But 'many of today's sailors seem to have a self-confidence that almost borders on arrogance'

Circumnavigator, journalist and author, Jimmy Cornell, writing the foreword to the latest MAIB (MArine Accident Investigation Board ) Safety Digest, took the opportunity to express some of his latest survey findings:

‘Safety has been a major concern for seafarers from the earliest days of sailing and whereas in the old days mariners were willing to put their fate in the lap of the gods, today’s sailors prefer to play safe by taking additional precautions.

The many thousands of miles that I spent sailing on the oceans of the world have taught me to have a profound respect for the forces of nature and not to take anything for granted but be always prepared for the worst.

Safety therefore has been my first priority, both on my own yachts and as organiser of various offshore sailing rallies whose commendable safety record speaks for itself.

Over the years my concern with safety prompted me to undertake a number of surveys among my fellow sailors. Puzzled by the large number of groundings, collisions and even fatal accidents that still seem to occur in spite of the recent improvements in navigational and safety equipment my latest survey attempted to find the reasons for this apparent contradiction.

By looking closely at recent accidents involving cruising yachts what is striking is that in many of the cases in which boats were lost as a result of grounding, this appears to have been caused, just as in the old days, by a navigational or human error.

Looking at a number of incidents of near or total losses, I drew the inevitable conclusion that whereas in pre-GPS days boats were often lost because sailors didn’t know where they were, nowadays boats are lost because skippers know where they are. Or so they think!

Indeed, one conclusion that could be drawn from these findings is that many of today’s sailors seem to have a self-confidence that almost borders on arrogance and as a consequence are prepared to set off on a voyage believing that all those wonderful gadgets will make up for their lack of experience.

If, as in some of the examples cited on these pages, alcohol is mixed with inexperience and a dash of ignorance, the resulting cocktail can lead to fatal consequences.

The main aim of my latest survey was to answer the question whether sailing generally, and cruising in particular, was safer. Personally I believe that cruising generally is safer, and I am relieved that the findings of my survey bear this out.

Boats still get lost but certainly not as frequently as during the days of astronavigation. What I found, however, is that whereas offshore cruising is indeed safer, the situation is not so good when it comes to coastal cruising or navigating close to land.

Bearing in mind the thousands of miles travelled by cruising yachts, sailing in distant waters is probably the safest way to see the world. Unfortunately, just as in the case of motoring where most accidents occur within a few miles from home, so with sailing where it is the home waters that pose the greatest risk.

This is why the Marine Accident Investigation Branch is so right to focus its efforts on making safety on our very doorstep its main priority.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in my life is to learn from both my own and other people’s mistakes and do my best not to repeat them. This is why even the most experienced mariner can still find something to learn from the case studies discussed in this excellent publication.’

Read the MAIB Safety Digest 1/2009