Consider this scenario: you must take the wheel of one of two cars speeding along straight tracks. Both cars are traveling at 100 km/hour, but the first is 100 meters from a brick wall while the second is only 10 meters from an identical wall. There is nothing to do but decelerate before the crash, and assuming your decision is guided by self-preservation, the choice is obvious. The car closer to the wall can be expected to see ten times the accelerations felt in the car farther away. You can appreciate just how great a luxury stopping distance is when it comes to decelerating a moving body.
At its core, shock-mitigating safety gear consists of a medium or mechanism separating an input surface, such as a boat’s deck, and a person seeking to reduce their exposure. When all goes well, an impact is attenuated as it passes through the mechanism, resulting in a gentler motion for the person using it. But how is the attenuation achieved? The answer, in all but the most exotic cases, comes down to a compression or material deformation of the underlying device. And just like the cars speeding towards a brick wall, the ability of a shock-mitigating device to lessen an impact and ensure a smooth ride is dependent on its stopping distance.