Drag boats are exciting to watch, but in reality, how safe are they? Without a doubt, drag boat drivers are at great risk because of the high speeds, potential accidents and the danger of drowning. Most race boats do not have the same types of safety features standard in race cars-no roll bars, seat belts or on board fire extinguishers.
At the higher speeds, the Pro class boats have taken on some of the same type equipment seen in racecars. This equipment has been changed to suite the watercraft and the inherent dangers of water borne crash. Capsules now enclose the Pro driver, he has a racing 5 point seat belt restraint. A roll bar is built into the capsule as well as a self-contained breathing system should the driver become submerged. The capsule encloses the driver and is constructed of steel tubing with a fiberglass and Kevlar outer shell. It is designed to separate from the boat hull, engine, and mechanical parts. This particular safety device has been the most significant safety change in recent years and has been responsible for saving many racers’ lives since its inception.
Drag boat drivers have a specialized array of equipment to protect them in the event of an accident. Drivers must wear a helmet that meets current Snell Foundation specifications and eye protection, such as goggles or a face shield. Professional class drivers may wear a Nomex fire retardant driving suit with elastic cuffs.
Since neither drivers nor boats have brakes, the most important safety items are a form of parachute. For Non-Pro drivers, this is called a Lifeline chute jacket, a Mae West design life jacket with thigh straps and a small parachute in back. The driver holds the static line of the chute to the boat, and if he inadvertently flies from the boat, the chute deploys – retarding his velocity and putting him in the water feet first. The lifeline jacket has saved more lives than any other drag boat safety feature.
Some boats also employ parachutes. In the Pro & Blown boat classes a parachute hooked to the rear of the boat stops forward momentum at the end of the race.
Optional equipment for drivers includes fireproof shoes and large silver "Moon Boots" gloves, ballistic shorts, neck supports and balaclavas. Many boat classes now require a capsule for the driver to prevent injury and suffocation.
Each boat must pass a rigorous technical inspection of safety – related equipment at each race. While it is true that drag boat racing is one of the world's most dangerous sports, careful attention to safety equipment and rules can protect the drivers from injury.