Marine Safety: The Clipper Round the World Race Fatalities
Lasting 11 months and covering 45,000 nautical miles, the Clipper Round the World Race is a sailing competition like no other. An exciting race, it has met with controversy in the past few weeks, as tragic events prompt the question: can the Marine industry be doing more to prevent sailing fatalities?
Fatality at the Clipper Round the World Race – Marine Safety Debate
Organised by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail-solo around the globe non-stop, the Clipper Round the World Race allows anybody willing to pay £45,000 to compete – regardless of preparation or sailing experience.
Each boat has 20 amateur crew members on board and a professional skipper to guide the team. The 12 teams race 12 identical Clipper 70 yachts with the aim of arriving first across as many of the eight racing legs as possible.
Three Sailing Fatalities in the Last Three Years
The Clipper Round the World 2015-2016 edition saw two deaths on the same yacht: Andrew Ashman (49) and Sarah Young (40). Andrew Ashman died on the seventh day of the first leg of the race when he was hit in the head by the boom, with an accidental gybe resulting in fatal injuries. Just months later aboard the same yacht in the same race, Sarah Young was knocked overboard when not clipped, and died during the race.
The accidents sparked questions into the safety measures of the Clipper Round the World Race. Although experts have voiced the opinion that including more professionals or training – 40% of the participants have no sailing experience – would increase overall safety, no measures were taken following the two fatalities.
On the 18th of November 2017, these questions were raised once more. When sailing from Cape Town to Fremantle, Simon Speirs (60) was washed overboard during a headsail change, marking the third fatality to occur during the Clipper Round the World Race in under three years.
Marine Accident Investigation Branch: MAIB Recommendations
Sailing competitors and fans alike know that sailing is a dangerous sport – a recent Rhode Island Hospital study found that sailing has one of the highest sports fatality rates – but can be thoroughly enjoyable when taking the right precautions. Drowning is the main cause of death in marine competitors, and the leading preventable risk factors were alcohol consumption and inexperience.
The added risk of an inexperienced crew prompted the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) to recommend in 2017 the addition of a second professional in the yacht to increase racing safety. This recommendation was made before the death of Simon Speirs, and it was not followed; instead, the race organisers increased crew member preparation by two weeks.
The Race Director for the Clipper Round the World Race, Mark Light, emphasises the safety protocols taken so far: ‘Every crew member, regardless of their previous experience, will do exactly the same training: a minimum of four weeks across four individual courses. Whether you’ve signed up to the Clipper Race as a complete novice or whether you’ve owned a boat for 25 years, you do exactly the same training so that we know everyone knows the details.’
The MAIB has begun two ongoing investigations into the fatalities, with the aim of avoiding another accident during the Clipper Round the World Race. What is the answer to increased sailing safety: experience, training, or other factors? How can we continue to protect both the freedoms of the sport we love, and the safety of the people who participate?
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