• Lifejackets were compulsory in the Groupama New Caledonia Race. Photo Janine Robinson.
    Lifejackets were compulsory in the Groupama New Caledonia Race. Photo Janine Robinson.


Sailing can be a dangerous sport. Lives have been lost during ocean races, cruises and even round-the-cans when sailors have been trapped under their craft.

Governments and the sport’s governing bodies have reacted with regulations that are well-intended and which may even save lives. But you can’t legislate against stupidity; accidents will continue to happen; and there is no substitute for personal responsibility.

That’s one of the reasons why this issue contains a guide to on-board MOB systems (see page 60). Making all competitors in ocean racers wear personal EPIRBs allows authorities to know who is in the water and where they are. But an even better solution is for those on board the boat to know that someone has fallen off. They are closer and are usually better-placed to affect a quick rescue than a helicopter which could be several hours’ flying time away.

For a cruising couple making a blue-water crossing or even just a coastal passage, it must surely give comfort to both partners to know that if one falls overboard while on watch alone, an alarm will sound to alert the person down below.

Compulsory lifejackets

When sailing solo offshore in bad weather or at night, I always wear a harness and clip myself to the boat. To do otherwise would be foolish. But I never wear a lifejacket, except to avoid fines when crossing a river bar.

Why? Because if I fell in the water wearing one, the first thing I would do is take it off. I’m a competitive swimmer and quite capable of getting back to the boat or to the shore, even if it was five or six miles away. .

If I was a poor swimmer, however, I would choose to wear a lifejacket at all times on the boat. To do otherwise would be stupid and could lead to the emergency services being called out unnecessarily. The key point is that it should be my choice – I should decide what precautions are necessary to protect myself, based on the prevailing circumstances.

In New South Wales right now, I am faced with a ludicrous situation when going out to my boat on its swing mooring 50m from shore in a sheltered bay. I can legally swim out to it. I can legally paddle a surf ski out to it. But if I want to row my unsinkable dinghy out to it, I have to wear a lifejacket.

Unfortunately, I can’t see us returning to the days when one’s safety was one’s own responsibility. But I do hope that we won’t continue down the road of enforced compliance with over-zealous legislation that is often devoid of logic .

I’ll post this editorial on the www.mysailing.com.au website and prepare myself for the onslaught from the nanny-staters.

Meanwhile, if you’re going sailing offshore make sure you assess the risk and take whatever precautions are necessary to keep you safe. Every idiot who gets into trouble brings the risk of compulsory compliance another step closer.

Roger McMillan


Please post your comments in support of, or in opposition to, this editorial. But keep the arguments civilised. We do not approve comments that indulge in personal abuse or inflammatory language. This is not Sailing Anarchy – instead of hiding behind a false name and pouring out vitriol, please argue as though the person you disagree with is sitting next to you.

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