Boaters get ‘dunked’ in safety certification before Grand Prix

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Boatracers get dunker safety certification in preparation for Sarasota Power Boat Grand Prix.

Before racers can hit the water for the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix, they must prove they are trained for the worst — a boat flipping and putting them underwater in a race against time.

On Saturday, in the pool at Arlington Park, racers were lining up to gain or renew their dunker safety certification, which includes a simulation of that potentially harrowing experience.

The testing was done by Dark Side Offshore Racing Rescue, an organization that trains proper escape technique and provides rescue team services for the races.

Dakota James, a crew member of the dunker safety simulation team, said the certification process is twofold, beginning with racers taking a swimming test proving they can swim 50 yards and tread water for five minutes. The second test requires the racers to escape from an actual canopy from a powerboat modified for simulation in pools after it is flipped into the water.

“It simulates everything that happens but the speed,” said James.

James explained the steps to the racers before the dunker simulation: brace for impact; reach for air (an air regulator is in the canopy); clear the area to make room for exit; and escape.

Dark Side hosts various training and certification events throughout the year for racers, with several right before the races to ensure every team is qualified.

Racers must renew their certifications yearly to participate in the high-speed competitions. James said he expected about 12 race teams to take advantage of Saturday’s event at the Arlington Park pool.

Tyler Miller, an experienced racer from Kansas was at the pool for certification for his boat M Con, which he will be racing in the Supercat class on Sunday.

Ensuring the safety of his team on the water is important for Miller. He has been racing for the past three years, and during that time he has experienced some dangerous situations.

“Last year in Clearwater as we went into turn one, three boats came together and we had a 20-foot hole in the boat, and another boat flipped, but we ended up finishing the race,” he said.

Miller is confident in his safety, knowing the rescue team for Dark Side is ready to assist if anything were to go awry during the races.

“At 140 mile-per-hour speeds, it’s good to know these guys have our backs,” he said.

Miller was excited to be back racing in Sarasota because of the culture supporting the event. “Seeing people out here is very heartwarming,” he said.

Christopher Reindl and Kimberly Kramer were also getting their certification for the races. Reindl has been racing for 20 years, but Kramer, preparing for her first race, was all nerves going into the simulation.

“I was very, very nervous about it. But he talked me through it and it was awesome! Now I want to do it again,” Kramer said.

Reindl was excited to be back in Sarasota for the Grand Prix because it was the first place he raced when he began the sport two decades ago.

“The city is so involved, it’s really great,” Reindl said.

The Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix races take place Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lido Beach.

 

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