Man (or Woman) Overboard

Steve and Linda’s strategies for what they would do if one of them fell overboard.

Years ago, when we first started cruising offshore, we were given a copy of the book “Overboard” by Hank Searles. It is must reading for anyone interested in this topic. Although fiction, the scenario is so plausible it really makes you take the subject seriously!

When you sail a boat as big and fast as BEOWULF, you have to assume that the odds of getting a crew back aboard are not good-so you must reduce the risk to a minimum. We’ve always figured that if one of us went overboard, it would be in moderate conditions, when we were least expecting to have a problem. As a result, we’ve made it a habit to always use a harness when leaving the cockpit, unless the risks of going overboard are minimal.

We don’t practice our MOB technique as often as we should. Maybe once a year. The major issue is getting the boat stopped as quickly as possible. This varies with the sail being carried. If it’s just working sails, and we’re beating or reaching, a quick tack is used. Sailing at deep angles, the fastest way to stop is by jibing, and allowing the vanged and/or prevented main and mizzen to drive the boat up into the wind.

Carrying spinnakers or reachers, the situation is far more difficult. There’s no time to put these sails away, so they’ve got to be cut free. Tack first, then sheet, then head. We have three sharp knives scattered around on deck just for that purpose.

Of course the very first thing to do is to hit the MOB button on our SetSail-MaxSea software. This enters a new waypoint, and changes the chart down to the smallest scale.

We have a MOM 8 from Survival Tech. It was just serviced, after two years on the stern, and everything seemed to be fine. In fact, we were impressed with the quality of the gear. It inflated on test, and the pylon, drogue, and horseshoe ring looked quite good.

We also carry a Life Sling, which seems to be the easiest way to get a person connected to the boat. As far as getting the crew back aboard, with a swim step that’s a lot easier than is otherwise the case.

A bigger concern for us is someone hanging over the side, but connected to the boat with a harness. The lashings which hold the lifelines in place are easily cut, which makes it much easier to get the hanging person back on deck. And, we always have a spare halyard available on main or mizzen mast.

But to be realistic, if BEOWULF is being sailed with light sails, and the breeze is anything over 12-14 knots, if one of us goes over and is not attached with a harness, the odds are poor that we would be recovered-which is why we always wear our harnesses outside the cockpit area.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (December 31, 2001)

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