US Sailing Report on Newport Bermuda fatality

On June 19, 2022, Colin Golder, owner and skipper of the Centurion 42 Morgan of Marietta, drowned while participating in the Newport to Bermuda race. Death in high-profile sailing events provides an opportunity for the sport to reassess itself and the race hosts asked US Sailing to review the incident and make recommendations aimed at enhancing the safety of offshore racing. In October 2022, the US Sailing panel released its report. 

The panel started with outlining the facts of the Golder’s death. At the start on June 17 winds were 15 to 20 knots predicted to increase to 20 to 25 with higher gusts. For a well-found ocean racing boat these conditions are not problematic. As the race progressed, the sea state deteriorated and Morgan of Marietta’s crew reported waves of 10 and occasionally 12 to 18 feet.

Two days later Golder was sitting in the cockpit when a large wave swept him into the sea. He was not wearing a PFD nor was he tethered to the boat. Because he rarely went on deck, it’s possible Golder didn’t think the precautions applied to him.

Morgan of Marietta’s crew immediately deployed their Lifesling and executing a POB maneuver, reached Golder within minutes. He was alert, got himself into the Lifesling, and the crew brought him to the transom. Through a variety of circumstances they were unable to bring him on board, and Golder drowned.

Along with underscoring the importance of PFDs and tethers in inclement weather, the review committee flatly disagreed with the common wisdom that wearing safety equipment is a personal choice. “All crew members should be trained to actively promote safety requirements and standards, ensure that all crew members comply with them, and be prepared to challenge each other with respect to safety issues.” 

US Sailing made 10 other recommendations, among them suggesting manufacturers “explore enhancements that may improve a crew’s ability to recover an unconscious POB” and safety training to focus more on retrieval.

The committee also recommended that crews undergo training on employing a crewmember as a rescue swimmer. Another avenue to increasing crew safety was to was for all skippers to determine which crew members aboard a race boat have medical skills or training. 

Finally, Golder’s position as skipper was the impetus for suggesting that offshore race organizers require competitors to designate a second in command in case the skipper is the one who goes overboard and/or becomes a medical emergency, leaving the boat leaderless.

Ann Hoffner