Saving someone who's fallen off the boat
The primary Crew Over Board (COB)/Man Over Board (MOB) recovery technique I teach is the Figure Eight (also known as the Quick Turn). We may discuss other methods or even try them, but the standard technique is the Figure Eight. There are a number of reasons why.
Primarily, it teaches boat and sail control. It also works remarkably well when the person in the water stays within sight of the boat. It's not perfect, has some major drawbacks, and takes a few seconds longer, but over all, it's very effective in most inshore situations, especially if the wind is up.
Step 1. YELL Man Overboard! This is essential since it alerts other crew members and it gives some assurance to the victim that people know s/he has fallen off the boat.
Step 2. THROW anything that floats. Even if the victim is unconscious, this is a good idea. The person in the water may become conscious after a few seconds and it will help the helmsperson locate the person in the water, much as a trail of breadcrumbs would lead someone back to where they started. In a real emergency you would certainly do this. During practice, we simulate this. Remember that even your hat will float for a time.
Step 3. POINT to the person in the water and don't stop pointing or talking. This allows the helmsperson to concentrate on controlling the boat, while getting a clear idea of the location of the person in the water. It also gives the person in the water some reassurance. Don't forget that you, your crew, and the person in the water will be in panic mode no matter how many times you've practiced. Everyone needs to hear what's going on.
Maneuvering the boat
Step 4. Turn to a BEAM REACH. If you're on a close haul when the going to a beam reach, the mainsail will need to be eased. If you're on a run, it will need to be tightened. Don't be too concerned about perfect sail trim. You don't need to sail efficiently. All you have to do is be able to maneuver. Don't bother too much with the jib. It is not essential to the recovery. Sail on a beam reach approximately 5 to 7 boat lengths or about 10 to 15 seconds, depending on wind speed -- the higher the wind, the less time you need -- the boat stops faster in higher wind.
There is nothing wrong with counting out loud. This gives you and your crew time to get ready to control the boat. Tell your crew to trim the main, to remain calm, and assure them that everything will be ok. Your task is to reduce panic for everyone including yourself. You need to immediately move the boat to a beam reach and sail away from the victim.
Step 5. TACK all the way around to a BROAD REACH. Your task is to get below the victim, so that you can use the wind to slow and eventually stop the boat next to the victim. You don't need to be too formal about setting up the tack. This is an emergency situation. Don't be overly concerned with sail trim on the new tack. Be sure not to jibe the boat! You're going to be sailing down wind, and the last thing you want to do is make the situation more complicated or dangerous!
Step 6. HEAD UP to the victim at about a CLOSE REACH position. It's essential to be in a position to either slow the boat by easing sails or to increase speed to reach the victim. If you put the boat on a tight close haul course, you may not reach the victim and now have no way of heading up. If you're on a deep close reach, you may not be able to let the sails out far enough to completely spill the wind. Your object is to stop the boat next to the victim.
Step 7. STOP the boat WINDWARD to the victim. This has several advantages over putting the boat on the leeward side:
- The boat protects the victim from the wind and waves.
- The freeboard of the boat is lower on the leeward side, so it will
be easier to reach the victim and attach them to the boat.
- The boat tends to drift toward the victim, rather than away from him or her.
- The boat drifts faster than the person in the water; thus, it will overtake them.
The downside to the leeward side is that the jib sheets will be whipping around. This creates a hazard for the victim and for the crew. You can overcome this by keeping the person in the water abaft (behind) the spreaders. Note that the boat must be nearly completely stopped in order to retrieve the victim.
If you miss the approach or can't stop the boat, don't panic. Start at Step 3 and do it again.
Step 8. ATTACH the victim to the boat. The primary goal of a crew recovery is to attach the person in the water to the boat. You have lines and halyards available. Use them! The secondary goal is to get them out of the water. For the purposes of teaching, we have no viable and safe method of simulating an actual person in the water. Therefore, we can't really practice bringing someone back onto the boat.
This method was developed in the San Francisco Bay. It's a modification of the Lifesling®-type recovery and reduces the amount of time it takes to make contact with the person in the water.
It's unclear who first thought of this technique. The earliest mention of it comes from the US Sailing Passage Making book, Copyright ©2000. Several other publications, mostly local to the San Francisco Bay, mention the technique.
The diagram I created is based on the US Sailing publication but is dissimilar in several respects.
As with all overboard recovery techniques, the first three steps are the same: Yell, Throw, Point - Steps 1, 2, and 3.
- Sail on a close haul, deploy the LifeSling®, and ensure that it is
trailing out properly.
Note: The US Sailing Passage Making book recommends sailing on a close reach, which I think is not optimal, since it means sailing further away laterally from the person in the water. The closer to the wind you keep the boat means that you.re more in line with the victim with respect to the wind.
- Tack onto a deep broad reach (which is basically a reciprocal
course) and ease the main appropriately.
Note: Take care not to jibe the boat. The jib can be furled, tacked, or left alone, since the point is to take speed off.
- Stay between the LifeSling® line and the person in the water,
keeping the person to windward.
Note: Be sure not to run over the trailing LifeSling® line.
- Sail close to the person in the water, keeping them to windward of
- Tack around the person in the water.
Note: Do not run them over, and do not attempt to snag them with a boat hook even if you are "within reach."
- Head up to close haul.
Note: The US Sailing Passage Making book recommends tacking to a close reach, but this reduces the "buttonhook" effect.
- Ease all sheets (as appropriate) to slow and stop the boat, and
allow the boat to drift with the sails eased.
- Slowly pull in (or winch) the LifeSling® line and hoist the person
aboard on the leeward side if possible.
Note: Be sure the person is securely fastened to the boat, and drop or furl all sails and secure the boom to reduce the chance of injury. You don't need to wait until the horseshoe portion of the LifeSling® reaches the person in the water. Pulling in the line increases the likelihood that the horseshoe will come in contact with the person. The boat will offer some protection to the person in the water and the leeward side has less freeboard.
The engine is a useful tool in your arsenal for recovering someone who has fallen off the boat. While it is not the primary means of recovery, it should not be ignored -- you may need it. Note that this is not something that usually taught because of it's difficult to mitigate the risks of using an engine when there are objects in the water, but it should be discussed.
Steps 1, 2, and 3 are IDENTICAL to the under-sail recovery: Yell, Throw, Point.
Step 4. Motor away. The main point here is that you don't want to have the prop moving next to the person in the water. If you're sailing and decide to use the engine, sail away then start the engine. If you're already motoring, keep the stern away from the person in the water. For example, if the COB is starboard, turn the boat slightly starboard to keep the prop away from him/her.
Step 5. Get CONTROL. At a safe distance, get all stray lines out of the water. Don't forget to give specific instructions and explanations to your crew!
Step 6. START the engine. Don't forget the basics about how to start the engine. For inboard engines, for example, be sure water is flowing out of the back. For outboards, make sure the engine is in the water and the gas is flowing. The slower you go when starting the engine, the more likely that it'll be done correctly.
Step 7. Head into the wind and DROP the sails. This should be done as quickly as possible and as neatly as possible. As usual, the jib should come down first, followed by the main. Don't bother about flaking the sails nicely or removing jib sheets. If possible, tie up the jib on the bow with the slack in the jib sheets. Stuff the main into itself on the boom and tie it off as best as possible with the sail ties.
Step 8. TURN DOWN WIND and go DOWN WIND of the victim. You want to be moving as slowly as possible and still make headway. If you attempt to run downwind to the victim, it will be very difficult to stop the boat, even with the engine in reverse.
Step 9. HEAD UP and stop the boat. Keep the victim near the FORWARD QUARTER on the LEEWARD side. As usual, you want to protect the victim from wind and waves. You want to keep the victim away from the stern of the boat when the prop is moving.
Step 10. PUT THE ENGINE IN NEUTRAL or TURN IT OFF! It is essential that the prop not be moving when you get near the victim. Are you sure that the engine is in neutral? If not, turn off the engine as soon as contact is made with the person in the water. Remember that a "neutral" prop can still move if the boat is moving or if there's a current running.
Attach the victim to the boat and get them aboard. Use the same methods as previously described to recover the victim.
- The boat protects the victim from the wind and waves.