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US Sailing report cites improper lookout in race accident

US Sailing released a report from an independent review panel on its investigation of the sailing accident that occurred April 28 during the 2012 Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race that resulted in the deaths of four sailors.

The crewmembers were victims of an accident aboard Aegean, a 37-foot Hunter 376. The panel determined that a key element of the accident was likely an inadequate lookout and that it is likely the Aegean inadvertently motored beyond a waypoint set before North Coronado Island.

Although the inadequate lookout was the proximal cause of the accident, there were additional safety issues that came to light during the inquiry and improvements in these areas could prevent or reduce the severity of other accidents in the future, US Sailing said.

The panel relied on available facts to create its report. There were no survivors and no eyewitnesses to the accident. The facts include the SPOT Connect (GPS tracking device with text capacity) position reports from which vessel course and speed were derived, times of SPOT Connect text transmissions during the race, published material, press reports including accounts of the San Diego Coroner’s report and the results of their toxicology analysis, interviews with race organizers, participants and past crew from Aegean, wreckage found at North Coronado Island and in the debris field and underwater at North Coronado Island.

“The US Sailing Independent Review Panel members express our sorrow at the loss of four lives in this tragic accident,” panel chairman Bruce Brown said in a statement.

“We offer our condolences to the family members of the victims. This accident was tragic and we will not know what occurred during the last hours on board Aegean. The panel analyzed the facts and offers recommendations to the sailing community. My thanks go to the members of the panel for their diligent work and to our sailing community who stepped forward to offer their insights into the events that occurred.”

The panel recommended improvements in the following areas:

1. Always maintain a lookout, with a watch of at least two people, using audible waypoint and radar alarms.

2. Racers need to be made aware of the light obscuration zones in the Coronado Islands.

3. Each watch must understand the operation of the boat's navigation systems.

4. The use of autopilots while motoring should be reviewed by race organizers.

5. To improve communication, racers should monitor VHF channel 16 and race organizers should provide a 24-hour emergency contact.

6. US Sailing should create a guide to emergency signaling devices.

7. US Sailing should create a crisis management template for race organizers.

The 125-mile Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race is held annually, starting from Newport Beach, Calif. and ending at Ensenada, Mexico.

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