• 27th September 2006 - By greg

    Ocean rowing is much safer than I had originally calculated. I changed my method of analysis, found some ‘exposure hours’ fatality data and the more accurate comparison is that Ocean rowing is slightly more dangerous than motorcycling and safer than general flying or skydiving.

    Since I made my human powered ocean crossing announcement, I got a few comments with regard to my analysis of the risks involved. National Geographic Magazine published this a list of death risk from various activities and I calculated the risk of dying during an ocean crossing and added it to that list:

    Cause of Death:

    Heart disease 20 %
    Cancer 14.2 %
    Stroke 4.1 %
    Ocean Rowing 2.1 %
    Vehicle accident 1.1%
    Suicide .8 %
    Falling .45 %

    Some of you felt that the comparison is not valid because time-frames for the various death causes are different. For example, if an ocean crossing takes 50 days, my chances of dying during that time of heart disease is not 20%.

    I understand the math and statistics issue with regard to the chance of death comparison, but the risks as presented by National Geographic in that study, also mix frames of reference. For example, they include riding a motorcycle, flying a small aircraft, and swimming in the comparison, even though, most people don’t ever fly a small airplane, or ride a motorcycle daily. And, if they did fly a plane, say, 5000 hours, their chance of dying of a heart attack is probably not 20%.

    After thinking about this more, I decided to take a closer look at the risks of crossing an ocean by human power, and I think it’s actually much safer than I originally thought. Follow my analysis and logic through here, and let me know what you think:

    First of all, of the 6 people lost at sea, I decided to remove 3 of them because they were prior to 1981 and are considered by the Ocean Rowing Society as “Historic Ocean Rows”.

    The Ocean Rowing Society on Historic Ocean Rows: “The first 12 completed oceanrows were all undertaken without water makers, without sat phones, without GPS, EPIRB and liferafts. In fact, to quote Geoff Allum : “The first oceanrows were done under conditions that were not much different from the days of Columbus”

    It is certain that at least some of the first 3 ocean rowing fatalities could have been avoided with modern day satellite communications gear, Argos and a water maker.

    If we look closer at the remaining 3 fatalities (modern day):

    Eugene Smurgis was caught in some rough seas just off the coast of France in 1993 very near rocks and the coast line. Eugene was attempting to row around the world and had logged 3510 miles in this, his Atlantic west to east expedition lasting 131 days.

    Peter Bird was also attempting to row around the world. Peter’s body was never found and they do not know the exact cause of his death, His boat eventually washed ashore in 1996 during his Pacific crossing and provided us with no clues as to the cause of his death. Bird had logged 15,391 miles taking 545 days at sea.

    In 2001, Dr. Nenad Belic was attempting to row from North America To Europe from the West to the East. Dr Belic’s EPIRB was activated on September 30 after 2618 miles and 151 days at sea from a position 230 miles west of Ireland. An RAF helicopter located the beacon but there was no sign either of the boat or Dr Belic. Kenneth Crutchlow of London’s Ocean Rowing Society advised that W-E crossings scheduled to arrive in autumn should be avoided. The boat eventually washed ashore and was upside down and flooded with a hatch broken.

    Of these 3 deaths, 2 were the more dangerous Atlantic west to east route, and 1 was in the Pacific. My planned route is Atlantic East-West in warmer waters and less severe seas.

    I downloaded the statistics from the Ocean Rowing Society and decided to look at the number of deaths PER day at sea. I was going to use ‘per mile rowed’, but it is the total time spent on the ocean that is related to risk, not really the miles covered during that time. For example, I could sit still in the middle of the ocean for 50 days and face the exact same risks as someone who traveled across the Atlantic in 50 days.

    Here are the numbers:

    Number of miles rowed across oceans since 1982 = 660,866.7083
    Number of days at sea = 12,474
    Number of deaths = 3
    Number of days at sea for every death = 4158
    My crossing expectation: = 50 days
    Number of times I would have to cross the Atlantic in order to approach 100% fatality chance = 83
    % chance of a fatality on my 50 day crossing = 1.2 %

    It turns out that for every 4158 days spent at sea, there is one death. If my ocean crossing takes 50 days, then I would stand a 1.2 % chance of dying during that 50 day crossing.

    To make a comparison to more common dangerous activities, I found some data on Fatalities per million exposure hours. To convert the units, I calculated that there is 1 death per every 99,792 exposure hours to ocean rowing which works out to 10.02 fatalities per Million ocean rowing exposure hours. Here is how they compare:

    Fatalities per Million Exposure Hours:

    Skydiving 128.71
    General Flying 15.58
    Ocean rowing 10.02
    Motorcycling 8.80
    Scuba Diving 1.98
    Living 1.53
    Swimming 1.07
    Snowmobiling .88
    Motoring .47
    Water skiing .28
    Bicycling .26
    Airline Flying .15
    Hunting .08

    Data compiled by Failure Analysis Associates, Inc.

    Ocean rowing is slightly more dangerous than motorcycling and safer than general flying or skydiving.

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