Sailing Is A High Risk, Human Business

James CloseHigh risk business, MAIB, Rolex Fastnet, Safety

Last week the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published their report on the loss of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki and four crew members in the Atlantic Ocean on the 16th May 2014.

Cheeki Rafiki

Cheeki Rafiki

The report makes sobering reading and, I am sure, that there will not be a sailing school in the country who does not reflect on, review and assess their own practices as a result.

Sailing is a high risk sport and the sailing industry is a high risk business. Why? Because not only is it affected and impacted by the forces of nature but it deals with human beings…………….with all their frailties, foibles, egos, fears, fascinations and ability to lose common sense. Predict the unpredictable when it comes to sailing with people!

The report was published just as we were preparing Fortissimo for the Cervantes Cup – her first qualifying race for the Rolex Fastnet 2015. The timing was chilling but we used the fear to really review our safety practices and procedures and to try to ‘belt and braces’ for those unpredictable scenarios. There needs to be a positive way forward from the sadness of the loss of Cheeki Rafiki and her crew and this will be found in sailing businesses taking the time to individually review their practices as well as wider, more significant changes occurring across the industry. There is a reality that these eventual changes will have a financial impact on sailing businesses and passing that on to the customer will result in higher prices being charged; the eternal tension of safety versus business never goes away but now it may be that safety wins out every time.

The sailing community is small and well connected; therefore a tragedy can touch a very large number of people in a variety of ways.  While the MAIB report makes harsh reading I do not believe that it has, as an intended outcome, the promotion of finger pointing and blame. So many factors were involved in this situation, with the commonality being people………………….with their frailties, foibles, egos, and fears,  and there is a need to honour the lives of the four crew members by ensuring that we learn from this tragedy and improve safety in the industry.

We will never know what really happened in those last minutes on board Cheeki Rafiki but, for those of us in the sailing industry, we can feel compassion and great sadness for those crew members caught in a situation  that ‘there but for the Grace of God’ could possibly happen to any one of us; and we must all do our utmost to ensure that we minimise the possibility of anything similar happening on our watch.

Sailing is a high risk, human, business……………………………………………………………………………….