Man overboard: how you can help in an emergency
A man overboard is a critical situation. Whether caused by a misstep on a wave, bad weather, or simple oversight, it's rare but essential to be ready for it
Always move around the boat holding onto something and have three points of support. Additional support may include shrouds, rails, or lifelines
If you go on deck in bad weather, at night, or in poor visibility, wear a life jacket and use a safety harness. The harnesses are attached to a safety rail stretched along the sailboat, railings, shrouds or special brackets
Practice the man overboard maneuver from time to time to be prepared for emergencies.
General actions
The first person who sees a person overboard should shout "Man overboard!"
A person constantly monitors the fallen, giving direction with his hand. In excitement, bad weather or at night, it is easy to lose sight of a person by turning away for a second. That's why it is important to follow him, without disengaging
Even if you are sailing, you should start the engine immediately. This will secure you and help you if you don't manage to maneuver the boat only with sails. It is better to help with the engine than to make an extra circle
Actions if you are sailing
There are several variants of the Man Overboard maneuver with sail. Here we present two main variants.
Option one
Bear away/head up to reach. This is the easiest course for the helmsman and crew
Move on the reach 5-10 hull lengths. It's easier to count out loud to better control the distance
Tack. It is safer than a gybe, especially in an emergency situation
Go backwards on the reach to make the same count as last time. This is especially important in poor visibility conditions
On the way back go a bit downwind from the fallen
When approaching, head up and loose the sails. In this way the boat will slow down so you can control the speed
Approach the fallen from the windward side. This way the boat will not be carried away from the person by the wind. On the leeward side it is easier to pick up the person, because the boat is slightly heeled towards them. In addition, the leeward side creates a wind shadow with calmer water
Option two
Get on the reach course
Keep going on the reach for about three hull lengths (three counts)
Prepare to tack. Pull up the main sheet and jib sheet
While tacking, leave the jib on the windward side. Thus, the boat will drift
The sailboat will be slowly drifting by the wind towards the fallen one. With the help of the rudder and main sheet, you can correct the direction
Pick up a person from the leeward side
Actions when you are using an engine
The most important task when maneuvering with the engine is not to hurt a person with the propeller. On sailing boats it is quite difficult to get under the propeller, it is far under the boat. In the case with a motor boat it is much easier.
Steer the boat towards the fallen one, taking the stern and propeller away from them
Make a full turn and turn around on the opposite course
Move the engine to neutral when approaching a person to protect him
Picking up a man overboard
When picking up a person who has fallen overboard, you must always act according to the situation
It is much easier if the person is conscious and can climb aboard without any help, but it is always better to assist them. In good weather, it is more convenient to climb from the stern, but in waves, picking up a person from the side is safer. You can drop the rope attached to the cleet with a loop at the end. It can be used as a fulcrum
Picking up an unconscious person is much more difficult. There are several options here. For example, place a hammock or spare sail under them and pull them up with a halyard. You can tie up a person with ropes around the body and hips or attach a halyard to a safety harness. In some cases, you might need to enter the water. Don’t do it unless absolutely necessary, and be in a life jacket and strapped to the boat under all precautions
In addition to improvised means of picking up a person out of the water, there are devices that make this task easier:
Safety ladder. Lets you climb aboard by yourself. Can easily hang in a bag on board when not in use
Mobmat. A special cradle for picking up those who have fallen overboard. The weight on the bottom of the structure allows it to be carried under a person in the water, even if the person is unconscious. It is raised with the help of a halyard
SOS Marine Recovery Ladder. A mix of the previous two devices. This item can be used both as a ladder and a cradle
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