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.
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.
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.