Sunday, June 5, 2011



I happen to strongly agree with Macleans editorial staff.

this is not the first hair brainy idea to come from Ottawa.

Some years ago, when I was still an active sailor, Canada became the only country to make compulsory the ring shaped hard core life buoys instead of the standard horsehoe buoys.

I objected at the time, but without the help of the sailing press could not bring sense to Ottawa.

Robert B. Townsend


Owners of an Alberg 30 or A37 are fortunate in that they know that their vessels fall between the Guidelines for 8M and 12M vessels prescribed in the legislation governing boating safety, Think of the poor guy who has a 41 foot boat. He has to measure in metric to find out if he fits within the 12M rule. A metre is 39.372 feet. Assuming that the “M” stands for Metre.

When the executive director of the Allied Boating federation promoted the idea of compulsory ring shaped hard core life buoys, making the old reliable horseshoe shaped life buoy “illegal”, many of us sailors objected. The horseshoe shaped life buoy is legal, and promoted in every country except Canada.

The regulation says that the lifebuoy for a vessel of 8M to 12 M must be 610mm or 762mm outside diameter For those educated in imperial measure and even for those educated in metric who have difficulty picturing those dimensions, they must be 23.622 inches or 29.994 inches outside diameter.

The ring type life buoy must be made of a specified hard foam material. (I was told that the executive director of the Allied Boating at the time had a brother in law who manufactured that material). The popular Soft foam, used world wide, is not acceptable under Canadian law..

In Canada the Life Buoy must be a solid ring; not a horseshoe shaped lifebuoy that is accepted for sailing vessels all over the world, particularly offshore races where “man overboard” has been known to occur.

The argument made was that the hardcore foam ring could be thrown farther and more accurately from a wharf, with no wind blowing. In our experiment with representatives the Coast Guard present, not so. In Fact on that occasion the horseshoe shaped buoy won the toss every time, hands down. In a heavy sea and strong winds, anything could happen

The Coast Guard told us that it is recommended that if you had to use a lifebuoy, you should place your outstretched arms through the hole in the ring buoy so that it is around your body. My 46" chest is greater than either the 508mm, 610mkm or 762mm size outside diameter life buoy. For those small enough to fit into the those life buoys in the prescribed manner, their arms then outstretched into the life ring, might (probably would and in one case did) find their maneuverability in the water greatly restricted.

If I were overboard, with my a 46" chest, and a 44' waist, and someone tossed me a life ring, the best I could do would be to put my arm through the hole and hang on for dear life until rescued. Unlike with a horseshoe type, I could not get it around my body. If I started to lose consciousness due to hyperthermia, or other cause, and let go my grip, good-bye.

Bruce and Shirley Burgess had the misfortune to have a massive ingestion of water into their vessel from an unknown source when ten miles offshore in Lake Ontario. They had time to put on their life buoys as the vessel slowly sank beneath them. One was a ring type, one was a horseshoe type. The horseshoe type was easy to put around the waist, and for the 23 hours they were in the water before being rescued, it worked fine. The ring type tended to cut off the circulation of blood in the arms. After an hour it had to be removed. It could not be taken off by the person wearing it. That person had to hold their arms straight up while the other person pulled it off. This was made more difficult because of the rough waters and strong wind. (Boating accidents seldom ever happen in nice weather). Had it not been for them having a horseshoe type of life buoy to hand back and forth, with the person using the ring buoy hanging on with an arm through the hole while the other person relaxed in the horseshoe buoy, there would have been two fatalities.

The rules and regulations do not say where the buoys should be placed on a vessel. I once took a photo of a. Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel berthed at Ontario Place. It was a large powerboat with practically no deck (and no grab rails) between the cockpit and the small foredeck. It had their two life rings solidly attached to the forecabin, where they would be practically impossible to reach in a heavy sea. There was no safety equipment in the cockpit at the rear of the vessel.

It was my understanding that the Canadian coast. Guard agreed that, while, they would not advertise it, after hearing my argument they would not lay charges if a sailing vessel did not have life rings, if she had adequate soft horseshoe type lifebuoys. Why not say so in the regulations

On Odyssey to be legal) we elected to keep any hard life rings under the bow berth cushion while keeping the horseshoe life buoys at the stern pulpit. We also had a rule that no one was allowed to fall overboard. It was not a democratic boat. The skipper was a benevolent dictator for the safety of the crew and passengers.

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