How Safe Is Sailing, Really?
As more and more people discover that we will be heading to the Bahamas on a Sailboat, we continually receive voiced concerns for our safety and well-being. Quite often we hear from people who are worried about “pirates and hurricanes”. Those are definitely the 2 top concerns that people seem to have. To respond intelligently and thoughtfully to those concerns, I’ve decided to create this fact-based blog post.
Of course, it’s comforting to know that people care so deeply about us, but I can’t help but feel that there’s a disconnect somewhere. I think part of it is just because people are so accustomed to the dangers that surround all of us everyday. Even though we are all continually bombarded with news of people being murdered, kidnapped, beaten, and robbed – somehow, the “common” dangers I just mentioned that we have grown accustomed to pale in comparison to those that we may face once we cast off the lines.
Why is that?
Pirates Are In Your Backyard
Yes – pirate attacks are a real thing, but what can you do about it? Well, you can avoid areas that are prone to pirate activity. Beyond that though, there’s just not a whole lot that you have control over. Now, I compare this a bit to the danger of being held at gunpoint and robbed. To avoid being robbed as you are walking down the street, you would avoid dark alleys and rusty vans marked “free candy”. Still, you don’t let the possibility of being robbed cause you to never leave your home.
The reality is that pirate attacks do actually happen – BUT they aren’t nearly as prevalent as people have been conditioned to think. Bad people are everywhere, and to think that we are putting ourselves in deeper danger by heading out to sea is an inaccurate assumption. If anything, we are the ones that will be in a safer place, on our boat, than everyone back home.
Just for giggles – here’s a photo showing recent crime just in our sleepy little Mayberryesque town of Toccoa.
Remember, that’s just the bad guys that are in our quiet little hometown. I thought about posting a crime map of Atlanta, but the picture was solid red and not much to look at.
If you want to see the crime activity in your area, just run a search here – of course knowing the actual crime statistics in your own backyard might impact the quality of your sleep.
I think I’ll take my chances with the pirates.
Now, if you want to see actual statistics for sailboat-related piracy in 2015, just head here and check out the piracy reports. The point is that the chance of us encountering actual pirates is very remote. Also, not that it would be any less bothersome or disconcerting, but most reports of piracy tend to be related to petty theft.
Bad people are going to do bad things, but to think that we are putting ourselves in a position that will increase our exposure to “the baddies” would be quite wrong. Concerning bad people – even though the danger is always there, we will be much less exposed to “the baddies” than our friends and family back home.
Good luck guys!
Boats and Dead People
I like facts. Feelings and opinions have their place, but when you want to get down to something tangible – stick to the facts.
Here’s a fun fact… At our current world population, about 1.83 people die every second.
Yes, in the time it takes you to read this little sentence, around 8 people will have dropped dead as a doornail.
Heart. Stopped. Dead.
Death is all around us, but we don’t like to think about it. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we all go around dwelling on thoughts of death, but I do think that we should realize that life is more precious than we give it credit for. Life is meant to be invested into excited and worthwhile causes – not just guarded and shielded from all the bad things that might happen.
What I want to do next is try to put the dangers of sailing into useful perspective by comparing it with it’s most related, land-based counterpart: driving. Each year the U.S. Coast Guard compiles a detailed report that consists of the details gathered from boat-related accidents, so the source I’m referencing for this is from the 2014 Accident Statistics Report from the U.S. Coast Guard.
So, let’s talk about real statistics for boating deaths:
In the United States, 17 out of every 100,000 people will die in a car-related accident.
In the United States, 5 out of every 100,000 people with die in a boat-related accident.
Considering those fact-based numbers, I’m 3x more likely to die in a car than on my sailboat. Well, so far I’m feeling safer in a boat than in a car.
Now, to take that a step further, MOST of the boat-related deaths had the following similarities:
- The person was intoxicated
- They were in an open powerboat.
So, from this I think it’s safe to say that our “danger ratio” would realistically be even less than 5:100,000 since we won’t be in a powerboat, and we certainly won’t we sailing intoxicated. Of course, the actual numbers would be anyone’s guess, but the fact of the matter is that deaths that occurred specifically on a sailboat are far, FAR fewer than those that were related to powerboats and personal watercraft.
Now, this is just an abstraction from the data given above, since the USCG doesn’t have much information for sailing-related deaths (because there are so few), but I would be willing to bet that the actual ratio is more like 2:100k instead of 5:100k simply because sailboats make up a very small minority of the overall group that the data was pulled from, AND it’s not a powerboat, AND we won’t be sailing intoxicated.
So, by my numbers, I’m between 5 and 8.5x more likely to die in a car crash than a sailboat. I’ll take my chances on the boat.
It’s Amazing That Even I’ve Lived This Long
I’ve been in 2 car crashes. One was when a truck backed out of their driveway and I t-boned them. Another I was on a motorcycle when on oncoming car wandered into my lane. I easily could have died in either wreck.
My sister has been in 2 crashes – either of which could have killer her dead.
My mom has wrecked a car in a snow storm, spinning uncontrollably and crossing both lanes of traffic. An oncoming 18-wheeler could have smashed her car into pieces – luckily, she only hit the ditch. It could have been a very, very different outcome.
So, just out of my immediate family of 4, we have collectively crashed 5 times. I’m bringing this up because everyone is concerned for our safety as we go sailing, but it seems that people are missing out on how much danger we are all in anytime we strap ourselves into a car and head off down the road. If anything, I feel that I should be more concerned for the folks back home.
Just today I was driving down the road to pick up my little girl from school, and I was thinking about how ridiculously dangerous driving really is. I had the thought while I was on a 2 lane, 45 mile-per-hour road. Of course, all the cars on the road go at least 50 or 55.
Anytime I passed a car coming towards me there are mere feet between the 2 as they pass each other at a combined speed of 90-100 mph. I mean, an temporary lapse of concentration would allow my car to drift into the oncoming lane… a text, a cramp, a squirrel, a sneeze. All it takes is a momentary lapse of concentration at the wrong time, and if that happens – instant death is very likely for the occupants of both cars.
Crazy to really think about how we narrowly cheat death anytime we innocently pass another car on a 2 lane road. Both car’s speed combined, that would be like hitting a brick wall at 90-100mph. Sadly, as bad as that sounds, it happens every single day.
So, isn’t it strange that the VERY real possibility of death faces us everyday when we get in the car, but we treat the idea of pirates and hurricanes with such an inflated level of danger?
The Storms With First Names
Indeed, hurricanes are very serious business. I hope to never be in one.
Hurricanes are killers, but so are mosquitos – there were 438,000 malaria related deaths in 2014 alone. I certainly don’t say that to bring down the seriousness of hurricane, but I try to relate the dangers to other things just to give a bit more perspective.
In general, sailors are very good at avoiding hurricanes. There are countless ways to keep tabs on the weather. There are radio stations that are set up for the sole purpose of informing boats and ships of developing storms weeks before one actually develops. So, the best way to avoid hurricanes is to keep a diligent eye on the weather and react accordingly.
I will say that if we end up in a hurricane, we have done a series of things very wrong. We’ve ignored the weather, we’ve ignored the trends of hurricane season, and we’ve ignored the fleeing fleet of boats leaving the area.
Here’s some knowledge for you – (most) sailboats will survive a hurricane in open water. Sailboats are designed to float, upside down or right-side up. It takes an enormous amount of abuse to actually sink one. They are self-righting and most of them can get knocked over, with the mast on the wrong side of up, and right itself. Not that I want to ever experience this, but just saying that sailboats are built to withstand storms.
We’ll avoid hurricane season, and by default, avoid most of the bad weather. Still, we WILL encounter harsh weather but we will deal with it as it comes. If we can’t avoid a hurricane, we will put the boat on the hard, and seek shelter. The bottom line here is that we will do our best to avoid adverse weather by leveraging the plethora of modern equipment designed for exactly that purpose, and above all else, use common sense to keep us and the boat safe.
Applying common sense, using the weather tools available, and making the best decisions with the information we have, that’s how you deal with hurricanes. The advantage with hurricanes is that we can usually see them coming weeks before they occur. Tornados, floods, and wildfires, on the other hand, are dangers reserved for landlubbers that can occur without much or any prior warning.
Again – just mentioning this stuff to put everything in perspective.
Tomorrow Could Be Too Late
Why are there so few people that actually aim high, do big things, shoot for the stars, and truly adopt the attitude that they only have 1 life to live?
There’s a quote on the wall at my Dad’s house that reads: “Live each day like you’re dying – because you are”!
Simple. To the point. There’s really a profound truth in that quote. Still, if that’s the case, and we all know it, why then do so many of us act like there’s always going to be a tomorrow? We’ll each reach a day in our life when there won’t be a tomorrow.
Maybe tomorrows the day to try something new. Tomorrow is when I’ll get around to it. Hey – why rush – there’s always tomorrow, right?
There are the people who believe that they should play it safe, live till they are 100, and die in their sleep. Of course, the last 20 or so years is spent in a nursing home, alone. The people I’m trying to describe are the ones that you never know about until you read about them in the obituaries – hardly making a ripple with their lives lived so quietly.
On the other extreme, there are also the people who live destructively, killing their bodies with dangerous drugs, wrecking their families, and going through life half-alive. They hurt everyone in their wake until they cross the line that ultimately end their existence – but not before they’ve left deep scars on everyone who cared for them.
I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m the type that recognizes clearly that we’re only occasionally given special opportunities in this life – the kind that are only there for a fleeting while, of which you can either accept the opportunity as the gift that it is, or allow it to pass you by. If you recognize the opportunity, and fail to act – the opportunity is lost.
I believe in adventure, trying new things, and seeing new places. The world is so much bigger than our living rooms, our jobs, and our TVs. To experience adventure takes breaking away from some things that are common and comforting. Some people are able to deal with the “pain” of change in order to see and do bigger things, while others would rather stick to what makes them comfortable.
Wake Up & Smell The Salt
For me, I’ve become more aware of how fleeting life is over the course of the last few years. For me, the event that really hit me hard about how short life is, was when my Grandparents on my Dad’s side suddenly died in a car crash. Both of them.
The event was deeply saddening, but at the same time I had a feeling of calm and security. I felt good that they both left this life at the same time and they didn’t have to live alone. I was also happy knowing that they didn’t have to go through the slow decay of passing their last years in a nursing home. I was happy for them, at least in that respect.
It was good to know that they truly loved life. They cherished their friends and family, and they also invested their time into exploring, traveling, and experiencing great adventures. They lived their lives with gusto – seizing and creating opportunities to do amazing things with the time they had on this Earth.
For me, I think it was that whole experience of knowing how they lived, and also seeing how quickly they left gave me a better understanding of how fragile and special life really is.
Of course life is fragile. Of course it can be uncertain, but the fact that it is indefinably short is what I really understood at that point.
Fear: The Anti-Dream
I think there are a lot of people that have a spirit of adventure within them, but they let the world psyche them out. Probably the easiest thing to do in this life, aside from breathing, is to talk yourself out of doing something. There are always 1000 reasons NOT to do something. Fear often plays a big part – which is why I think so many people are concerned about the new dangers we will have to overcome on our journey.
Fear is the dream killer, and fear is within all of us. That’s why when people hear of our sailing plans, their instinctual reaction is to think of all the dangers – all of the reasons why we shouldn’t go.
Fear is a strange thing. Fear certainly has its place and it’s function, but for me it’s become more of an indicator of something that I should do, instead of something to be avoided.
Speaking of fear – the thing I’m most afraid of is looking back on my life and having regrets of all the opportunities that came within my easy grasp, but instead of taking the chance, I chose inaction.
Picture yourself old and frail. Your body is spent, but your memory is still sharp as a tack. As you sit there rummaging through all of the memories that you’ve created in the only life that you will ever have the privilege of living – will a content smile grow across your wrinkled face because you know that you took full advantage of the unique opportunities given to you?
I hope so.