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Flap over Ocean Voyager cover

Jan 1, 2003

Since the release of our annual Ocean Voyager issue, safety-conscious readers have been clamoring for an explanation of why we featured a cover image of a sailor standing on the deck of a yacht that evidently broke several safety rules. The sailor, poised on the quarterdeck of the Sparkman and Stephens-designed, 57-foot aluminum yacht Charisma, was seen staring toward the far shore, hands at his sides, right thigh braced against the rail.

The striking photo, taken by the accomplished West Coast marine photographer Neil Rabinowitz, seemed the perfect composition for an Ocean Navigator cover: well-appointed yacht commanded by a sober-looking and prepared sailor. To further enhance the image, a Man-Overboard Module, a device that can quickly deploy an inflatable life ring, was prominently visible in the foreground. It was reasoned that we had a real winner, an atmosphere that would magnetically attract sailors to the magazine's content. Several readers disagreed, however.

"Horrors!" said one. "Leaning against the stern [rail] with no harness, not holding on to anything, with foul weather gear the exact color of the surrounding ocean, [is] a sailor who I would guess has long since drowned.

Howled another: "The fact that foul weather gear is offered in blue and white is preposterous. We would never like to go overboard wearing camouflage. Give us yellow or red anytime!"

Amusing as it was to imagine these safety fanatics wearing neon-colored foulies, all manner of communication and flotation devices strapped securely to their person, and harnessed to their masts like some awkward, modern Ulysses, we considered their suggestions seriously.

We contacted officials at the non-profit association U.S. Sailing, the governing body for the sport of sailing, for their comments. It seems that while there are requirements for some safety equipment, there are virtually no safety regulations for foul-weather clothing. Clothing companies are self-regulated to provide safety features to their products.

"Marine grade, retro-reflective material is required on lifejackets, life rings, life slings, and life rafts, but not on foul weather gear," said John Wright, offshore director at U.S. Sailing. Neither are there regulations regarding the color of foul-weather jackets and bibs, according to Wright.

As with so many aspects of voyaging, choices like the color of foul weather gear and whether to wear a PFD or a harness are a matter of individual judgment, as far as the government is concerned. However, the Coast Guard has long been interested in requiring that lifejackets be worn by everyone on a vessel in U.S. waters, so it may be simply a matter of time before images of sailors without lifejacket, harnesses, and neon clothing become highly prized relics of another time.


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