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Chicago Yacht Club releases report on fatal accident during 2018 Race to Mackinac

by Laura Muma 25 Feb 13:40 PST 22-24 July 2018
Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac - Day 1 © Meredith Block

Today the Chicago Yacht Club (CYC) publicly released the report on the fatal crew overboard accident that took place during the July 2018 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac (CYCRTM).

The report analyzes what took place during the incident and includes important lessons learned, specifically highlighting auto-inflate personal flotation devices (PFD). The report's goal is to further enhance safety within the boating community and is available here.

On July 21, 2018 shortly after the start of the 110th CYCRTM, experienced sailor Jon Santarelli fell overboard from Imedi, a TP52 sailboat. Santarelli's auto-inflate life jacket did not activate. Despite recovery efforts by the Imedi crew in the challenging conditions (6-8 foot waves and 20-25 knots of wind), they observed him slip under the water. Chicago Police Department recovered his body one week later in Lake Michigan.

The eight-member Safety Enhancement Committee, established by CYC after the accident, developed the report. The members included the chairs of U.S. Sailing's Safety at Sea and U.S. Sailing's Offshore Committees, as well as individuals with extensive high-profile offshore racing and regatta management experience from the America's Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, Transpac, and Races to Mackinac. In addition, CYC worked closely with the U.S Coast Guard.

The report includes an analysis of what took place when Santarelli fell overboard based upon extensive interviews from the Imedi crew, the examination of Imedi's electronic tracking system that details the attempted recovery mission, and input from nearby CYCRTM competitors that assisted in the search, as well as extensive information provided by the U.S. Coast Guard.

As a result of the Committee's investigation, important lessons are shared with respect to malfunctioning personal safety gear, use of additional safety equipment on board, and boat control in challenging conditions. In addition, the report includes:

  • Detailed recommendations regarding team communication and importance of having clearly identified crew overboard procedures;
  • Safety gear inspection;
  • Practice drills for boat handling in crisis situations, and for the person in the water;
  • Overall enhanced training and maintenance recommendations for inflatable life jackets.
  • What to watch for in drowning situations.

"On behalf of the Chicago Yacht Club, we appreciate the collaborative efforts of the Safety Committee, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Sailing, the crew aboard Imedi and associated search boats," said Lou Sandoval, CYC commodore. "Our goal is for this report to help the boating community understand importance of safety preparation in our sport."

Based on the Committee's recommendations and an overall review of offshore racing safety regulations, CYCRTM has also implemented new safety procedures for the 111th running of the Race to Mackinac, scheduled for July 13, 2019. such as conducting life jacket safety clinics. The first clinic was held last year that approximately 150 racing sailors attended, and a second is planned for this spring.

"The sailing community is like family and safety is of utmost importance," said Sarah Renz, chair of the 111th CYCRTM. "It is our sincere goal that the positive changes resulting from this inquiry will have a lasting and profound impact on the sport Jon Santarelli loved so dearly."

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