On July 1, 1997 the Canadian Coast Guard were starting a review process to amend the laws regarding the use of the PFD while windsurfing in Canadian waters. What follows is a copy of the brief I sent to them. It is written so that even land lovers can understand the issues involved. It is vary lengthy as this is a complex subject. I suggest downloading and then printing this brief so you could read it later. It's way to long to read on line.



Harold Dickert



Friday, June 27, 1997



Senior Project Officer, Regulatory Development
Office of Boating Safety
Canada Coast Guard
344 Slater Street, 9th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario.
K1A 0N7


I am writing in response to the proposed amendments to the Small Vessel Regulations governing the use of PFDs and a Sound Signaling Device while Boardsailing. I ask that you withdraw both the requirements for the PFD and the proposed requirement for a Sound Signaling Device.

After having tried to get some positive changes to the PFD legislation in the early 90s and having spoken with a very large number of fellow windsurfers, I have gathered numerous reasons for and against the use of the PFD while windsurfing. The overwhelming conclusion is that most windsurfers feel it is not safe to wear a PFD in all conditions, and that it is redundant in situations where it is not outright dangerous. They resent being forced to wear the PFD and only do so because of the harassment by the police.

People who have made the choice to not use a PFD are coerced into submission by the law and heavy fines, or have stopped sailing in waters that the police patrol. This resentment of PFDs however is not universal and some Windsurfers do wear PFDs for the benefits that they do offer. By removing the PFD requirement, it would become the choice of the sailor whether or not to use a PFD, and this choice is all that we ask for.

I would like to add that I never wear a PFD. Among my reasons for not using a PFD is that I have had the experience of almost drowning as a result of being pinned against the bottom of my sail when it landed on top of me in the water and simultaneously having my harness line entangled by the PFD.


As for the requirement to carry a sound signaling device; I have no idea why we should be required to do this when there is no requirement for other small vessels to carry a sound signaling device. If it is so that others can hear us if in trouble, a whistle won’t be heard on those 15 to 35 knot days when all the hard core board-heads are out shredding. The wind and high waves very quickly obliterate any sound like a whistle or yelling. People like myself who go out on longboards as much as two to three miles offshore and on different tacks from our buddies would also not be heard.

A whistle on a string also carries a safety penalty in that it could get entangled around other lines trapping a sailor under water. Sitting on the hull and using the standard visual signal of waving both arms crossing overhead is highly effective and can be see from very long distances as compared to how far a whistles sound will travel. Any device requiring power or something of the effect of a signaling gun obviously is not an option on a windsurfer.

I strongly recommend that the Canadian Cost Guard follow the recommendations of Windsurfing Canada that…

    1. PFD wearing be a matter of the sailors choice and not applied as a mandatory requirement for all forms of windsurfing.
    2. The sound signaling device or whistle requirement be withdrawn.

During the years that I have researched the arguments over the use of the PFD, many issues have been pointed out to me by other sailors. What follows is an updated version of a brief I prepared years ago to address this problem. I will go over each point in detail. Keep in mind that this brief is written with the non-boardsailor or non-windsurfer in mind in such a way that they truly get a feel for why this controversy still persists, and to understand the reasons why most windsurf sailors will not comply with the law.



The Personal Floatation Device.

Safety for boaters, danger for boardsailers.


All our lives we are told that each person should have a PFD at their disposal when they are out on the water in a boat or water skiing. For people who have spent any time around the water it has become common sense to have a PFD handy. Common sense tells us that if a person were going to go windsurfing, they should also wear a PFD. It is completely counterintuitive for most Canadians to go out on the water without a PFD, and yet this is continuing to be a huge issue among boardsailors. The fact is that while windsurfing, a PFD can get you into some very serious trouble.

In the view of most of us out on the water, the law emphasizes the wrong thing. PFDs are redundant. Thermal protection is absolutely critical, yet there is nothing said in the law about the use of wet suits or dry suits, not to mention a standard for a failsafe system to keep the sail and hull together should the universal joint fail. The hull is the primary life saving device, even if cut in half by some fluke accident, it would still provide vastly more flotation than a PFD or a lifebuoy for that matter as I’ll explain later. Education about sailing conditions, the risks involved, and self-rescue techniques are also completely overlooked by the Canada Shipping Act.

The thing to keep in mind about boardsailing is that just as in any other sport, there are inherent dangers to the activity. In skiing there is a higher risk of breaking a leg or arm, you could lose your teeth in hockey, you could lose your life in autoracing. Boardsailing carries the risk of drowning and that is part of the sport. It should also be remembered that as human beings we are a self-determinant being and must be responsible for ourselves. It is not the states responsibility. If all the risks of a sport were legislated out of the sport, you would kill the sport. What boardsailers want, is the right to choose for themselves whether or not to use a PFD. It is our responsibility and there are no other people onboard to be responsible for.

The common theme is the need for education and judgment. Then, an intelligent choice or response can be made. Unfortunately, in Canada, there is no choice. The decision has already been made in Ottawa. Therefore many people have never questioned the use of PFDs and have a false impression about what a PFD will do for them. Worse, they have no idea what a PFD can do to them.

Sailing a windsurfer is not like sailing in any other type of vessels. The sport should be considered an in-the-water sport. You must know how to swim unlike any other vessel operator. A person should not even contemplate attempting to windsurf unless they are a strong swimmer to begin with. Anyone using a PFD to supplement their swimming ability is asking for trouble. A beginner will spend as much time in the water as on the board. Even advanced sailors spend a high amount of time in the water positioning the hull and sail while setting up for what we call a "Water-start". Windsurfing is just as much an "in the water" sport as an "on the water" sport, and a person windsurfing will be swimming.

Before I discuss the problems with PFDS, I'd like to give a background to this law. In Canada, failing to carry an approved personal flotation device, or an approved life saving cushion for each person on board, is a federal offence under the Canada Shipping Act. Note: You don't have to wear it, it only has to be on board. Needless to say, this is a left over from an older law before windsurfers came on the scene. Changing the current law in order to give boardsailors a CHOICE is what this brief is all about.

Part 11 of the regulations are the "REQUIREMENTS FOR PLEASURE CRAFT", which is divided into sections and schedules for various size vessels and their equipment. PFDs or approved life saving cushions are covered by the Small Vessel Regulations, Part 11, Section 17 (1) (a). Section 17 is given below:

Not over 5.5 meters in length.

17. Every vessel not over 5.5 meters in length shall carry

    1. one approved small vessel lifejacket, approved personal flotation device or approved life saving cushion for each person on board;
    2. two oars and rowlocks or two paddles;
    3. one bailer or one manual pump; and
    4. if equipped with an inboard motor, permanently fixed or built-in fuel tanks or a cooking or heating appliance that burns liquid or gaseous fuel, one Class B 1 fire extinguisher.

Unfortunately, when windsurfers first appeared on Canadian waters, the police saw them in just the same context as any other small vessel, and were enforcing this law. Enforcement of this law became ludicrous. Sailors were actually fined for not having a bailer and paddles on board their vessel. Fortunately for me, this was before my entry into the sport. I have heard stories of sailor responding by carrying a beer cap for a bailer, and two tooth picks to serve as paddles. As of the 7th of September 1982 the regulation was amended as follows:

  • (3) Sailboards may carry, in lieu of equipment prescribed elsewhere in this Part, one approved small vessel lifejacket or approved personal flotation device for each person on board.
  • This was a good first step, but in 1982 in Canada, boardsailing was still a very new sport and only vaguely understood by the people who wrote the rules. Boardsailors no longer needed to carry paddles and a bailer, but the amendment didn't go far enough.


    What most sailboard sailor's I've talked with would really like to see, is the freedom to assess the conditions of the day along with their own skill level and then determine whether or not they should or should not wear a PFD. In order to acquire this freedom, the law as it is now worded would have to be changed to something in the effect of; Sailboards are exempt of the requirement for equipment prescribed elsewhere in this Part. This would maintain our status as a vessel ensuring our access to the waterways and give us the right the choose whether or not to use a PFD.

    There are three arguments that may be used in order to change the law.

    1. The right to assess the situation and choose, thus not being coerced by too general a blanket law forcing one to use a PFD against ones better judgement.
    2. The argument that a sailboard is not a vessel, therefor the PFD law would not apply to sailboards. Note: This is not an advisable line of argument to pursue as it may cause us to lose other desirable rights that sailboards now enjoy by being defined as a vessel, such as right-of-way and water access.
    3. Finally the most important and strongest argument is to point out the safety problems associated with the use of a PFD while boardsailing, and that this law as it applies to boardsailing goes against the very reason of it's existence, which is to improve safety. Add to that, the law ignores the safety points that should be stressed in the view of many windsurfers.

    I’ll also point out why sailors do use the PFD and why this whole issue is such a grey matter.



    The Right to Choose

    The right to choose is a basic right. Most people have that right. In other words, they do not have to put up with being interfered with in their actions in so far as those actions do not harm others. There is no law that says a person is required to wear a PFD while they are onboard a vessel, just as no one is required to wear a parachute in an aircraft. The operator, of a "vessel not over 5.5 meters in length shall carry one approved small vessel lifejacket, approved personal flotation device, or approved life saving cushion for each person on board", in order to give all the people that the operator is responsible for, a choice should an emergency warrant it. They may choose whether or not to wear a PFD, float on it, swim to another boat, swim to shore or to use any other option which may present it's self to them.

    A boardsailor on the other hand, is denied that same right to choose whether or not to use a PFD. It must be remembered that the operator of a sailboard is the sole person on board and is not putting any other person at risk as a result of his or her decisions. The law as it stands now arbitrarily nullifies a boardsailors better judgement such that it is valueless, and at the same time may put him or her at risk by not giving them a choice thus forcing them to sail with a PFD in condition where a PFD should not be used.



    Is A Windsurfer Really A Vessel?

    Is a windsurfer really a vessel? Although this is a line of argument that could backfire, ( loosing water access and right of way and thus should not be pursued) I think it non-the-less is interesting to take a look at. Taken to the extreme it points out how different a sailboard is from a conventional vessel and how silly the requirement for a PFD can become.

    The way the Canada Shipping Act sees it, a windsurfer is a vessel. The Canada Shipping Act definition of a vessel is as follows:

    In other words, a vessel is something that is hollow, that has an opening, and that you can put something inside of. In the case of a boat, it is filled with air, and sometimes people and/or cargo. If you put a vessel like a boat on water, the total weight contained within it is less than that of water for the same volume and therefore it is lighter than water so it will float. If the vessel capsizes or in any other way takes on water, it will no longer displace water, so it will sink.

    A windsurfer is not hollow. You can't put anything inside it, unlike any other vessel. You can't capsize it although a windsurfer can be flipped upside down and regularly does as people wipe out in all sorts of maneuvers that include loops and rolls like you would see an aircraft do. What other vessels get rolled in the air or looped on purpose? As I said, you can't capsize it, in the sense that nothing can fall out and water will not flow in.

    A windsurfer is a solid slab of Styrofoam with a hard shell (like a big lifebuoy without the hole in the middle). Even if run over and broken in two, a half of any windsurfer has vastly more flotation than any lifebuoy or PFD as I'll elaborate on later. It will not take on water and it will not sink.

    Lets take another look at the Canada Shipping Act definition of "Vessel"" Includes any ship or boat or any other description of vessel used or designed to be used in Navigation. First off, this is a circular description that uses the word that it is trying to describe and therefore leaves no impression in ones mind as to what a vessel really is. Second, a windsurfer is not used or designed to be used in Navigation. Quoting the State Attorney of the State of Wyoming in describing a sailboard, "There is no pretension of transportation or navigation." The US Coast Guard put it this way; "A sailboard is used primarily as a Water Toy". Although windsurfers cringe at that description, it is 100% correct.

    Direct visual piloting is the most basic form of navigation, and Yes, it is indeed used by windsurf sailors, but the windsurfer is not built for transportation or navigation. A windsurfer is used and designed to be used in the sport of windsurfing which entails moving swiftly across the surface of the water, just for the thrill of it. This sport requires that the participant be a strong swimmer and for many of us, depending on the conditions, we spend as much time in the water as on the board sailing. Watch any novice and you will see them spending as much time in the water as actual sailing on it the water.

    The windsurfer hull is constructed similar to a lifeguard rescue board, which is a life support flotation device. The mast is attached by a swivel (the universal joint) so the sail lies flat in the water acting as a sea anchor when not underway. Before being able to get underway, the sail must be lifted out of the water.

    A windsurfer when underway has the appearance of a vessel and a sailor has the same rights and responsibility as any other operator of any other vessel. But if the sail is removed it looks more like a surfboard, boogeyboard or a large flutterboard.

    A sailboard with no sail may not be much fun for most boardsailors, but for an acquaintance of mine, paddling around the lake with her hands while lying on the board represents a favorite way of getting a sun tan on those windless summer afternoons. In this situation, with no sail and no paddle, being used in the same way as an air mattress on the water, is it still a vessel? Could she be fined for not having a PFD on board while I could legally swim right by her?

    On many occasions I have seen children playing on a sailboard, standing on it and trying to knock each other off balance. The one who remains on the board wins. This game can take many forms. In this situation the sailboard is clearly being used as a water toy but certainly not as a vessel. Can these children or their parents still get fined under the Small Vessels Act, still further tying up the court system for an innocent game?

    Maybe the next time the police stop me for not having a PFD on board my sailboard I should throw my sail into the water and tell them that I don't have any form of propulsion or even a mast for that mater. Therefore I can't possibly be operating a vessel, although I do have a large colorful sea anchor. I challenge you to name any form of vessel where the operator throws the propulsion system, be it a motor, sail, or paddles overboard, let alone jumping into the water to stop!


    Many windsurfers will not wear a PFD. The police response is to tell us to tie the PFD to the hull or somewhere on the rig, satisfying the requirement to have a PFD or an approved life saving cushion for each person on board.

    The question that comes to mind now is, where would you put it, and what good would it be? You can't put it under the deck or inside the hull. After all, the windsurfer is not a vessel in the true sense of the word. If you tie a PFD somewhere, there are problems with every possible location and with one act are canceling years of refinements on the part of the windsurf manufacturers, degrading the speed, handling and in turn the safety of the board. This will increase the number of falls per session, decreasing a sailor’s endurance, therefore making it more difficult and slower to get to safety on shore.

    If the PFD is tied to the bow, the added weight of a wet PFD will disrupt the balance of the hull. The effect of this is to make the bow sit lower in the water, which will increase the chance of digging into an oncoming wave. With the large amount of drag this would create, it would be incredibly difficult to cross breaking waves.

    If sailing in the same direction as the waves, the bow would be riding lower, canceling the bow scoop, increasing the chance of digging in, and once the PFD penetrates the wave, you will go head over- heels. When sailing in subplaning conditions, the PFD would increase the displacement of the hull, slowing the boardspeed, and if planing, the PFD would force the bow to ride lower, increasing the wetted area, once again, slowing the boardspeed. When executing a tack or jibe, the swing weight will make it that much less maneuverable, increasing the chance of a spill.

    Tying a PFD to the foot straps will not work. The foot straps purpose is to provide a foothold when sailing. The PFD will be in the way. Imagine trying to jibe and worry about tripping on the PFD. If you tie the PFD to the back strap, it would be dragging in the water because the hull is simply too narrow in that area of the board. Nowadays the rig is made as lightweight as possible, carbon fiber or aluminum masts, booms, and lightweight sail cloths. These improvements make the rig easier to, sail, more responsive, and faster. Tying a wet PFD to the end of a 7ft. long boom would be like trying to sail while carrying a 351b. sack of flour. A wet PFD may weigh about 5 pounds. Five pounds times 7ft. equals 35ft./lbs.

    Likewise, having a PFD tied to the front of the boom will not work either. When trying to walk around the mast during a tack, it would be in the way.

    A vessel such as a sailboat, canoe, or speedboat will have PFDs or flotation cushions on board in case of an emergency. If such a vessel starts to take on water, it is pretty clear that if nothing is done, it's going to sink. Once sunk, the PFD or flotation cushions are all that are available to save the occupants.

    Conversely, a windsurf sailor will go out knowing that in an afternoon of sailing, he or she will be in the water many times and that swimming is a part of the activity. Intermediate and advanced sailors will actually "Water-start" from a prone position in the water like a water-skier. Their primary safety device is their wetsuit or drysuit which provides thermal protection against hypothermia and provides some flotation along with the harness. They also know that the hull will not sink and that the hull is their primary floatation device. If the PFD is tied to the hull, they first have to get to the hull, in which case they will not be needing the PFD.The Fallacy, Why not wear the PFD? This brings us to the obvious question of why not wear the PFD? The problem is that the dangers of wearing the PFD are every bit as real and troublesome as not wearing one.


    A common misconception of non-boardsailors is that if we get hit on the head and get knocked out, such as a falling mast striking the head, the PFD will save our lives. The problem is that a PFD is designed for a conscious person who is not wearing as many other forms of floatation as a person windsurfing. Every PFD sold in Canada normally has a Canadian Coast Guard flier attached to it along with other labels required by Canadian law. Excerpts of this flier read as follows:

    Canada’s Small Vessel Regulations permit the carriage of approved personal flotation devices (PFD) as an alternative to life jackets on certain small vessels. Your new PFD is designed to keep a conscious person afloat without having the tendency to turn the wearer face down in the water. The wearing of a PFD increases the chances of survival but does not, of course guarantee it. Most people don’t know that you need to be conscious to get the full protection of a PFD. They think that a PFD will keep you from drowning. Fallacy number one. The PFD is a general design, designed for average boaters. Boaters are normally dressed in street cloth and shoes. In the water the PFD provides more floatation at the upper end of the body such that the lower torso and legs swing down in a pendulum type of effect. This keeps the body upright and the head out of the water if the PFD is worn correctly. On the other hand windsurfers wear wetsuits or drysuits depending on the water temperature, and they also wear a harness which can be positioned from anywhere between the hips to the chest depending on the design chosen. Both of these items provide additional floatation which while sounding like a desirable thing to have, are really a deadly combination for an unconscious person when paired with a PFD. In the case of a windsurf sailor, the added floatation of the thermal protection and the harness will cancel the pendulum effect described above and lift the torso and legs so the person is horizontal in the water. Then, because both the harness and the PFD have more floatation at the rear, they turn the wearer on their face with drowning the inevitable outcome. Fallacy number two. For the sailors reading this, you can try an experiment to see this effect the next time you go windsurfing. Borrow a PFD, wear your wetsuit, your harness and the PFD and jump into the water in any position you can think of going limp at the same time while holding your breath. Within a few seconds you’ll be lying face down in the water. You will have the same result no matter if you inhaled or exhaled before holding your breath. In a real situation if you are unconscious, well; good luck, add to that being dragged by a breaking wave and I’d say your time on this earth is up. A much better strategy is to use a windsurfing helmet and staying conscious. A windsurfer can also keep the mast from striking them by holding onto the boom as they go down keeping the boom and mast away from their head and body. This also provides the opportunity for quickly repositioning the sail for an immediate water-start.


    Other situations include the following. If the sailor uses a chest-harness, they can not even don a PFD. There are some designs that are a combination PFD/Chest-harness but they are not approved and the wearer will get a ticket non-the-less.

    When using a waist or seat harness, it’s possible to put on a PFD, but the PFD interferes with the act of hooking-in or unhooking. Not being able to unhook can be extremely dangerous. A sailor must be able to unhook before starting a tack or jibe.

    If a wind gust overpowers the sailor and if he or she is unable to unhook, one possible out come is to be catapulted over the boom, into the sail head first as the sail slams into the water on the leeward side of the hull (commonly referred to as getting slammed or going over the handlebars). This could cause head, neck, and back injuries. The sailor may tear though the sail head first such that he or she may be entangled by the PFD, the harness lines, and the sail cloth with their head under water under the sail.The PFD increases the likelihood of entanglement in this situation. When sailing close to the wind, it is possible to get backwinded and slammed into the water under the sail. Being under the sail in this situation is similar to being under ice. Fortunately, a sail covers a small area. The sailor simply unhooks if still hooked in, dives under the water and swims away from the sail. Again, the PFD increases the odds of entanglement making it more difficult to unhook, trapping the sailor under the sail. Even once unhooked, the extra flotation imposed by the PFD makes it that much more difficult to get out from under the sail.

    As a side note, this happened to me in my early days of sailing such that my harness lines were entangled in the PFD and it was difficult to unhook. . I’d swallowed a fair amount of water by the time I got out. Occasionally a Sailboard may drift away from the sailor due to wind or wave action. The sailor must be able to swim at a relatively quick pace to catch the windsurfer. With a PFD on, it is next to impossible to swim at even a moderate speed or to swim any distance. I have be told directly by people that this has occurred to how they had to remove the PFD in the water in order to reach their hull and rig. "Why wear it if you have to remove it in the water?" When sailing in large surf or waves, the PFD again is an obstruction to safety. If falling in large surf, the sailor has to dive down into the wave and let it pass over top of him or her coming up on the leeward side. The PFD prevents the ability to get under the wave. Anything caught up floating in the surf will be dragged along with the surf. If you’re wearing the PFD that is being dragged by the surf, you’ll drown in the white water.

    Other problems are degraded freedom of movement, which is highly important while windsurfing. Getting back on the hull may be harder if the PFD catches on the side of the hull. During water-starting the PFD may move up the torso restricting arm movement, while tightening the PFD belts restricts breathing.


    While the degraded handling and increase of dynamic weight of a PFD tied to any part of a sailboard has a direct negative effect on a sailors stamina and in turn their survivability, wearing a PFD in the wrong conditions is an even greater danger. I know of a few sailors who have removed the floatation from their PFD so they will appear to the police to be wearing a PFD ( at least from a distance ) while avoiding some of the problems caused by a PFDs use. If caught they would still receive a hefty fine.Windsurfer Hull Is Primary Flotation Device


    To a windsurf sailor, their hull is their primary flotation device. In effect, it's like an oversized lifebuoy, only better. By law a PFD must provide 15.5 pounds (7.04 Kg.'.) of buoyancy. For comparison, a 24-inch and a 30-inch lifebuoy provide 16.5 pounds (7.484 kg) and 32 pounds (14.515 kg) respectively.Most windsurfer hulls range from about 100 to 235 liters of volume, with 75 liter and 260 liters of volume representing the general extremes in size on either end of the volume range. These hulls are built with a solid foam core. A 200-liter board generally weighs in at about 14 kilograms. 200 liters of water weigh 200 kilograms. 200 kilograms subtract 14 kilograms for the hull weight nets you 186 kilograms of buoyancy.

    Not only will the hull provide better flotation, but you can get up and out of the water by sitting on it. The hull will provide a relatively stable platform from which to give a visual distress signal, and it will provide a means of transportation while paddling by hand if necessary.




    All boardsailors should be familiar with self-rescue techniques. Again, there is no regulation about this and I cannot remember seeing any information in Coast Guard flyers about windsurfing. Self-rescue refers to a number of options available as described below.

    If the wind dies these options are available.

    1. A sailor may swim the board and sail into shore. Note our swimming theme again.
    2. Other options on large boards are to lay the sail across the hull so that the boom keeps the sail out of the water. Then while sitting on the board paddle in using ones hands or the dagger board for a paddle.
    3. A sailor may elect to roll up the sail and tie the sail, mast, and boom together, then place these on the hull and swim it in. They may also get on top of the hull and paddle it in to shore. As a point of interest; if the hull is of the large volume type, by using a front crawl or butterfly stroke while lying on the hull, a windsurfer can actually outrun a canoe.

    If the wind becomes overpowering a sailor would use the following techniques.

    1. A sailor’s first option is to simply spill air from the sail and limit their speed.
    2. If the wind is overpowering and if associated with a squall or weather front, they could wait it out given the proper thermal protection.
    3. If waiting it out is not an option, then they could go with option three from above, rolling up the sail, and swim in the hull and rig, or get on and paddle it in.
    4. If this proves impossible because of strong offshore winds, then they would have to be ready to make the thousand-dollar decision and discard the rig ( which include mast, sail, and boom ). Then get on the hull and paddle in.

    Note: In overpowering winds the sailor should go for the most convenient point of land. They can always get a ride back to the beach to retrieve their car and other sailing gear.

    Although not a self-rescue technique, sitting on the hull and giving the visual distress signal is powerful option available and should not be overlooked if needed.

    For all of these options, the primary concern is to keep the hull. Never abandon the hull. With the hull one stands the best chance of getting to shore. Even if broken in half it provides streamlined floatation that will help get a sailor to shore. The PFD on the other hand makes it cumbersome to execute a self-rescue. Trying to swim a long way while wearing a PFD is slow and very difficult. On the other hand, and here in lies some of the grey in the argument over the PFD. Any time a sailor is down and not holding onto any part of the windsurfer hull or rig, they are deemed to be separated form the vessel from the Canada Shipping Act point of view. In real live, separation happens regularly and is not a problem for a boardsailor except if a windsurfer hull and rig move away from a sailor at a faster rate than they can swim to catch it.

    Separation could happen if the universal joint attaching the sail and rig failed, and if the safety line also failed. The sail would no longer acting as a sea anchor for the hull. The hull could be driven away from a sailor faster than he or she could swim potentially leaving them a long way from shore. One saving grace is that they would have better buoyancy then normal because of the wetsuit or drysuit. It is these points of "being separated from the hull" and "being knocked unconscious" that are used by non-windsurfers to keep the law status quo. Granted some windsurfers keep on using the PFD because of their fear of being separated from the hull, but it is the PFD that increases the odds of separation in the first place and being left stranded.



    The Sinker

    As a boardsailors ability improves, they generally advance on to smaller, lighter hulls giving faster speeds and better maneuverability. These types of hulls may be so small that they will sink if a person tries to stand on it while it is not moving. A sinker must be water-started, which is a technique of positioning the sail in such a way that it pulls you out of the water much like a water-skier.

    What constitutes a sinker varies from person to person based on their body weight such that a larger person will sink a larger hull. A sinker may be as small as 75 liters in volume. Anyone sailing a sinker will be spending a high amount of time in the water. There are good odds that they will swim it out to and back from the wind line. If the wind stop blowing, they will be swimming, no question about it. As the wind decrease the hull will sink to the point where the combined floatation of the hull and that part of their body that is under water balances the weight of that part of their body out of the water plus the weight of their rig. I have been out sailing in decreasing winds where the hull and most of my thighs were submerged. As the wind dies completely it becomes impossible to maintain enough pressure in the sail to balance ones self and you fall over. Back to swimming. If the police stop a person sailing a small sinker, the sailor will be forced to let the hull sink to the point where it will no longer float them and they must start swimming. While the police may be writing up a ticket on this person swimming beside their sinker for not having a PFD, a swimmer may pass by perfectly legally with no PFD or other swimming aid, and no safety boat following. This is such a contradiction in safety standards, and such a slap in the face for all boardsailors that many consider the police action simply as a form of tax collection and a justification for a nice summer tour-of-duty on the water.



    Access to Safety

    Every year one reads about boats that are caught up in storms that have moved into an area quickly and caused capsizing or possibly drowning. Small sailboats, paddleboats, rowboats, and canoes especially are vulnerable to capsizing in high waves associated with storms. Even if an approaching storm is detected early, the ability to quickly go back to shore is limited by slow hull speeds. Most larger sailboats have the added restriction in that they must go to a harbor or other sheltered waters. In contrast a sailboard can outrun many powerboats, and can go to shore practically anywhere.

    Looking at the speed potential more closely, almost all sailboats, and paddle or rowboats are designed with displacement type of hulls. This means that as the vessel moves forward through the water it must first displace the water out to the sides. As the vessel moves on, water then fills in the void left behind. The speed potential of any displacement hull can be worked out by the formula; 1.4 time the square root of the water line equals the max speed of the hull.

    For a 12’ long boat this works out to just short of 5 knots. A 65-foot sailboat will only do 11 knots, max. If the wind picks up, there will be more stress on the hull and rigging but the max speed is still a function of the waterline length. It will not accelerate, period.

    Again, windsurfers don’t conform to the norm. They are designed with planing hulls. They will skip along the surface of the water much like a high-powered speedboat or a water ski. Twenty knots is a very average speed while the current world sailing speed record is held by windsurfers at over 45 knots (84 km.). High winds are the best time to go windsurfing. If a storm moves in, a boardsailor can reach shore very quickly while the waves make it more fun.

    In fact most advanced sailors will not even bother coming out to the beach until there is a high wind or storm warning. While other boats are leaving the waters, the windsurf sailors are preparing for a great sail. Where capsizing presents a real danger for other boaters in these types of conditions, for the boardsailors its part of the sport, what we call "Bump and Jump" sailing. Taking a spill and getting wet is half of what it is all about.



    Why Boardsailors Choose to Wear The PFD

    A non-windsurfer may argue that they see plenty of sailors wearing their PFDs all the time. But, the sailors who freely choose to wear the PFD are in the minority. It is an insurance requirement to wear a PFD at windsurf ragatas in Canada. If a person wants to race, they must wear the PFD. At other locations such as Hamilton harbor for example, wear a PFD or the police will fine you off the water.


    Positive reasons for wearing the PFD include…

    1. As described above, The PFD will provide the last means of floatation should you become separated from the hull.
    2. The PFD will provide some added chest-area warmth in cold water and winds.
    3. The PFD will provide added floatation allowing a person treading water to position themselves higher in the water as they clear the tip and eventually the entire sail of water in preparing to do a water-start. This by the way is one of the more difficult techniques to use for water starting. In clearing the sail over the stern of the hull, one does not even need to swim.
    4. If you break a bone, you may not be able to swim effectively.




    Law-abiding Canadian sailors many of them true experts, comply with the "always wear a PFD regulation" while they sail within Canadian waters despite the problems imposed by a PFDs use. Once these same sailor leave Canada, to sail at windsurf destinations such as Florida, Hawaii, Barbados or Cape Hatteras etc. they are not required to and most will not wear a PFD. Still others while sailing within Canada will not wear or have a PFD on board. These sailors will get off the water when the police are patrolling.

    Over the past few year the police have been especially vigilant in enforcing the PFD law, forcing us to sail with a PFD against our better judgement, or forcing us off the water.

    In past years windsurfers have gotten out of the fine by simply lying to the police about their name or some other bit of information. This was easily done because sailboard sailors do not carry I.D., there in no requirement to do so, and there is no place to put it if there were. Also the police normally do not follow a sailor back to shore to get I.D.

  • Note: Don’t try this now. The police boats are equipped with sophisticated communications equipment that can quickly check any information you give them. You can get into a lot of trouble.
  • The fact that the police leave after having taken our information is another point of contention among windsurfers. The way the law is written, it implies that it is unsafe to windsurf without a PFD or a life jacket. Yet the police rarely escort a sailor back to shore if caught without the prescribed equipment. By the police leaving for their "next victim" and not escorting us back to shore, it is clear that they feel we are in no danger. This just goes to re-enforce our view that they are collecting a tax on an easy target group.


    In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard is the official regulatory authority in federal waters for such matters under the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971. On February 18, 1973, the U.S. Coast Guard granted to "Windsurfer" an exemption from PFD carriage requirements.

    Note: "Windsurfer" was the trade name of the original company that invented the sailboard. Their product was the original Windsurfer, now affectionately known as the log due to its low performance.

    In 1979 and 1980, this exemption was proposed to be renewed by the U.S. Coast Guard, which was also about to extend this exemption from PFD carriage requirements to all sailboards. Unfortunately, in 1981, under the Reagan Administration's efforts to achieve regulatory simplification and reform, the U.S. Coast Guard determined that sailboards should not be subject to Federal regulation. Thus the individual states were free to apply such regulations as they saw fit. Many states had boating safety regulations requiring PFD carriage on all vessels. With the Federal withdrawal, some of these states merely treated a sailboard like any other vessel, as we do here in Canada thus requiring PFD carriage.

    At the beginning of 1983 only 10 States exempted windsurfers from the PFD Requirements. Through the action of windsurfers persuading the authorities to change the regulations, all but 11 states have repealed the PFD requirements in the U.S. In Canada, we have had numerous groups and individuals try to have the regulations changed with no success.


    It is hoped that with this review of the regulations boardsailors will acquire the freedom to choose for ourselves. As seen from this brief, this is a complex issue where one hard and fast rule does not cover the varying skill levels of sailors, and the situation or conditions they will be sailing under. To most boardsailor, the dangers a PFD imposes on the wearer have a much greater risk then the likelihood of needing the benefits. Balancing the risks are just one of the decisions that go into windsurfing. The right to choose which decision one makes is a fundamental right, and that is all we ask for.


    For further conversation on this issue, contact