Your Life on the Line!

by Roger Eastham/John Arnold

Last weekend (Saturday, 26 August) the crew of the Royals based Sydney 32 Mainstay had a sobering reminder of just how quickly and unexpectedly things can go wrong.  

A broken lifeline resulted in a multiple man overboard. Fortunately the story has a happy ending, but things could so easily have ended differently.

Sailing in last weekends HBYC Brass Monkey series around 200 Mtrs short of the weather mark, the lower lifeline on Mainstay parted at the swage, unceremoniously dumping 3 of the crew in the  water.

One crew member was wearing a lifejacket – the other two were not so fortunate. The crew remaining on-board reacted promptly and were able to effect a successful rescue under motor.

The incident could have had a very different outcome, but does present an opportunity to examine some “lessons learned”.

  1. Whilst it is standard to inspect and replace standing rigging on a routine basis, this is not the case with lifelines. In Mainstay’s case, the wire broke inside the swage, so would have been difficult to discover in a cursory inspection. It is probably reasonable on race boats where the crew routinely hike hard (putting significant stress on the lifeline system) that a visual inspection (every time you set sail) and replacement routine (replace lashings annually and the wire every 3 to 5 years)
  2. The termination points (pulpit and pushpit) should be included in any inspection. Where possible you should consider adding a safety lashing that goes around the leg of the pulpit or pushpit rather than just relying on the welded ring or tang.
  3. If conditions are going to call for hiking, perhaps wearing a lifejacket should be encouraged
  4. Only three boats out of twenty or more on the scene came within hailing distance to offer assistance with the recovery. We all have a responsibility to offer assistance to a fellow competitor.

Section 3.12  of the Special Regulations covers Lifelines, Pulpits and Stanchions. In addition to specifying wire dimensions, the regulations require that any lanyard / lashing on a lifeline are replaced at least annually. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the fleet comply with this simple safety rule.

Whether you are racing around the World, or around the bay, the integrity of the lifelines is something that is all too easily overlooked. The clue is in the name lifelines. Maybe we just need to ask ourselves “would I trust my life to these lifelines” each time we go sailing.


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