Yachting: Safety ideas will become rules for America's Cup

Safety recommendations made by America's Cup regatta director Iain Murray in the wake of British yachtsman Andrew Simpson's death will be made rules of the event, officials said on Thursday.

Tom Ehman, vice commodore of the host Golden Gate Yacht Club, said the 37 ideas to make the powerful AC72 catamarans safer were part of an overall safety plan submitted to the US Coast Guard of part of the request for a race permit.

"We attached those recommendations to the application to the Coast Guard permit and we're told by the Coast Guard these recommendations will be part of the Coast Guard permit and therefore part of the rules of the event," Ehman said.

"At the end of the day, it's the Coast Guard's call to give us a regatta permit. If we don't get a permit we don't have a race."

And there was concern the regatta permit might be turned down by the Coast Guard in the wake of Simpson's death and a spectacular capsizing of an Oracle team AC72 on San Francisco Bay last year in which no one was hurt.

"Without some of these things that Iain recommends, yes, there was concern that we would not get the permit, and they told us so," Ehman said.

"It behooves us to be very cautious and the Coast Guard supports that. The Coast Guard said we want to be part of this process. When you send us recommendations we want to be sure they are something we can approve."

Simpson, an Olympic gold medalist and crew member of Swedish team Artemis, died when Artemis' AC72 capsized while training on San Francisco Bay on May 9.

He was apparently trapped beneath a solid piece of the boat and could not be revived after being found. The exact cause of the accident is still under review by Artemis and by an America's Cup panel headed by Murray.

Buoyancy aids, body armor and helmet beacon locator devices were among the recommendations announced Wednesday by Murray -- all ideas discussed by teams made more urgent after the death of Simpson, nicknamed "Bart", two weeks ago.

"The loss of 'Bart' put an exclamation point under the need to act," Ehman said. "A lot of these are things the teams have been discussing implementing on their own. The tragic loss of Andrew Simpson just sped up the process."

The Coast Guard permit is scheduled to be issued next month, a timetable that did not change because of the tragedy.

"That is still weeks away," Ehman said. "It was never scheduled to be issued until sometime in June."

While Ehman stressed the safety measures will be used in racing from July through September, saying "at the end of the day, it's safety first," he also said Murray could change the America's Cup rules after consulting with teams and with Coast Guard approval.

"Iain has the right and responsibility to revise these and he will do that in consultation with the teams," Ehman said.

"Certainly the America's Cup is going to be conducted as safely as possible."

Among the changes in rules was a 10-knot lower wind limit, to 20 knots maximum during the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series in July and August and to 23 knots maximum during the America's Cup proper in September.

Brief gusts will not wipe out a race but sustained higher winds might, Ehman said.

"If it breezes up beyond that, (Murray) is not expecting to call off the race unless it's a major, major change in wind speed," Ehman said.