Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Crew Safety - Let's Get Started

Dylan and Dee Dee today

We are finally able to turn our attention back to the issue of safety for the aCappella crew. If you missed the adventures of our littlest crew member last winter, you can read about Dee Dee's jaunt with the dolphins at the links below:

Since that time we have looked into numerous safety devices to help should we ever see a repeat performance. Honestly, will she ever stop keeping us on our toes? Would we want her to?

We have still not found the right solution for an alarm to alert us should one of the crew go overboard. Jeff is following the developments of an interesting new product under development and will report when more info is available. The existing hunting and pool alarms have all been evaluated and are all missing some features that are important on a boat, especially when it is moving.

In the meantime we have spent months testing different safety harnesses. Dylan and Dee Dee have worked hard swimming, running, chasing the bumper, and other tasks needed for this important study. As I've stated before, they are one hardworking crew. This will be the first of several installments detailing what we (they) found.

Dyna's favorite type of boat ride

Our first task was to figure out why the Kong harnesses that we have been using for years failed during Dee Dee's rescue. We had used these harnesses successfully to pull both Dyna and Dylan back into the dinghy following their various attempts at adventure. Of course, they had spent much briefer times in the water.

We felt it was important to understand what actually failed before we could move forward.  I spoke to several manufacturers who agreed that it was most likely due to the strap material stretching when it became wet. We tested this extensively and were quite surprised to discover that stretching was definitely not the problem. All of the harnesses we tested, except the PFD's, showed minor stretching but not enough to prevent successful use of the harness.

Dylan wearing the Kong with some brief swimming

It turns out that on the Kong, the safety buckle failed. When the harness becomes wet, it gives out and slides down the strap opening it up significantly. The picture above was taken of Dylan after only two bumper retrievals. The belly strap hangs down 2-3 inches. We were able to replicate consistently.  That discovery actually made us more comfortable using standard dog harnesses on the boat. Of course we'd still like to see harnesses made with the same waterproof webbing used on the canine PFD's to prevent any stretching at all.

Many of you wrote us with suggestions about harness options - too many for us to test. Although Dylan and Dee Dee said if more swimming and romping were required, they were willing to make the sacrifice of additional testing. We selected several harnesses from RuffWear and Kurgo both makers of quality products for dogs on the go - that certainly describes Dylan and Dee Dee. Then the crew went to work.

Heading out for some harness testing

Our major finding is that there is no such thing as the perfect harness. It's important to have quality options because you won't find a "one size fits all" solution. Each crew member is unique and the fit that might work for Dylan or Dee Dee may not work for your bundle of joy. In fact, as you'll see, what worked for Dylan didn't actually work for Dee Dee, but that's getting ahead of things.

Our goal is to educate cruising dog owners about the issues we encountered and the discoveries we made. Ultimately, what's most important is safety onboard and that includes our four-footed crew members.

The criteria we used for the aCappella crew was:
- Comfort during long-term wear including overnight passages
- Performance when wet
- Ease of reaching the harness with a boathook
- Ease of lifting the dog from the water back onto the boat

It is important to point out that the safest option for your canine crew is a canine life vest. We carry life vests onboard for both Dylan and Dee Dee. Their vests are stored along with ours and the rule is that if we don ours, they don theirs. It is a decision we are comfortable with as Labs are terrific swimmers. However, you may decide differently for your canine crew based on their abilities and comfort levels.

Dee Dee in her PFD, happy and enjoying life

We actually found that Dee Dee tolerated the life vest very well in moderate temperatures. Dylan, not so much...

Dylan always freezes in his PFD and acts like he did something bad

In the next blog entry we'll look at what we discovered when attempting to find the right fit among a variety of harnesses from different manufacturers.

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