Who is responsible for safety during a circumnavigation?

Over the centuries, thousands of seafarers have lost their lives at sea.

In previous times, particularly in yacht racing, speed and winning the race were the primary concerns and sometimes, sadly, this need for speed was at the expense of safety, or in some cases, lack of prior knowledge to refer to, made for some inadequate choices that cost lives.

 

In this modern era with the knowledge and technologies available to us, authorities, organisers, and other bodies within the sailing world, have taken steps to minimize the loss of life, particularly for those of us who go to sea to race or for a challenge.

Notably,  World Sailing, under the auspices of the Offshore Racing Commission (ORC), has provided a framework of the safety measures to be taken for boats to compete in any ocean-going race and they have published the OFFSHORE SPECIAL REGULATIONS (© ORC Ltd. 2002, amendments 2003-2020 © World Sailing Limited). These international regulations have been published since 1967, with the latest regulations covering 2022/2023.

 

The framework is based on the best practices compiled over decades by World Sailing, but it should be emphasised the framework defines, de facto, minimum standards, but it is the exclusive responsibility of the skipper to ensure that he is fit, both physically and mentally, for the event, that the boat is capable of undertaking a the navigation planned, a circumnavigation in the case of the GSC, and that it is properly equipped and properly maintained.

In the World Sailing frameword, Offshore Special Rules are issued and to ensure they are relevant to the type of race being undertaken, the races are categorized as follows:

  • Category 4 – which can be described as short races, close to shore in relatively warm or protected waters and normally held in daylight,
  • Category 3 – which are races across open water, most of which are relatively protected or close to shore.
  • Category 2- Races of extended duration along or not far from shorelines or in large unprotected bays or lakes, where a high degree of self-sufficiency is required.
  • Category 1- Races of long-distance and well offshore, where boats must be completely self-sufficient for extended periods of time, capable of withstanding heavy storms and prepared to meet serious emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance
  • Category 0- which are those races, which cross oceans and include races which pass through areas in which the air or sea temperatures are likely to be less than 5°C (41°F).

 

In these races, they stipulate that the boats must be completely self-sufficient for very extended periods of time, capable of withstanding heavy storms and prepared to meet serious emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance.

As I am sure you can understand, the safety considerations in these different types of races are generally not the same, hence the categorisation.

The Global Solo Challenge (GSC), if it were a race, would readily come under Category 0, given its route around the three capes, with extended periods in cold waters and that the entrants will, of course, be crossing oceans, well away from any other person or from being able to call for help, if they should need it.

 

However, the GSC is not a race, per se, it is a challenge, so the OSRs issued by World Sailing (nor do the RSS) do not apply as such to the sailors participating in this event, except that the organisers have decided to adopt the best practices contained in the OSRs for Cat 0 events with only minor changes for the specifc circumstances of the challenge in the GSC Regulations. The same that would occur in a race organised under the hat of World Sailing and a national sailing federation, which may amend specific points of the OSRS in their Notice of Race. In the case of the GSC, the Notice of Event and Regulations set out the rules for the event.

 

The rules are really comprehensive and whilst some would be adopted by any prudent sailor, even someone going out for a day cruise close to shore, other rules are really specific to the conditions these sailors will encounter and the extended length of time and distance that they will remain away from any available assistance.

For instance, the participating skippers are required to have training in subjects as diverse as personal survival techniques, fire precautions and firefighting, and emergency communications as well as a number of other related topics.

The specifics for the general profile and safety standards adopted provide some minimum parameters in regards to many aspects, such as stability and self-righting capability of a yacht, and are there to ensure that participating skippers have considered a very extensive list of aspect of their safety in their preparations.

 

For yachts entered in a Category 0 race and indeed the GSC, for example, there are regulations that specify that the boats must be sectioned into waterproof compartments, by using transverse waterproof bulkheads, which need to be strong enough so that even if one section of the boat is full of water, nothing will leak into another compartment.

This should ensure that if one or even two of these sections floods completely, then the boat will be able to remain afloat by the buoyancy provided by the other sections and consequentially, will not sink.

The GSC regulations then detail how each section should be accessible if there were the need to pump out a particular section.

Anazasi Girl Open40

 

The thinking is, that if a sailor can stay with his boat, even if the vessel could not be sailed, then he has a better chance of getting to his provisions of food and water supplies, of attracting the attention of potential rescuers and consequentially surviving. Similar safety standards are applied to smal crafts in military applications.

There are regulations that detail the framework in relation to many aspect of a boat, its sails, and its safety equipment for entering into an event but it remains the skipper who will ultimately have the responsibility to determine boat and skipper are adequately suited for the event. Compliance with the rules gives no assurance as such that this is sufficient to determine if a boat or skipper are suited to undertake the Global Solo Challenge.

Even the qualification passage, mandatory for all participant, is there to simply set a minimum bar, and encourage the skippers to spend time at sea with their boats before the event, but completing the qualifier cannot possibly alone give any indication of whether the skipper and boat are ready for the event. The decision to start, continue, or indeed stop, are exclusively of the person in charge, none but the solo skipper’s in this case.

 

One thing has to be said though, in a number of sports, extensive rules and regulations are thought to have stymied that sense of competitiveness and the participants’ sense of adventure.

But given that these rules are predominantly about the planning and set up of the yachts, and the preparation and only provide a general framework for the skippers which leave a great deal of freedom on many aspects of the preparation and, once the sailors put to sea in their groups, the event should be both exciting for sailors and followers alike and will generate a real sense of the adventure, as it unfolds.