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Avoid Brain Slosh

-How to choose a sailing helmet…

Preventing concussion and brain injury is becoming an ever increasing aspect in marine sports management. With the speed and force of many sailing activities on the increase this only means more risk to injury on the water.

The issue many sailors consider when choosing to wear or not to wear protective gear is how it will affect their performance. So for sailing a participant needs to be aware of the direction and strength of the wind at all times and this is sensed through the skin on the face and the noise and pressure in the ears. If the ears are covered this effectively de-sensitizes the feel for the wind. Without a feel for the wind it becomes difficult to anticipate the direction to steer the boat and the trim of the sails.

The two primary features to look for in a sailing helmet are that the ears are exposed to the wind and that the helmet is manufactured to an accepted standard.

The standard that helmets are manufactured to is a measure of the safety of the helmet. For the time being there is no helmet standard specific to sailing but EN 1385, which is the standard for canoeing, and white-water sports including surf lifesaving, fits the requirements quite well. These helmets are tested for shock absorbing qualities after being submerged in water for 4 hours unlike helmets for bike riding or mountain climbing.

The helmet needs to be comfortable and fit well. Typically hats and helmets are sold by the diameter of the head in centimeters. Check your size by using a cloth tape or piece of string around your head about 3mm above your ear, across the mid-forehead, completely circling your head –this will give your head circumference. The manufacturer will have a conversion from this measurement to their helmet size. Many helmets like the Zhik H1 Performance Helmet comes with internal padding to cover a range of sizes and to improve fit and comfort. It is lightweight and designed to permit performance.

For the technically minded the most popular helmets are made with an ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic outer and an EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) foam liner. The outer is to protect from concentrated impact spreading the load and the liner is a shock absorber. This combination will protect well from lacerations and fractures of the bone but may not protect from concussion – the result of the brain sloshing around inside the skull.

The best protection for concussion is not to be hit in the head.

Helmets that have suffered a significant impact in a boating incident may not protect you next time to the same extent -for the same reason it is not recommended that you buy a second hand helmet unless you are confident of its history. So get a new one.

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