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Letter: Always Wear Your PFD!

On July 30, the following incident occurred aboard a sailboat in Northport, NY.

I was aboard Captain Ken Graf’s boat, which was on its mooring. Also aboard were Graf, Steve Denniston and three inexperienced adult sailors. The mainsail was up and luffing violently, and the boom was moving. Steve went forward to release lines. Because the boat was sailing back and forth on the mooring, Steve, who was not wearing a PFD, had much difficulty releasing the lines. Ken engaged the engine to move the boat forward to release lines, although the boat was moving about violently. Steve finally released the lines. While he was returning to the cockpit, the boat jibed and the boom came across, striking Steve in the head and throwing him into water.

With the boat sailing away from Steve, I saw that he was not swimming and appeared to be unconscious. As I was wearing a PFD, I dove into the water and swam against a strong current 20 yards to Steve – a difficult task with an inflated PFD. By this time, he was face down in the water. I immediately turned him over and gave him CPR by hoisting him onto my chest and inflated PFD. I was able to have him expel a lot of seawater. I started to swim towards Graf’s boat, which had returned. As I swam with Steve, I continued CPR the best I could. Upon reaching the boat’s swim ladder I was physically exhausted and even with help on the sailboat, could not get him back on board.

As luck would have it, a small Coast Guard boat was leaving Northport Harbor and heard the call for help. As the Coast Guard boat got closer, I swam towards it with Steve in tow and screamed at the crew to hoist him aboard. With the crew’s assistance, I was able to push Steve onto the Coast Guard boat. I told them I was OK and that they should expedite him to the nearest dock for transport to a hospital. I swam back to the sailboat and managed to get aboard. I was later transported by the NYC launch to the club dock, where I collapsed and received a contusion to my right ankle.

Steve was airlifted to Stony Brook Hospital in critical condition. There he was treated for a fractured skull (orbital, both sides) and saltwater inhalation into his lungs. He was subsequently transferred to St. Charles Rehab Center in Port Jefferson and is currently recovering at home.

Two things learned:

1. Never hoist sails at a mooring. 

2.  Crew on deck should always wear a PFD, even at a mooring.

Anthony Pozun, via email

Editor’s note: A retired Nassau County Police Sergeant, Anthony Pozun is currently a New York State Registered Nurse and a member and sailing instructor at Northport Yacht Club. With professional training and knowledge of what to do in an emergency, Tony saved his friend’s life. Have you practiced MOB drills with your crew?


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