Several of our members have asked for my thoughts on the TeamO Backtow lifejacket/harness.
HistoryA few years ago, a young crew member on a Volvo Ocean Race boat became so concerned about drag risk that he decided to do something about it and the result was a lifejacket/harness with a cleverly-designed attachment point at the front (in the normal position) that rips out and becomes a two-point attachment at the shoulders when loaded up in a fall. You can see how this works in the video above.
RefinementI think it's important to note that the now-available jacket differs from the prototype in that activating the "Backtow" feature requires the person overboard to pull a handle. (For comparison, you can see the prototype in action here.)
Activation Practicality?Given that we firmly believe that the initial impact shock loads of landing in the sea while tethered to the boat are far more debilitating than most sailors realize, the question becomes will the Person Overboard (POB) be physically able to activate the handle? No one can know for sure, but I fear that in cases where the boat is moving at speeds over about six knots, the answer may easily be no. Particularly since drag loads go up by the square of boat speed so said loads at just six knots will be over double that experienced by the tester with what looks like maybe four knots of boat speed and a very benign sea-state in the video. That said, I don't think that this activation issue should disqualify the lifejacket from consideration. After all, if the POB can't activate the Backtow feature, he or she is no worse off than with a normal jacket or harness.
CompellingAnd if the POB can activate the Backtow feature the benefits are compelling:
- The POB is dragged with their head well clear of the water,
- and in a much more stable position that I think will result in fewer impacts against the side of the boat.