Boat racers ordered to have escape plan

Super Boat International sent a loud and clear safety message to competitors in this year’s Key West World Championship – have a real, workable escape plan to get out of your boat in case of an accident. Last year three¬†people died when they were unable to escape from their cockpits after flipping over. The jet fighter-like canopies that protect them from impact can also trap the driver inside. Super Boat’s president instructed drivers to design a procedure for escaping, practice it, and make sure race officials know what it is so rescue divers can help.

These competition craft are not your ordinary bass boat with a big outboard motor. They are long, aerodynamic vessels with enormous power plants producing thousands of horsepower that skim over the ocean at speeds of 150 miles per hour or more. A wave or a gust of wind under the bow can flip them into the air and send the boat cartwheeling. Onboard oxygen systems give drivers a few minutes to extricate themselves from their safety harness and get the canopy open, but a panicked driver without a practiced escape procedure can quickly drown. Race organizers have boats and helicopters carrying rescue swimmers and medical personnel on the course, and they want boat crews to take more responsibility for their own safety.

One driver thinks the safety plan is a great idea and long overdue. In designing and writing down the procedures, he says, the crew will think more carefully about exactly how to release seat belts, unfasten the canopy latches, get out of the seat without getting snagged on controls or obstructions, and figure out which way is up to the surface. Last year’s three fatalities will certainly be on racers’ minds, but the Key West World Championship is considered the Indianapolis 500 of powerboat racing and there are plenty of competitors willing to take the risk.

Source: The Associated Press, “Powerboat racers must file escape plans to compete,” Nov. 5, 2012