Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to speak. My name is Stu Gilfillen and I’m the Director of Education for US Sailing. I’m here today to talk a little bit about my organization, who we are, and how we’re working to integrate life jacket wear throughout our programming and events. I’ll also talk about where we’ve had shortcomings in our efforts, what limitations we have and how we’re working to address them.
So, who am I?I’ve been the director of education for just over 5 years. In my role at US Sailing I oversee all educational programming and manage the development of all our educational resources, from publications to online courses.
One of my favorite things about my role is that it allows me to combine my passion with my profession. Prior to coming to US Sailing I spent about 15 years managing sail training programs, and was involved with all levels of the sport from beginners to Olympic training. In recent years I’ve had the good fortune of becoming more involved with the boating safety community, specifically with the National Safe Boating Council.My claim to fame is that I was featured in a 2015 episode of US Sailing’s “The Beat” where I was able to play the role of “Mr Safety.” The video got 172,000 views and somehow I didn’t get a raise.
If you’re not familiar with US Sailing, it is the National Governing Body for the sport of sailing.When people ask what that means, I always say that we’re the sailing version of USA Hockey or USA Basketball.We have Approximately 46,000 individual members 1,700 member organizations 700 “Community” organizations And about 55 staff across all our departments.
Our mission is to support a wide array of sailors from diverse backgrounds. There is no “one size fits all” in our world.
When most people think of US Sailing, most think of the Olympic team. But we are much more than that.
While it’s true that racing, and the Olympics, is a big part of who we are, it’s not everything.
Annually we teach approximately 2,500 instructors across six instructional disciplines. We also issue between 2,100 and 2,500 Safety at Sea CertificatesThe largest discipline is our Smallboat instructor training program, which includes about 1,600 students, the majority of which are 16-23 years old.
Which leads to the following question: How do we promote the same message about safety across a wide array of constituents? First, lets look at some data.
Adult wear rates have climbed steadily over the years. Since the JSI report was first released in 1999, life jacket wear among adults on sailboats has increased 10%. Within that data you’ll find that wear among Day Sailors has seen a 102% increase, while Cabin Sailboats has seen a 107% increase. But when you dive into the data, you find that there’s still a big disparity with day sailors wear rate being much higher than that of cabin cruisers
The data actually seems to correlate with where the strengths and weaknesses of US Sailing are.Our strengths lie in racing (championships) and training, two areas where US Sailing has more direct control.Our weaknesses are with those who haven’t gone through a program. Those who are self-taught or aren’t affiliated with programIn our training, we focus heavily on safety and life jacket wear. My anecdotal experience leads me to believe that in day sailing boats, people who are trained are more likely to keep wearing life jackets.
In our championships and events, we also control the rules. As such, we can mandate that all competitors wear life jackets.
Again, the data shows where the disparity is. Day Sailor: 61.9% Cabin Cruiser: 18.8%
There also seems to be a bit of geographic disparity- in someone areas of the country people tend to be more vigilant but on others the culture of safety is less prevalent, especially in the racing community.
As a governing body, those regional differences are hard to account for.
With Youth: The national average wear rate on all sailboats for all youth decreased from 78.6% in 2016 to 69.2% in 2017. Since 1999 rates for youth on sailboats has remained relatively high.
There was a very small number of Youth surveyed for this study, and the reason given was that “few youth are found on any type of sailboats.” For US Sailing, a large portion of our membership is either a youth, or part of a family membership. As such, we have a pretty good connection with you, especially in day sailing.
I’d offer that youth are genuinely very good at wearing lifejackets in part because state laws require it in many cases, but also because in the sailing community it’s part of the culture. You don’t go on a dock without a life jacket.
Many kids even forget to take the lifejackets off when they get back, and more than one has climbed into a car still wearing it.
Another look at the data shows high wear rates but a small sample size.
From a sailor….it’s about the culture.
As I mentioned before there are a few areas where US Sailing has been able to have a direct influence. Instructor Training US Sailing Regattas But also publications and student curriculums
We try to show the proper message through our materials.
Life jacket wear is woven throughout the fabric of US Sailing: US Powerboating, small boat sailing, all sailing classes, offshore sailing, judging and umpiring, etc.
The need to wear a lifej acket is baked into our programming.
We’ve also tried to simplify the way we talk to people about life jackets.
Instead of going through the details of each life jacket type….
We focus more on WHAT the jackets do, more than what they’re called. Simply put, we talk about them as dinghy and offshore. There’s cross over, but aligning the equipment to the terminology of our sport de-mystifies it.
Having equipment that correlates to the behaviors and actions also mirrors the direction that the labeling has gone. This approach should be helpful in further connecting with the sailing and boating public.
We also try to show examples in our imagery and across our social media channels.The National Safe Boating Council has provided a ton of useful stuff to help with that and made it really easy to share.
We need to reach out more to cruisers and those who aren’t in structured programs. This is an organizational weakness for US Sailing, but it correlates to a gap in life jacket wear. Accidents over the past few years have brought to light areas where we can work with sailors, and race organizers to be better prepared. In some cases, the equipment did not fulfill the function it was needed for – that is, to provide enough buoyancy for the person to be rescued. Often times there are spotty histories of maintenance. As part of actions, we’re being more Pushing for stricter procedures adopted by organizers for safety training in offshore races, including a doubling of the percentage of Safety at Sea trained participants on board race boats. Expanded our Safety at Sea training programs, including comprehensive online training. In the last three years we have issued 10,501 Safety at Sea certificates. Publication and distribution of “Safety at Sea: A Guide to Safety Under Sail and Personal Survival,” a book that supports US Sailing and World Sailing Sanctioned Safety at Sea Courses. Collaboration with USCG in specific regions, such as San Francisco Bay in District 11, to provide a range of safety-related requirements for offshore races, including rosters and mandatory proof of radio compliance. Adoption and ongoing revision of the “Special Equipment Requirements,” which are equipment rules that may be applied (with modifications deemed appropriate by local organizers) to nearshore, coastal and offshore events. Many events feature international competitors, who are bringing 50N jackets. They place pinnies over the jackets which often makes it difficult to tell. This trend has extended into the day sailing ranks for both youth and adult events. If it’s a US Sailing event, we control it. If it’s not, we can influence what occurs but we rely on the Organizing Authority to run safe races and we also recognize that the choosing to compete, and decide what’s required with regards to life jacket wear. Many have rules in place, while others don’t.
Progress takes time, but we’re moving in the right direction.
Progress takes time, but we’re moving in the right direction.
Weaving Life Jacket Wear Throughout US Sailing Programs
Weaving Life Jacket Wear
Throughout US Sailing
• Director of Education, US Sailing
• Smallboat Instructor Trainer
• US Powerboating Instructor
• 15 years in sail training programs
• Vice Chair, National Safe Boating Council
• Past Board member, US Safe Boating Institute
• “Mr. Safety” (first and last professional acting experience)
Mission: Increase sailing participation and
excellence through education, competition and
equal opportunity, while upholding the principles
of fair play, sportsmanship and safety.
more on just
Type III and V
(Inshore and Youth) (Offshore & Adult)
Challenges & Limitations
1. We haven’t been successful in connecting with (and educating)
the “middle” of our sport.
2. We need to do a better job educating people on how to care for
and maintain their life jackets.
3. International participants push the envelope.
4. US Sailing isn’t always the Organizing Authority for regattas.