When you put your trust in your associate governing body or race promoter, you are placing your life on the line. When you, the racer are on the starting line, look to your right and to your left. Consider what is taking place. You place your life along with everyone else on that track, with your boat, and with the staff. The choices you make and others make are connected. It’s a great avenue to connect with people, and to challenge your best moment, but you must go prepared.
By Shawn Alladio
The thrill of PWC racing is something that provides each individual with a capability to seek your best moment. It’s a great platform for water, athletic spirit, physical honing and technical skills, and you need your competition. Respect your competition and respect the track you are about to go to battle on.
Every associate governing body and race promoter should provide the best practices and methods to ensure spectator, team and racer safety; both on the land and on the water. How do they know what those are and what are the guidelines employed? It’s a voluntary service of event management, some are better than others and there is always something new to learn from each experience. What matters most is safety on and off the track, from the pits to the finish line, it all matters. You are part of that; it’s not entirely up to the race promoter.
You shape the destiny of your local racing, you are part of the success or the problems, and you get to choose. You can be the difference. But you need to decide how you will influence, adopt or ignore these values. Your behaviors, staff and others are reliant on many factors, let’s dig into them and glean some insights. Hopefully you can alter issues you can make a difference in and realize that your voice matters, your investment dollar matters and your behaviors are the impression that lasts the longest.
Do you even know what to look for in terms of operational safety? Do you even care? Are you one of those people who will only care after the fact when it suddenly gets real from an accident and you are the one out of work, recuperating from a traumatic injury, loss of income and angry at the world?
It is your sport and you need to take responsibility for it. Don’t assume this has been managed on your behalf. You have the right to interview your associate body and promoter and ask them key concerns relative to your investment at their event. Taking your concerns to the source is far more important than grumbling with friends, action is stronger than any words, and no change is done from complaining, but through effective participation, this will require that you take risks and speak up, ‘hold the line’.
Likewise you need to ensure you have medical and life insurance before you get on the track. As a competitor you need to be qualified, properly vetted and tested for your skill level and if you are physically capable of handling the type of PWC you decide to place on the race track. You should come to the starting line prepared. Act like a professional and your sport will reflect professionalism. Act like a hack and your sport will remain a hobby sport that lacks the respectable image it deserves. You are the sport. What you bring to the track reflects the health of the race paradigm.
There have been false statements made that there is no standard certification for Course Marshals by associations and promoters. In fact there has been a certified Course Marshal training program in affect for over a decade. There are certified Course Marshals who have been properly trained and vetted through this program in 10 Countries respectively. The standards have been set, in place, proven but have not been adopted by the associate governing bodies. This also coincides with event management training. So if you hear that this doesn’t exist, you can challenge it with facts, and discount those rumors.
Recently the Boston Marathon experienced one of our Nation’s most horrific terrorist attacks. This sporting event is an American heritage event for runners; in fact it’s an internationally recognized venue. This article link at the bottom of this story reveals ‘The Moment of Truth’. What does this mean? It means that preparation is what creates a unified front when situations are compounded with problems and need fast and professional response. The racer must first come prepared to compete; this is your role as a competitor. A promoter is the facilitator of managing the event and foreseeable safety issues.
Mission success in event planning begins with the staffing. Have they been trained? Do they know what their roles are? Do they have a mass evacuation plan for larger incidents? Do they understand how to respond under pressure during a crisis? I have worked in the PWC racing community for years and have pressed ardently for these measures, and been ostracized for bringing them up. They need to be addressed and managed to provide the best race venues probably in this day and age, there is nothing to fear in this dialogue, it will only strengthen the weak points.
Instead venues are regressing to pre-1990 event programs, and are in decline. Every motor sport in the world has safety committees, briefings, accident investigations and updates on new safety equipment and staffing, but not the PWC associations or promoters. Why is this? The answer is obvious. Hubris and poor leadership values have defended the lack of professional development that should be continually addressed during the season and annually.
This in depth article will help enlighten you to safety concerns regardless if you are a promoter, staff member, competitor, spectator, family member or sponsor. The solutions are tangible, easy to manifest and organize and should be utilized to increase the development of a stagnant sport struggling to capture its identity.
Let’s highlight a few of the relevant concerns in this article regarding the ‘7 Must Have’s for Large Sporting Events’, which apply to any event of any type: http://www.firerescue1.com/communications-interoperability/articles/1433245-7-must-haves-to-protect-large-events/
PWC racing promoters/associations have ‘no’ operational plan in their recent history as a collaborative safety example: ‘the single most effective tool that we have at our disposal is the time to develop a comprehensive operational plan long before the event. This operational plan may take from weeks or months to prepare.” (SOP-Standard Operating Procedures). But this does not mean they do not exist, K38 has a very good operational plan and it has been available for several years, if you are a promoter and would like to use it, you can write to the author with an official request.
How far away is the nearest hospital? How far away is the nearest trauma center? What are realistic transport times? Are the ambulance services Basic Life Support (BLS) or Advanced Life Support (ALS)? Has the staff ever done a dry run on the plan for evacuation, triage or multiple patients or casualties? Remember, this can be from an incident on land as well as on water. How many backboards (spine boards) are available? Does the staff have a first aid tent or location, where is it located? Does the staff have basic CPR and First Aid; are there first aid or trauma kits available? Where are the fire extinguishers located, and do you know how to operate one? Is there a plan for fuel related explosions or fires, or burn patients? What are the re-fueling and no-smoking requirements? Training can be done via PDF, Skype or video briefings. The best case scenario is to have an annual training program. Course Marshals should be properly certified in technical boat handling skills by a NASBLA approved course and have a minimum of first aid/CPR skills. The PWC’s used for course marshals need to have a rescue board properly affixed to the stern deck, and must be a 3 -seater capacity boat. They must know how to effectively operate and package a patient, and transport them.
Staff communications are vital to the continuation of the event program. Radios help speed up the flow of an event. When the communications are not working, time is lost, there is more physical movements wasted tracking people down and equipment. If there is not an effective method to deliver information to the racers and teams, they can disrupt and distract staff asking the same questions over and over. A pit board is a simple for of posting printed information, and is a valuable resource. But the postings need to be relevant and timely. The staff needs to be educated in how to operate a radio properly and to stay off the ‘safety channel’ for course marshals, especially during an incident, there should be silence except for the Course Marshals directions. Few associations or promoters have protocols in place for effective communication systems. Even officiating is reliant on effective communications and timelines. Communication can be a big part of personal safety and protection. Security needs to be informed of any incidents as well as the emergency response teams. There need to be daily briefings and de-briefings. The safety briefing for competitors needs to be done by the safety liaison officer or lead course marshal who handles that position or staff directly.
This starts first off with having the right tools to do the right job. Personal Protective Equipment, apparel and tooling are vital for personnel safety. Proper anchorage of buoys, weather reports updated, effective communications stated clearly and understood, checking vessel integrity and safety inspections of all racer gear, enforcing the safety rules. An under qualified course marshal can create a secondary accident while responding to a primary incident. Likewise a poorly vetted racer can do the same during a race. This goes back to track design, logistical needs, comprehension of risk, risk mitigation and management and some basic common sense. Race trainers need a standard they are training and vetting students by. You can burn a lot of fuel running laps but that doesn’t necessarily translate into professional development. When you train, set appropriate professional goals and objectives. Think about traction, trim and pump efficiency with proper throttle modulation and helm control. Most importantly as a racer, focus on your emotional maturity. As a racer are you buying fashion or are you preparing yourself with proper safety equipment? Check the ratings and approvals of all the personal protective equipment you wear, helmets and lifejackets being the most important items that can help save your life or reduce risk of injury. The facts don’t lie, this is a fast paced motorsport, your body is exposed to contact and that usually means with the surface of water, your boat or by impact from another boat. You should come to the race track prepared and properly cover your body with protective garments.
Documenting the race site features, and eliminating any foreseeable safety concerns in advance. If one is pointed out, race directors/promoter/staff needs to inspect or investigate the safety concerns and make sure they are plausible and mitigate any foreseeable concerns. The best method is the following for resource management:
This simple formula is easily understood and can assist event management in keeping the flow of the event going. Weather and water conditions are something that has to be dealt with, accepted or surrendered to. Sometimes events have to be postponed or cancelled. You as the participant must accept the guidance and wisdom of promoters who have your best interests to manage. When promoters take the time to properly plan for an event, the day of the event, it is far easier to manage and problem solve issues that arise. True professionals seek advice from other professionals. There is no excuse for poor event management. Good event management brings rewards to both the spectators, sponsors but the athletes themselves. Their initial investment in their event is related to how the athletes feel about the core strength of the duration and consistency they experienced as a competitor. There is no excuse to not be prepared, the internet is a valuable resource with many free downloads and plans. It’s easy to find an operational planning template, no excuse! But knowing how to lead is the caveat. One must be a good leader, and this will reflect the preparation involved, for the results of the day of action applied.
Standards ensure a baseline practical approach of agreed upon terms, conditions, applications and management, and how those items are implemented and managed. What standards provide to PWC racing is a continuity amongst regions, affiliates and competitors. It’s the basic tenets of enforcing and endorsing what is written in the bylaws and rules and regulations of the event programming. These expectations are written as the governing platform of the sportsman like conduct of both officials, staff and competitors. They ensure that the rules are clearly understood, agreed upon and protected by staff that has a full comprehension of what they are expected to enforce. Compliance of the standards is expected under the rules as well. Failure to comply with the standards results in rule infractions, and or penalties depending upon the situation and the staff level of professional capabilities. If they are not clearly understood, they will not be clearly applied. A standard is only a baseline, it is a status quo, and you should strive to exceed the status quo.
There is great responsibility in racing, your race program begins before you head off to the practice sessions, or the race track to compete or to volunteer or work a venue. It begins with your own merit and investigation to educate yourself to the best of your ability regarding every aspect of the competitive drive. Take the initiative and get educated, regardless of your level of participation, only good things will evolve.
Unfortunately traumatic accidents and injuries in motorsports have created safety measures, committees and after action reports. Sadly, the PWC community leaders have not been forced to adhere to increasing safety at their events. This begins with you the racer, don’t wait for an associate to mandate what you should or shouldn’t be doing to prepare for your activity. You can be the example by how you come prepared to an event you want to test your skills at. A promoter or associate body will describe to you that if you don’t accept the way the event is managed, you don’t have to compete at it. Well, that’s very true! You do have a choice.
As a famous saying goes: There is nothing to fear but fear itself.
Promoters need to increase their capability and should be striving for new avenues to protect their events and ensure their future races build trust and build their clientele list. This is truly one of the greatest motorsports, it deserves the very best and it will only take a few simple management policies and procedures to help it get to that next level and sustain it for the future.
Conduct your own homework. Make a list of ten items you are concerned about and research online. Create a discovery phase of information that can help you with mentoring yourself if you don’t have an icon you follow, become that person. Just give yourself permission to invest some of your time to collecting reference material, even from other sports. Take your sporting activity seriously, it is your life in your hands and you get to drive it! You can’t blame the boat, the water, the buoy or the racer, you have to take responsibility and come prepared.
When you do this your confidence increases and you pull up the sport and make the greatest contributions needed to ensure that it thrives.
Do a Google search on ‘safety in motorsports’ check out all the links!
Now do a comparative search for ‘safety in personal watercraft racing’. Hard to find any recommendations other than K38 articles
NSBC: National Safe Boating Council
NASBLA: National Association of State Boating Law Administrators
PWC: Personal Water Craft
SOP: Standard Operating Procedures
About the Author:
Shawn Alladio is the founder of K38. K38’s training programs evolved over the past 24 years; and currently enjoy support with 12 International K38 affiliates. Along with a cadre of professional NSBC boating safety instructors, K38 teaches Personal Watercraft and Rescue Water Craft courses in swiftwater rescue, event management, big wave safety, PWC competitions, flood, open water,surf and disaster management for occupational lifesavers. K38 Maritime provides services for the Law Enforcement and Military communities, Shawn is the foremost PWC subject matter expert and has received numerous awards and in an inductee into the prestigious National Safe Boating Council Boating Safety Hall of Fame.