Revisiting Trapeze Entanglement

Published on November 19th, 2013

It was on June 23, 2011 in Annapolis, MD when fourteen-year-old Olivia Constants died during her Club 420 class out of Severn Sailing Association. Olivia and her skipper had capsized, and the hook on Olivia’s trapeze harness got caught on the rigging and prevented her from surfacing.

What followed was a heightened awareness and prevention of trapeze entanglement. Ideas were shared and new standards were implemented. But accidents will continue, as did with the recent death on the 18-foot skiff in Australia.

Here are some of the notes that were shared two years ago following Olivia’s accident:
It’s standard for the 18 footer class to not require PFDs to be worn as they are found to contribute to entrapment after capsizing. And some experts contend the crew on trapeze boats should always carry a knife as a safety measure for entanglement.
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) conducted research into the numbers and contributing factors of entrapments under capsized dinghies. During their study period of 2003-2004, 44 incidents were logged.

Here are some of the findings from the report ‘RYA Research into Dinghy Entrapments March 2005’:

– The most common cause of entrapment was 30% getting ropes tangled around the body or limbs, 30% getting caught on other control lines and straps and 30% involved some part of the trapeze harness.
– The most effective rescue of a trapped sailor is to right the boat as rapidly as possible.
– Sealed masts and masthead buoyancy to have some effect in reducing the speed and likelihood of inversion.
– Modern designs with raised cockpit floor to enable self-draining have less or no air void for sailors trapped in the cockpit when inverted.
– Consideration should be given for trapeze harnesses other than the fixed hook type.
– Keep control lines short and tidy and maintain elastic so it does its job.
– Carry a very sharp, easily accessible, preferably serrated knife.
Skiff champion and designer Julian Bethwaite: “The big issue now is that spectra lines float whereas the older ropes would sink. We used to have wire for the trapeze wires, and they would sink, but now the spectra trapeze wires float. The spinnaker halyard floats, which is why in the 29er we have mandated that you have to have a spinnaker halyard gobbler so that the chance of entrapment by a loose halyard on the floor of the boat are significantly reduced. So with an overturned boat, these new lines are all floating. And the hook on the trapeze harness is designed to hook on things.”
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