boom, pole, wave or sudden lurch. Or #2 when at a work station (winching or hiking out) and a solid green wave hits them and washes them overboard
. In both of these situations it makes sense to have a short strop (just long enough to allow the necessary work but not long enough to go overboard) attached to a near centerline deck
hard point (padeye), which will simply not allow you to reach overboard
at any angle and always there ready to clip on. We are not a big fan of using jacklines
for normal movement up and down the deck or for work station use - because (a) in typical designs they don't prevent you from going over the side (too long), (b) we believe a crewman should be able to move up and down the deck safely (in typical conditions) with one hand for the ship and one hand for himself (good non-skid and toerail and handgrips are important elements of vessel design to help this), and (c) it unnecessarily restricts free and fast movement on deck. Being able to speedily move around the deck and quickly resolve potential problems before they become too large will stop the 'cascade of failures' often seen in major incidents. It should be noted that kneeling or sitting is more stable for working than standing, and that crawling up the deck in very bad conditions is always acceptable and seamanlike. Recent Volvo
feedback has been that current
ORC harnesses are clumsy for practical long duration usage, and too slow to put on when the off-watch needs to come immediately on deck. The important, time-tested seamanship rule
is 'one hand for the boat and one hand for yourself'. The better rule
is to clip-in in when you simply cannot hold on: (a) When working with both hands, particularly when standing up (for example at the mast
stay), then it is good practice to clip-in during unstable conditions because you don't have 'one hand for yourself'. (b) If your work station is being washed with green water, which could dislodge you even while holding on. That is the experienced seaman's practice.
Regarding lifejackets: it is stunning how ineffective life jackets appear to be in the real world. In the official US Coast Guard statistics for coastal usage there is essentially no statistical difference between the percentage of boaters wearing life jackets and those drowning who were wearing life jackets (The 2006 data shows identical results as does the latest 2008 data) - both are 9.3% for adult boaters excluding PWCs on an 8-year average. This means that the life jackets have in fact been almost completely useless in actual practice. If life jackets were effective then the first percentage should be many times higher than the second. This can be at least partially explained by one observation: Virtually no life jacket will hold the users' head
out of the water entirely by itself, and so they will not save anyone who is unconscious, extremely fatigued or drunk (drunk while boating
study). Article with volvo racer
perspective. This perspective was again reinforced by the recent Flinder's Islet incident. Three people went over the side, one had on PFD
and harness and was clipped on, one had on PFD
and harness and not clipped, and one had nothing on. The person clipped on was trapped bashing against the boat and died. The person not clipped on floated free and was recovered safely. The person without tether or harness suffered a head injury while being washed overboard and likely would not have survived no matter what gear
he had. This gear looks like it will save lives but the real world statistics are not very encouraging. In the recent Farallon's incident, seven people went in the water all wearing Pfd's and two survived with five dead.
My summary point on harnesses and PFD's is that they are not cure-all's and it is more important to learn how to move and work safely on deck. But it (mostly) can't hurt and might help to be wearing a PFD (so long as it does not trap you under rigging
or the vessel) or a harness and to clip in when you feel unsteady at all or are sitting stationary or have any risk of solid green waves on deck.
Fourth, we fundamentally accept that life has risks. We know that all risks cannot be completely eliminated. We know we will die sometime. We do not let this deter us from living our dreams. We strongly object to the fear based marketing/propaganda efforts, applied to everything from cell phones to water makers, that lead you to believe you will get sick and/or die unless you have one. Following expert advice, one could spend one's entire life and resources minimizing already low risks. That is a pale life. A seaman goes to sea with a realistic assessment of the risks and with the sure knowledge that the seaman's life is worth pursuing despite the risks. He has practiced plans to deal with the most likely situations and a foundation of skills and basic tools to tackle the unlikely. He knows that with a hammer, a knife, and a rope
he can overcome most situations.
This is a distinctly personal choice, based on our own assessment of the likely true risks and how to most effectively minimize them. We rarely even mention this decision to others, as we do not want others to base such an important decision on our reasoning and logic. I do believe the thought process should be undertaken with all safety equipment by evaluating the following questions: How likely is the actual risk compared to other risks? Is the equipment well made & will it actually work (has it consistently worked well for others)? Can I personally test it out and see if how it works and refine my procedure or is it essentially a mystery box that I just hope will work? Does it distract either our attention or money
from a better solution?
In case one thinks this is 'only a racing
issue' - race
rules/mindset and the racing safety committees do clearly slop over into the cruising community and into cruising boat design. I think that the current rescue mindset is being driven from the racing community into the cruising community (typical racers' comments: "100 other fully crewed boats ready to come to your rescue", "never out of helicopter range"). It's a major pain today to get a boat approved for the Bermuda
race - with all that effort we should at least focus on the right fundamental things, and it would improve all boats not just racing machines. I simply think the pendulum has swung way, way too far toward the abandon ship/rescue and gizmos and away from boat strength, design, watch keeping, etc. I think, we, the sailors, need to challenge the safety community more about the quality and reliability
and actual usefulness of their rules/products. I would like to see more focus on basic structures, fire retardant construction and watch keeping (protection in the cockpit
work stations from solid green water, sleep cycles, etc.).
Our safety focus/priorities are:
(1) Primary focus is on avoiding problems in the first place - stronger rudders and keel
attachments, better work station protection, and fire avoidance
(2) Second focus on tools, materials and skills to fix problems rather than call for rescue when a problem has happened - significant inventory of tools and materials and spare parts
& avoid safety products/designs produced simply to satisfy racing rules and identify emergency parts
designs/jury rigs that have proven they can be installed and actually work in bad conditions (cassette rudders, spring starter motors, boom gooseneck strong enough/wide enough range of vertical motion to allow boom to be pulled vertical and used as quick jerry rig, etc)
(3) General dislike for single purpose, sealed & untestable, ‘safety’ gear - find multipurpose alternatives that can be used, inspected and tested every day
*footnote* Two boats have been lost
in Bermuda Races: ADRIANA to a fire in 1932, and ELDA in 1956 when she ran up on Bermuda’s reef. In the Transpac, in 1975 non-entrant ATTORANTE sank and her crew was rescued by SWIFTSURE. In 1981 Transpac, a racing catamaran
broke apart the first night, and her six-man crew was rescued by WESTWARD. MEDICINE MAN sank on the reef 100 yards short of the finish in '89. And in 1999 the crew of DOUBLE BULLET was airlifted off the capsized catamaran
by a Coast Guard helicopter. This suggests the priority lesson learned for monohulls should be 'don't hit the land at the end of the passage' (navigation skills, proper charts
and fatigue management) and 'stow your combustibles carefully and check your fire extinguishers'; and for multihulls 'in order to win the boat must be strong enough to finish and sailed carefully enough to stay upright'."
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