There has been much talk in the yachting press recently about the compulsory wearing of helmets in our sport. Now I am all for safety naturally, but when do we stop, tie our boats up and go hide under the bed? Obviously there are some classes of racing boat where a helmet is not just a good idea, but almost a necessity. These are the new types of boat travelling at speeds that were unthinkable only a short time ago. Foiling has changed the game for many with the Americas Cup 72 foot catamarans hitting close to 50 knots during the last match. The water would be like concrete if you hit it at that speed, but imagine if two collided? A closing speed of some 90 knots is going to ruin your day. I am not sure a helmet would do a real lot in that case to be honest.

Helmets were made compulsory during the lead up to the last Cup when a crew member tragically died in a capsize. The organizers rightfully reacted to that, including lowering the wind speed for the postponement of racing, and introducing the helmets. Now there are many classes of VFB’s (Very Fast Boats – I just made that up. I hope it catches on. We don’t have enough 3 letter acronyms in sailing. Other pursuits are awash with them and they help make the user to feel particularly superior. In fact I used to be a member of the PAA – People Against Acronyms. But to connect with the next generation the sport has to sexy up a bit. And helmets certainly do this). I see many foiling moth sailors wearing them these days as well as those on boats with low booms. As we get older and our reaction times drop, they also make sense, particularly in boats like lasers with low swinging booms. But do our children really need another layer of cotton wool to protect them from the big bad world? I always considered a whack in the head with a boom to be a valuable lesson. I have had many and there is nothing wrong with me. Well apart from not having had a ‘real’ job in over 20 years. It is those that continue to ‘walk into the bar’ that may find golf more to their skill set. Come to think of it golf probably has more head injuries than sailing.

I will Google it. Stand by…Why did I tell you I was doing that? I should have done it quietly and pretended I knew!

God’s teeth! Here are the stats compiled for head injuries in sport by the United States National Centre for Collecting Data for People who Google Stuff. (Or theUSNCCDPGS)

Cycling: 85,389
Football: 46,948
Baseball and Softball: 38,394
Basketball: 34,692
Water Sports (Diving, Scuba Diving, Surfing, Swimming, Water Polo, Water Skiing, Water Tubing): 28,716
Powered Recreational Vehicles (ATVs, Dune Buggies, Go-Carts, Mini bikes, Off-road): 26,606
Soccer: 24,184
Skateboards/Scooters: 23,114
Fitness/Exercise/Health Club: 18,012
Winter Sports (Skiing, Sledding, Snowboarding, Snowmobiling): 16,948
Horseback Riding: 14,466
Cheerleading: 10,223
Golf: 10,035

Even cheerleading beat golf! And as sailing was not mentioned under ‘water sports’ we can assume it didn’t even make the cut. Clearly those in charge of the ‘sport’ of cheerleading need take a good hard look at themselves and introduce helmets at once!

I am sure there will be overwhelming support from the fans for that idea.

Other sports high on the list have adopted helmets – cycling, football (These are American statistics remember) and baseball. Many surfers, skiers and skateboarders wear them now as do all participating in motor sports and horse riding. Basketball, soccer and going to the gym are dragging their heels along with the golfers. It might slow down soccer and basketball if introduced, but the gym industry will be devastated if they bring this in. I mean who wants to see selfies of hot sweaty people wearing helmets on face-a-gram?

As in fact most sports on that list have mandatory wearing of helmets or a strong culture of it, could the argument be made that helmets actually contribute to head injuries? This has long been discussed in American football. Statistically the rugby codes have a much lower level yet the hits are bigger and they have no protection at all. Maybe wearing a helmet teaches people to not keep their head out of harm’s way. Sadly it didn’t help Philip Hughes.

In the years I was involved in junior sailing at the yacht club we had hundreds of kids through the Opti learn to sail programme and we never had an injury from a boom strike that required more than a band aid and a hug.

So what is driving this? In a word, fashion.

In every sport people want to look like those at the pinnacle of their chosen sport. Every day I see cyclists, clad from helmet to shoe covers in the complete ‘Team BMC’ kit. As they puff their way up a slight incline they fantasize that they are Cadel Evans climbing some storied French Alp. Of course this illusion is shattered when they pass a reflective glass shop front, but never the less they buy this stuff. (However you don’t see that many bike riders wearing Lance Armstrong’s ‘US Postal team’ kit anymore. They probably got sick of shady types stopping them to ask if they could ‘score’) Same at a rugby game. Do they all wear the latest Red’s jersey to the game in support of the team, or in the hope that they may be mistaken for James Horwill? Yes the jeans and RM Williams boots might be a giveaway, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing sales down.

That’s what is at the heart of this. The outstanding coverage of the last Americas Cup means that many people now think that this is how top level sailors dress. Wearing their one piece jumpsuits with red bull helmets and bud microphones sticking out, the crew of Australians sailing the American boat (sorry couldn’t help myself) looked like a cross between an Italian Formula One team and the storm troopers out of Star Wars.

They did look cool if perhaps a tad hot. So this is the way the sport of sailing is going?

And the helmet manufactures did rejoice! Let me be clear that if someone choses to wear a helmet then I am certainly not criticising them. It is their personal choice. But the last thing the sport needs is another compulsory expensive accessory, especially for kids.

Sailing is about freedom and feeling the elements, not building bubbles around kids. A safety net yes but let’s be sensible. Kids skin their knees, scrape their elbows and get the odd whack in the head from a boom. Life is like that. By all means stay safe and wear a helmet but I would hate to see a culture develop were on each Wednesday afternoon fun race everyone is wearing a helmet on board their 4KSB. I will let you figure that acronym out for yourself!

And how about this near spring weather? Magnificent. We have plenty of one day, weekend and 5 day practical courses running and we will supply you with your own lifejacket, safety harness, even a wet weather jacket if you need it.

I will even lend you my team BMC bike helmet if you want. 🙂

That’s all for this edition, until next time keep your heads down.

Mike Job

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