Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the founder the Clipper Race, insisted that safety was "drummed into" sailors during intense training before they took part in the round-the-world yacht challenge.
He said everyone involved in the race was in "shock" following the death of Sarah Young, who was washed overboard in the Pacific while sailing from China to Seattle aboard the yacht IchorCoal.
Her death was just the second in the race's 20 year history, and tragically the other sailor to die, fellow Briton Andrew Ashman, was a crew member aboard the same boat on the same edition of the biennial race.
Despite being amateurs, both were experienced sailors and Sir Robin, who in 1969 became the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world, said that safety was paramount during their training.
He said: "We are all in a bit of shock to be honest because this isn't the sort of thing we are used to having happen with us. We have had two fatalities in 20 years and it just doesn't happen, but I am afraid it has on this occasion.
"She was an experienced sailor and I suppose we are all still wondering how on Earth she happened to get washed overside and why she wasn't tethered on."
Ms Young was one of the sailors taking part in the entire round-the-world challenge and had already sailed more than half way round the world and covered 20,000 nautical miles before setting off from the latest leg of the race on March 21.
She had pulled out of part of the challenge trip after her mother died, organisers said.
Sir Robin described her as a "very popular member of the crew, a very easy person to like".
He said: "One of the things we really focus on in Clipper with the four weeks training is safety. That is the primary consideration, the one thing we drum into all crew.
"Taking the safety precautions, we remind them of the man overboard procedures, they practise it and practise it so they get good at it, but the fact of the matter is people have a harness and don't clip on they are endangering themselves, and I am afraid that is what has happened on this occasion.
"You can tell them to harness on, and we do the whole time, but if they haven't done it I'm afraid this is what can happen."
The crew will now continue on their journey to Seattle, and Sir Robin said the journey would help them deal with their loss together.
He said: "It gives them a focus, gives them something to deal with, there is the security of the boat and each other's company.
"Do I think they will race very hard? No, I suspect they won't. I should think they are in shock and will want to take it easy for a bit and I have to say I think if I was in their position I would do the same."