SFBA President’s Response to the USCG “Mega Boardsailor Rescue” Sunday July 13th:
There has been a lot of formal and informal press and social-media chatter today about the 25 or 26 windsurfers and kiteboarders who were rescued en-mass by USCG Station Golden Gate personnel and USCG Auxiliary on late Sunday afternoon when the wind was ‘switched-off’ as the tide was still ebbing! For some of those picked-up and taken to shore it was a ‘first-time rescue’, for others it was a “caught with their pants-down” event. Some carried safety gear such as waterproof radios, flares, strobes, etc. For most of us who have sailed off Crissy Field for years, we’re used to the wind sometimes dropping a bit in the late afternoon only to come screaming back to life a half-hour later for its last exhale of the day. This didn’t happen on Sunday.
As windsurfers and kiterboarders who love and enjoy sailing/kiting on San Francisco Bay (San Francisco Boardsailors!), we all have much to be grateful for – a beautiful physical environment smack-dab in the middle of one of the largest urban areas of the U.S., world class boardsailing conditions on the water and strong, relatively reliable wind conditions for six to seven months of the year. In fact many of us chose to live and work here largely to be able to take advantage of this spectacular natural environment just minutes from our homes and workplaces.
But there is one other subtle, yet no less important, item that many of us are also thankful for – the support system of government agencies and non-profit organizations that exist to 1) Protect us from ourselves…. a.k.a. ensure our safety, as in rescue, 2) Protect and enhance boardsailing access to the Bay, and 3) Unite and represent us as boardsailing enthusiasts to protect our on-water privileges by promoting safety and demonstrating to the public that we can self-manage our activities and not endanger others, thus avoiding further regulation or worse case - prohibition.
The San Francisco Boardsailing Association (SFBA.org) was originally formed in 1986 to represent the boardsailing community to the National Park Service in an effort to protect access to Crissy Field. Since its founding, SFBA has focused on protecting and enhancing access to windsurfing and kiteboarding areas throughout the Bay Area, and promoting and increasing safety for our members. These two missions are inextricably linked, because public perception of hazards from unsafe sailing behaviors represents one of the greatest threats to maintaining public access.
At the beginning of most every boardsailing season, SFBA representatives personally instruct USCG Station Golden Gate SAR (search and rescue) and USCG Auxiliary personnel in the details of windsurfing and kiteboarding equipment and how to successfully and safely retrieve cold and tired boardsailors and their equipment. Additionally, for many years SFBA has worked closely with the USCG to craft outreach materials to educate our users to the basic rules of navigation and safety, and warn of the potential danger to public access if education and peer pressure do not result in responsible on-the-water and on the beach behavior. Governmental agencies can, and have, established regulations that limit recreational access to ensure safety. Ultimately, the USCG Captain of the Port (Sector San Francisco Commanding Officer) has the authority over access to and use of the Bay.
While Sunday’s “Mega-Rescue” most likely will not jeopardize our boardsailing privileges or use of the Bay, it is clear from SFBA’s discussions on Monday with the Chief of Response at USCG Sector San Francisco, that their “level of concern” has been raised over the fact that there were “twenty-six persons in the water” all at once. As a result of their internal review of Sunday’s rescues, USCG Sector San Francisco has decided to make some adjustments to its rescue protocol: Until today, USCG rescue personnel would most often bring boardsailors to an on-water location close to the shoreline of Crissy Field, at which time the ‘rescued’ boardsailor would re-enter the water and swim or paddle themselves and their gear in to the beach. From today (Monday, July 14th) forward, when retrieving ‘persons in the water’, USCG rescue personnel will ensure “Safe Harbor” by safely delivering the rescued boardsailor(s) safely ashore to a pier or dock in the area…. Most likely a dock at the St Francis Yacht Club or Gas House Cove. SFBA has requested that USCG rescue personnel choose to deliver rescued boardsailors to the St. Francis YC docks V.S. Gas House Cove, for obvious logistics reasons.
The SFBA Board of Directors and other representatives are actively engaged in access and safety issues around the Bay Area, and we welcome and encourage boardsailor participation in these and other initiatives. For instance, we are directly and actively engaged in the design and reconstruction of the new and improved Coyote Point Park launches and promenade, and after lengthy construction snafus we are confident that this next construction effort will result in significantly improved boardsailing access.
The next SFBA Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 30th at the St Francis Yacht Club, beginning at 7:30 PM. Interested Boardsailors are welcome and encouraged to attend. Please note that all SFBA representatives are volunteers, and that we urgently need a publicist to assist with outreach coordination efforts. I can be reached at BillRobberson@sfba.org