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Racers may need to post rescue bond

Jan 1, 2003

It may be necessary to post bond before starting a singlehanded ocean race in the North Atlantic if a new proposal by the Halifax Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) is approved in Ottawa. The proposal includes several suggestions designed to prevent accidents at sea during corporate-sponsored races that require full search and rescue (SAR) operations by the Canadian Coast Guard. "I'd like to see a fundamental re-think in the way [race sponsors] coordinate an event," said Jack Gallagher, the Canadian Coast Guard's superintendent of rescue safety and environmental response for the Maritimes region. "Right now, they don't have a procedure for when something goes wrong, yet there's an expected 50% possible failure rate. For them to plan on that percentage and not to make safety allowances is wrong."

Already operating on a tight budget, Gallagher contends that the Canadian Coast Guard cannot afford to continue costly SAR operations without the cooperation of race coordinators. The single-handed Europe 1 STAR race from Plymouth, England, to Newport, R.I., in June 1996 in which several boats were capsized, took Halifax officials by surprise."We didn't even know about the race last summer until an EPIRB went off from a boat in trouble. There were six incidents from that race which required search and rescue operations," said Gallagher. "It doesn't make sense that we should be spending so much money on a highly organized, well-funded race."

Gallagher suggested that chase boats or check points would be a welcome addition to such races from the perspective of the RCC.

"Most people just don't understand the stresses put on the search and rescue system with a race like this," Gallagher said. "There's a tremendous individual responsibility when you go to sea." However, responsibility is not limited to the individual, Gallagher added, when mariners expect that Coast Guard rescue forces are immediately available.

The Halifax RCC is responsible for a 2.5-million-square-mile area of the North Atlantic from the American border to Baffin Island.