Wearing masks while sailing

Published on September 9th, 2020

Beyond the beauty of the Herreshoff R Class Racing Sloop Gamecock, profiled in this photo gallery, it was notable to see the crew wearing masks during the 2020 IYRS Classic Yacht Regatta on September 6 in Newport, RI.

Depending on where you live, and depending on how abiding the citizenry is to following regulations, consistency on a mask mandate is… inconsistent.

We’ve all heard about the 6-foot standard for social distancing, but what about outdoors? If you are downwind, do the disease droplets carry further? Here’s an exchange we had with a Scuttlebutt reader/physician:

THEM: “This is bizarre. Masks in windy outdoor open air sea conditions? Infections hardly occur there.”

US: “Isn’t this a yes and no situation? Because of crew density, the odds are minimized, but because of the wind, the 6-foot rule is extended. Thoughts?”

THEM: “Sure, the wind extends the distance beyond six feet, but it also dilutes the droplets even more. There’s no virus with long enough arms to grab you, hold on, climb in your nostrils, and crawl in. Also, many masks become a high way for microbes when wet. It’s a risky illusion of safety. So yes, go sailing, but no masks on deck.”

This pandemic has forced us all to become experts, and if we assess how government at various levels, and at various nations, has handled COVID-19, it is clear we need better experts.

For the crew on Gamecock, they were following the Notice of Race which states, “Crews must maintain appropriate social distancing and/or wear appropriate face coverings at all times, including the period prior to their start sequence and during their starting sequence.”

However, it is generally agreed that virus spread occurs indoors as the effects of wind and the infinite outdoor space for viral dilution reduces viral load, plus the effects of sunlight, heat, and humidity on viral survival, all serve to minimize the risk to everyone when outside.

Here’s what was said at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
QUESTION: I’m wondering how wind might affect the six-foot social-distancing recommendation when I am outdoors. In particular, if I’m directly downwind of someone, should that distance increase?
ANSWER: We’re going to say, “Probably not.”

When marine outfitter Zhik released their facemask for the water, we asked about the one-way valve designed into the lightweight foam material, as valves have been criticized for providing an exit for droplets. Their response was that without it, if the mask gets wet, it’s like being waterboarded.

Is it 2021 yet?

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