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Caution Advised Regarding Helmets for Sailing

Published on August 6th, 2015

Head injuries are a hot topic in athletics, with serious attention given to concussions in youth and professional sports. The threat of head injury in sailing is real too, with helmets now frequently worn for protection on high performance boats.

But should the use of helmets expand further into the sport of sailing? Here’s an opinion on the topic from the Sports Medicine Committee of US Sailing:

A word of caution to all persons who consider using helmets while sailing. There is no data to confirm that helmets will prevent concussions. The brain injury comes from the acceleration/deceleration from the strike, which is apparently not substantially altered by a helmet.

Helmets have been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of facial and skull fractures, contusions and lacerations but not concussions.

Concussions seem to occur more easily in pre-teen and teens. We also need to be aware that adding a helmet to a young head makes the head a “larger” target and could possibly lead to more head strikes.

Therefore, it is the position of the Sports Medicine Committee of USSAILING that helmets should be considered and encouraged but not mandated for:
♦ aggressive competitive sailing,
♦ crew positions at increased risk for strikes to the head, and
♦ sailors who are learning the sport and thus unfamiliar with the position and movement of rigging and equipment.

In the event that a concussion or head injury occurs, treatment and the evaluation for a return to activity should be done by a trained specialist.

David Jones, M.D., Chair of the Sports Medicine Committee
Thomas Hubbell, M.D., President of US Sailing

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