Eye Safety with Boffer Weapons

I think boffer weapons are pretty safe, which may surprise you since one did this to me the other day.  It looks a little gruesome, but I can assure you it would have been significantly worse if the weapon that struck me wasn’t properly “eye safe”.  As it was, I came away with just a small cut to the eyelid and no real damage.  Not even a black eye.  This seems like a good opportunity to talk about the importance of eye safety when building boffer weapons.  An eye safe weapon saved my eye, and they may save more in the future.

The Basics

Swords and Eye Socket Diagram
Swords and Eye Socket Diagram

So what does eye safe actually mean?  Simply, that no part of a weapon can enter an eye socket and put significant force on the eye.  Human eyes are slightly recessed into the orbital bone, aka the eye socket.  This means that they’re partially shielded from above, below, and by the bridge of the nose.  To damage an eye, a foam weapon must find it’s way between those bones.

Most boffer games have rules in place to enforce eye safety on weapons.  A common one is “no part of a striking surface may pass .5″ through a 2.5″ hole.  The 2.5” hole is a rough estimation of the diameter of an eye socket.  This is a great rule, as it effectively prevents a boffer weapon from ever damaging the eye.  The weapon will always contact the orbit first, and transfer most of it’s energy into the skull, and not the soft squishy eye.

When adequately enforced, this rule will prevent major damage to the eyes.  Some groups do not check eye safety as rigorously as they should though.  Each event an impartial expert should inspect weapons for safety and durability.  Just checking the weapon point isn’t enough, the corners of weapon ends must be inspected as well.  Otherwise, an angled blow coming down upon the eye can enter an eye socket.

The most direct way to not damage eyes is to not hit people in the head.  This is why most games enforce a no-headshots rule.  This isn’t a perfect solution though, because headshots will eventually happen.  A battle has lots of movement, and even the most careful fighter will eventually hit someone where they shouldn’t.  Weapons need to be made eye safe, because headshots will always occur.

My Experience

The blow that bloodied my eyelid was an extremely unlikely one, but could have been much more damaging from a less safe weapon.  It was a downward blow with a flatblade.  The bottom frame of the attached diagram reproduces what happened.  As it was, the blade put most of it’s force onto my lower eye orbit, and not directly onto my eye itself.  If the blade had been slightly longer, it would have put that force into my upper eye orbit.

If the weapon had been pointed more finely, or contained sharp corners, it could have snuck between the bones of my eye socket and imparted a full force blow directly on the tender eye itself.  As it is, an eye safe weapon was used, and I’ve gotten away with no lasting damage.

What To Do

There are three points of responsibility for preventing eye injuries:

  1. The Weapon Builder.  Make sure none of your striking surfaces pass .5″ through a 2.5″ hole.  Build your stab tips with durability so they won’t dislodge.  Inspect your weapons frequently.
  2. The Weapon Checker.  Check all parts of the striking surface for eye safety, not just the tip.  Corners can be deceptive!
  3. The Fighters.  Maintaining control will reduce the frequency and impact of headshots, though it can’t prevent them entirely.

If any one of those people relaxes their responsibility, eye injuries become more likely.  This is not asking much of players.  Simply follow and enforce your game’s eye safety rules, and avoid headshots.

Here are some more points of danger that merit mentioning:

  • A weapon with core wearing through the foam is more likely to break an eye socket (or nose, collarbone, etc).  Rare, but possible.
  • A weapon with a dislodged stab tip or core cap is more likely to enter an eye socket.  If you notice a weapon with a floppy tip, let it’s wielder know that they should take it off the field.
  • Flails and two-handed weapons are harder to control.  Be aware before handing them to a new player.
  • Wearing glasses can lead to them being broken, but also pushed into the eye socket from a particularly hard blow.
  • The back of your shield should be reasonably eye safe, because a firm blow can shove it back in your face.
  • Make sure the foam is still soft on your arrows, spears, and stabbing tips.  They’re more likely to end up in a face, and worn down foam can become too firm to be safe.

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