Are you worried about capsize? Read this email thread from the bottom first.

posted Nov 12, 2015, 4:02 PM by PacificNorthWest MultihullAssoc   [ updated Nov 12, 2015, 4:05 PM ]

One follow up note:

When the 25c was turtled, I swam under the boat and in and out of the cabin twice to retrieve gear and release some of the halyards and sheets.  Even with the open transom, both getting in and out of the cabin was challenging.  Each attempt needed to be timed with the surge from the waves, and it would have been all but impossible had I been wearing any sort of PFD in addition to the drysuit.  Once inside the cabin, there was an air pocket so the risk of drowning was low, but the buoyancy in the drysuit made it very difficult to get to the cabin top (now underwater) to release the running rigging. 

Martyn, you made some excellent points about "freedom of movement."  My biggest safety concern in heavy air was definitely drowning from being trapped under the boat after a capsize.  Here are some links to people who have very recently died this way (including one on lake Washington this year). 


These are the risks we tried to be aware of in capsize conditions:

  1. Drowning from being trapped under the nets.  To mitigate this risk, we made sure all tethers had a quick release mechanism at the chest, and each crew member was equipped with a sharp knife that could easily be deployed when movement was restricted.  The knife sheath was typically sewn on to the harness, and could be deployed with one hand (i.e. not in your pocket).  Like Martyn, any auto inflating life vests had the auto-inflate mechanism disabled. 
  2. Drowning from being knocked unconscious and into the water.  To mitigate this risk, all crew members were tethered to the boat in with the tether short enough keep them on the boat.
  3. Drowning/hypothermia from long term exposure in the water.  To mitigate this risk, all crew wore good solid drysuits.  Each crew member had personal VHF, GPS and flares, and were tethered to the boat at all times.

 I've turtled a boat in the NW in November, and spent many, many hours in the NW water with a drysuit.  When you are conscious and have lots of clothing on under a working drysuit, flotation is not an issue, even without a PFD, and even when the drysuit has been "burped" out.  We'd often "burped" out our drysuits before going sailing so they would be more tight fitting and give us more ease of movement. 

As a skipper, my crew was not required to wear a PFD except when the rules required it or assistance was not nearby.  However, a harness/tether with quick release was always required when the wind was up.  For a race like Round the County, which is run during the daytime with lots of other boats and assistance nearby, I rarely wore a PFD over the drysuit, and, when I did, it was an inflatable with the auto-inflate mechanism disabled.  Ease of movement in the case of capsize was far more important to me than being able to float head up for a long time in the open water.  However, for a race like Swiftsure or the Van Isle offshore legs, we almost always wore kayak style PFDs.  Help was a long way off, we were racing a night, and we were usually sleep deprived which can lead to poor decision making like forgetting to correctly attach a tether.  In these cases, we opted for the kayak style vests for ease of movement, warmth, and I just don't trust the inflatables (even with the manual inflate).  I've seen the C02 cartridges fail more than once.  If you are trusting your life to one of the inflatable type PFDs, be sure to test it regularly.  The results may surprise you.


Hi Eric,

Re vests.

Kayak vests are a generic name for the vests that Kayak paddlers use when paddling.   They are smaller, lighter, more close fitting BUT have less buoyancy.  They are sometimes not "legal" for some racing venues.   In these cases, I carry the "legal" vest as well.

The issue that Pat refers to, and one that I and others have championed for several years is that auto inflatable vests simply have too much buoyancy, especially when coupled with a dri-suit and could pose a threat to life if trapped under the nets of an overturned multi.   Dragonfly was such a case and fortunately all wore the kayak vests save one who had a manual inflating vest.   

Being trapped under the nets, is for me my greatest concern.   With an inflated vest, you cannot really move and are pinned to the underside of the net.   Kayak vests are specifically designed to allow for freedom of movement.   I purposely disabled my auto inflation vest, converting it to a manual.

At my Safety at Sea class, even in the pool, I was grossly top heavy when inflated and it required a lot of deflation to achieve a stable and functional buoyancy.   Even worse, I was nearly unable to swim or function effectively until I had achieved the above stability.   Understand, I wear and wore a dri-suit and even that requires a good deal of burping to reduce excess buoyancy.

Pat said he was fortunate that the occasional wave just allowed an occasional quick gulp of air as he crawled from under DF's net.

I am NOT saying everyone should or must opt for this solution.   I AM saying that each person should experiment and see just what it is like to enter the water and imagine the various scenarios.

Is being trapped under the nets a "likely" scenario?   A personal decision but one that needs be consciously made.   If you have not done so, step off the side of your boat the next time you are at anchor and see what your inflatable vest feels like.   Don't go drown, we need your club dues.



Martyn & Linda Adams