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RYA urges boaters to heed MAIB Safety Bulletin regarding retractable keels

by Loretta Spridgeon, RYA 27 Jun 17:00 BST
Tragic fatality resulted from the inversion of a craft with a retractable keel following a capsize © RYA

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has today issued a safety bulletin relating to the securing of retractable keels and retractable weighted centreboards while sailing boats are in use, following a preliminary assessment of the circumstances that led to the capsize of an RS Venture Connect sailing boat on Windermere.

The RYA was saddened to learn that on 13 June 2019 a tragic incident occurred at Blackwell Sailing in Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, which resulted in the death of Stephen Hague (57) whilst sailing on Lake Windermere.

The boat was manufactured by RS Sailing and was being operated by Blackwell Sailing as part of its RYA Sailability activity. Sailability is the RYA's national programme promoting and supporting people with disabilities to try sailing and to take part regularly.

At the time of the accident, there were two crew on board the boat; an assistant instructor and an experienced crewman who had limited mobility.

The post-accident inspection of the boat, together with photographic evidence from the day, has identified that the restraining device for the keel, a Velcro™ strap, designed to secure the keel in the lowered position, was not in place.

In the windy conditions on the day, the boat was knocked down and heeled to such an extent that the keel slipped in its housing, retracting entirely.

During the capsize, the assistant instructor was able to swim clear but the disabled crewman became trapped under the inverted hull. The safety boat crew saw the accident and attended the scene quickly, but had difficulty righting the boat and so were unable to reach the crewman in sufficient time to effect a successful rescue.

The importance of securing the retractable keel was highlighted in the manufacturer's rigging guide for the boat, however, this accident demonstrates that some users may not be aware of how critical this is.

Following the incident, RS Sailing has contacted all registered owners of RS Venture Connect boats, reiterating the instructions regarding the importance of ensuring the keel securing strap is correctly fitted prior to use.

To prevent a similar accident, owners and operators of boats with either a retractable keel or retractable weighted centreboard, regardless of make or model, are recommended to ensure that:

  • Prior to use, checks are made to ensure the manufacturer's instructions regarding the securing of the keel or weighted centreboard have been followed
  • Their procedures and drills for recovering a capsized boat include the scenario where the keel or centreboard has retracted from its 'lowered' position

Joff McGill, RYA Sailability Manager, said: "We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Stephen Hague whilst sailing on Windermere. Our thoughts and sympathies remain with Stephen's family and friends, and all the Sailability volunteers at Blackwell Sailing.

"We will work closely with our partners in the boating industry to highlight the importance of securing retractable keels and centreboards while sailing boats are in use. We also strongly recommend that procedures and drills for recovering a capsized boat include the scenario where the keel or centreboard has retracted from its lowered position."

The RYA will continue to work with the MAIB to establish and share further learnings from this tragic incident, once there has been an opportunity to assess all contributing factors.

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