fatal sailing

IS SAILING DANGEROUS? ACCORDING TO A USA RESEARCH, YES.

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If you thought that sailing was a safe activity with no risks to health, after a new study from Rhode Island Hospital (Provicence, USA) researchers, maybe you’d better to change your mind.

The study has, in fact, found that sailing is more dangerous and with a higher fatality rate than skiing and snowboard combined and American football. The comparison with this typically yankee sport isn’t random given the origin of the study; however, it is striking that such violent contact sport is actually much less dangerous than sailing.

Vela sport pericoloso
Only in 28% of fatalities, adverse weather conditions are the primary cause of death 

If we look at the research based on data from the US Coast Guard concerning sailing accidents between 2000 and 2011, we see that the 4,180 events recorded have caused 271 fatalities and 841 injuries in a population of sailors counting about 8 millions sailing people every year. 

In other words, the fatality rate of American sailing is 1.19 deaths per million sailing people. Comparatively, the fatality rate for skiing and snowboarding is 1.06 deaths per million skier/snowboarder person-days while, during the 11-year study period, “only” 197 footballers died during play or practice.
But, given that sailors don’t experience neither the same speed skiers reach nor off-piste excursions with the subsequent risk of avalanche, nor the snowboarders’ evolutions or the violent physical impacts of footballers .. well, what makes them die?

The answer is self-evident: water. Falling overboard is the number one cause of death: in 70% of cases, drowning is the most common cause of death especially because 82% of drowning victims weren’t wearing a life jacket. Only in 28% of cases, deaths are caused by adverse weather conditions.

Always in the USA, alcohol is implicated in 12 percent of all sailing deaths, followed by operator inexperience or inattention. It is no coincidence that a sailor’s adage says that 9 out of 10 bodies recovered have their fly open. In other words, relaxed and careless sailors are more likely to become victims of serious accidents.
A responsible behaviour could prevent 53 fatalities out of 100, which is no small achievement.

Il cippo funerario Fastnet race 1979
The funeral stone dedicated to the 15 sailors dead during the Fastnet Race in 1979.

As regards injuries, there’s a difference between sailors using a dinghy and those with a cabin-equipped boat. 52% of injuries on boats with no engines is caused by capsizing while, on motorboats, 46% of accidents is due to collision and running aground. Both first-time and experienced sailors are not excluded from this statistic: Eric Tabarly, for example, drowned after falling into the Irish Sea from his 1989 Pen Duick while sailing to Scotland, where he would have joined the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of William Fife Shipyards.

8 Comments

    • The source is indicated in the article, the research was conducted by the Providence Rhode Island Hospital.
      The research was based on US Cost Guard data, observed from the 2000 and 2011

  1. How many of these other sporting people are engaged in their sport 24/7 for weeks or months at a time? Where do I find a ski slope that requires a three week downhill run? A cricket match can be played over five days, for 8 hours each day but who plays football for a few months non-stop?

  2. Safety on a sailboat an important subject, but this is a horribly written article with a mix of data from power boaters to international examples and even a picture of a monument regarding the loss of life in a U.K. race. Is this a study about U.S. sailing or boating in general or international boating?

  3. Safety on a sailboat an important subject, but this is a horribly written article with a mix of data from power boaters to international examples and even a picture of a monument regarding the loss of life in a U.K. race. Is this a study about U.S. sailing or boating in general or international boating?

  4. I ran the US Sailing Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal program for over a decade and have been involved in all 200+ medals ever awarded. Never has there ever even been a hint that someone was relieving themselves when they went over. Including hearsay or wives tails, in what is supposed to be a real research story takes away from its validity. http://www.ussailing.org/safety/big-boat-safety-at-sea/hanson-rescue-medals/recipients-and-stories/

  5. Are these really deaths per million participants? Hell, the murder rate in safe, secure countries is 1-10 per 100k per annum. And the death rate from automobile accidents about the same. I’m willing to take my chances sailing.

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