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Man Overboard - The group behind the gear

Whenever boating safety gear is designed, developed or tested, chances are it’s being done with financial help from the Bonnell Cove Foundation.

Whenever boating safety gear is designed, developed or tested, chances are it’s being done with financial help from the Bonnell Cove Foundation.

Founded in 1989 to conduct research and education, the Bonnell Cove Foundation is the low-profile charitable arm of the Cruising Club of America.

Its financial base can be tracked to the sale of waterfront property on Block Island, R.I., originally bequeathed to the CCA in 1959 by charter member George P.P. Bonnell. The property was transferred to the foundation, which sold it to the Block Island Conservancy below market value.

Beginning in the early 1990s the proceeds from this sale were used to fund grants for research, including boat design and construction, navigation, and individual safety in medical emergencies and crew-overboard incidents. But the foundation didn’t stop with safety projects.

“Today we take a broader approach and extend our support to environmental protection and conservation,” says BCF president and former CCA commodore Bill Whitney, a retired petroleum engineer. “We have given grants to organizations that develop marine sanitation devices, research water pollution, and promote coastal land conservation.”

Concurrent funding comes from the 1,200 CCA members, says Whitney. Each year the Bonnell Cove Foundation awards about $30,000 to organizations that are tax exempt under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code and are not private foundations under Section 509(a). Past beneficiaries include the U.S. Naval Academy Sailing Foundation; the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass.; the Associated Scientists at Woods Hole, Mass.; the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; the Sleavin Family Foundation; the Lincoln Sailing Center in Hingham, Mass.; the Maine Trails Association; the Maine Coast Heritage Trust; and the Bras d’Or Stewardship Society.

In Whitney’s opinion the most visible project funded by BCF was conducted by the Sailing Foundation of Seattle, and resulted in the Lifesling. “It’s effective and had a tremendous impact on crew-overboard procedures,” he says. Indeed, the Lifesling has become a ubiquitous rescue device for establishing contact between a vessel and a person in the water, while also providing flotation and a means to haul the victim back on board.

Whitney’s future successor (and current CCA commodore) Truman Casner, a Boston lawyer, is adamant about spreading education. He points out the BCF-sponsored Suddenly Alone seminars that teach cruising spouses confidence and competence to react properly in case the skipper goes overboard. “These events were well-received when our volunteers put it on,” he says. ”In the future, they will be available through North University [sailing seminars], which is bound to increase the reach.”

With the foundation’s veil of obscurity parted, you might become aware of educational events and research projects it sponsors. To request information about grants, contact Bonnell Cove Foundation Secretary, 47 Fair St., Guilford, CT 06437.