Powerboat Racers Get "Dunked" For Safety's Sake

"So, sit on the deck, the bottom of the hull and come out. But make sure your partner and you are ready and that they're okay," said the safety diver as he gave pre-training instructions to a racer about to be flipped over underwater.

They call it "The Dunker." It's a simulator designed to give racers a feel for what it's like to escape after a rollover.

"They have to access their air system. They have to be able to release the seatbelt, turn upright and then get out of the boat," said safety coordinator Charlie Bass.

"When you're upside down, the water is only going to be here," said Bass as he instructed a racer about the take the test, "Pivot so you're head is out of the water."

Veteran racer Rick Turmel takes a turn. He'll strap in alongside Bass.

The simulator is also called the "Offshore Super Soaker."

"Once you flip over, I'll hear you 'cause you drop like a rock," Bass told Turmel, after the two belted themselves into the cockpit.

"You good inside?" yelled the safety diver.

"We're good to go!" was the reply from inside.

The training begins with the flip over. Racers must somehow stay calm, find the oxygen, unbuckle themselves and check on their partner.

"The testing here helped me so much. Because it was like second nature to me. And that's what it takes in a panic situation," said Rick Turmel.

He knows what the real thing is like. Turmel crashed four years ago in Key West.

"And hit a wave the wrong way at about 85 miles an hour went up and over. And I figured it would keep barrel rolling, but the way it hit the next wave it just stopped suddenly. Violently," he said, recalling the crash.

The dunker can't imitate the violent impact or G-forces involved in a crash. But training can build confidence and give racers a better chance of saving themselves and their partner.

"The more you do it, the more comfortable you are hanging upside down, breathing air with water going up your nose," said Bass.

"If you do the same thing over and over and over, in case of an emergency you're going to do it without thinking. And that's what we're trying to get them to be able to do."