Is Being Rescued Our Right?

Yesterday I started out reading a post from Capt. Richard J. Rodriguez over at BitterEnd about planning and situation awareness. From there I read an article by Roger Taylor titled "Safety at Sea - A Radical Approach" (this is a really, really good article).

It is my opinion that it is a very selfish choice to outfit a boat with "safety" devices that require someone else to risk their life at my own expense. Roger Taylor's article really sums up this idea that it is our right to be rescued.

At the same time we are increasingly vociferous about our 'rights'. We all have a million and one 'rights' to just about everything you care to name: food, shelter, good jobs, pensions, education, televisions, whatever. You name it, we have a 'right' to it. We are now so habituated to assuming our 'rights' that, I am sure, many ocean going sailors also assume the 'right' to be rescued, should they hit trouble, without a second's reflection or hesitation
And a bit later on in the article

An assumption of the right to be rescued is a poor starting point for the ocean sailor. It is my view that much of modern so-called 'safety' equipment, in particular the Emergency Position Indicating Rescue Beacon - the EPIRB - insidiously militates against the proper preparation of yachts and their crews for ocean sailing. Its unspoken message is that at the press of a button help will be on its way. It is the ultimate safety net. It should not be. The ultimate safety net should be the uncompromising preparation and seaworthiness of the yacht to be sailed, and the proper mental attitude of its crew. My point here is that a good proportion of the effort and expense of fitting out a yacht for the sea these days goes into gadgets perceived as 'safety' equipment - EPIRBs, radios, satellite telephones, in other words equipment designed to help the sailor communicate his plight
I contend that assuming the right to be rescued is a poor starting point for any sailer. And I went sailing today with much of this information on my mind.

As we sailed along, monitoring channel 16 as always, we heard the normal amount of requests for aid. Fortunately no Maydays today but those occurrences will unfortunately increase as the busy summer season kicks in. Most of the calls are and will be engine related from boats drifting with the current and needing a tow. As we sailed along we tried to think about what could happen to us that would cause us to send out a Mayday call. The first thing that came to mind was an accident. The two big "fears" in our area our "deadheads" (submerged floating logs) and being hit by a boat under power. Neither of these two are really big fears for us. We really, really keep a lookout for flotsam and we sail very defensively.

We also thought about what we would do if we lost our mast, or if the wind completely died and we were drifting with the current (which actually isn't that rare for us). But always we came up with a number of ideas that would prevent us from "needing" to get rescued.

I have always sailed with the idea that the risk is all mind. I don't really think there is that much risk as we have a very sound boat but in the end if I really screw up I pay the ultimate price. That being losing my life. In some ways the myriad of "safety" device is sort of panacea that provides an unrealistic sense of security.

One of our rules of sailing is the 50-50-50 rule. If we are 50 yards from shore and the water is 50 degrees we have about a 50% chance of making it to shore. Our season is from early May til late October. In the extreme edges of our sailing season we are often the only boat for miles around. The simple fact is that if we go into the water we die. Safety devices like EPIRB's and even life vests will just make it easier to find and recover our bodies.

This fact was really brought home to me when I took a sailing instructors class during May at Port Townsend. I ended up deciding that being US Sailing instructor wasn't my gig but not before "getting" to perform the safety swim test. We had to swim something like 25 yards, fully clothed, out to our instructor's boat, tie a bowline around our waste, put on our life vest and swim back to the dock. Let's just start by saying I don't ever want to do that again. In my judgment if the distance had been double I doubt everyone in our class would have made it. Even so, A number of participants needed assistance climbing up onto the swim platform on the dock which isn't close to what it would take to scramble back onto a boat. I would say that anyone boating in the Puget Sound should perform their own, supervised, swim test to figure out their own safety limits. And of course find a way to stay in their boat.

The sad fact, for me, about this topic is the boating regulations that will obviously follow as a result of the lack of ownership for our responsibility as "Captains" of our own vessels. If we can't demonstrate competency by continually needing the "safety net" of rescue the powers that be will try to regulate "competency ". Boy won't boating be fun then.