Monday, August 8, 2011

Coaches Corner: Safety

Safety is always a priority among sailors and coaches. Unfortunately, this summer has seen a fluky amount of incidents on the water. Part of being a good sailor is having the ability to push the limits and use a certain amount of fearlessness in situations that can look dire to an outside eye. But how do you distinguish between a healthy dose of adrenaline and not a safety hazard?

This is a question you must ask yourself, but it becomes even harder when a coach or race committee is responsible for making that decision for several students. As a student, I can easily recall many days that a coach pushed me out on the water in conditions that I and/or my partner were not comfortable with or talented enough to sail well in. However, thats how you learn and at the end of the day I was usually happy I had gone out.

Injuries can happen anywhere. It’s not always about big breeze. On the Roadshow, I've experienced several moments of watching kids succeed in situations that I thought could potentially be dangerous, and then see injuries happen out of no where. Luckily, everything this summer has turned out okay, but as a coach how can you predict where to watch and how do you gauge a situation before it happens? 

On a different note, several junior and especially 420 classes along the east coast are struggling to recover from the Annapolis incident. Less experienced kids on the trapeze are still scared to try it, and I've heard coaches say the kids will jump off the wire before anything happens, which subsequently causes the boat to flip. Another sailing tragedy this summer was the Mackinac incident in Chicago. Unlike contact sports where injuries tend to stand by themselves, things can escalate quickly when something goes wrong in a boat. Freak accidents happen, but what can the sailing community do to recover and learn from these tragedies?

In light of these incidents and several small injuries I’ve seen this summer, I’d like to ask what supervisors can do to ensure sailing is a safe activity. US SAILING's Level 1 and 2 training is a great start, but what can we do to make sure the "safety, fun, and learning" mantra is active on the water? The offshore Safety-at-Sea courses have received great feedback, but how can those lessons be more widely integrated?

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