Man Overboard P2 - Making Contact

This is the second in our three-part series of articles, looking at how to prepare for and deal with man overboard situations.

Man Overboard

Losing a member of crew overboard is a terrifying scenario for every skipper. To help ensure a successful outcome and the safe recovery of a casualty, plans and procedures should be in place.

Personal equipment to enable the crew member to remain afloat, equipment to help you make contact with the man over board (MOB), and a means of recovering the person from the water safely and quickly should all be considered, and the crew should be familiar with using them.

Most importantly, practice your MOB procedures - and then practice them again with someone else in control!

How to Make Contact with your Crew Member in the Water

Once a MOB incident has occurred, everything possible should be done to locate the person in the water and as fast as possible. What equipment should you consider?

- Horseshoe Lifebuoy - most vessels have a mounted lifebuoy on board. But remember what they are designed to do, before you throw one overboard!

Lifebuoys are a means of providing additional support for the casualty while the vessel manoeuvres. With the vessel still travelling a several knots, it is unlikely that it will get anywhere near the person in the water unless you throw it in immediately. And it is no use making the casualty swim for it, so keep hold until you can be confident that they will receive it.

- Danbuoy - this is one of the best devices to help the vessel return to the approximate location of the MOB. Some skippers attach the danbuoy to one of the horseshoe lifebuoys using a floating line. However, in practice, it is rare that a danbuoy can be deployed quickly enough to get it close to the person in the water, making the deployment of a lifebuoy a waste of equipment.

As marking the position of the casualty is the first priority, a danbuoy should be the first item you grab and throw. The latest models of inflatable danbuoys are much faster to deploy than the traditional extendable poles.

- Jonbuoy Recovery Module - this unique device is essentially a one-man inflatable liferaft with a built-in inflatable danbuoy pole and signaling light.

Mounted in a compact case on the pushpit rail, it is deployed by releasing a lever. If deployed quickly enough, the Jonbuoy module gives the casualty the chance to not only remove themselves from total submersion in the water, but a far better chance of being found and recovered in the shortest possible time.

- Electronic MOB Device - there are several brands of electronic MOB device now on the market. Most work on the principle of a vessel-mounted base station losing contact with an electronic tag worn by the crew member. As soon as contact with a tag is broken (by a person falling in the water), the alarm is raised and if the base station is interfaced with the vessel's GPS, a MOB position is logged and the system gives the helmsman the reciprocal bearing and distance to the casualty's position.

These fail-safe devices are a huge leap forward in MOB recovery, but as with any technological device that relies on 12V power, they should always be used alongside and in support of well practised MOB techniques and equipment.

The Last 20m

Manoeuvring a vessel accurately at slow speed, even on a calm day, can be a challenge for any skipper. But with a slight swell and the ever present fear of running your crew member down, approaching a casualty in the water can be very daunting.

Time is of the essence, so slowly trying to get closer and closer will be futile. The simplest, and often the quickest technique is to get as close to the crew member as possible and then to bring the casualty to you.

Throwing the person in the water a sheet or mooring line will suffice, if they are the quickest items to hand. Alternatively, there a few devices which will be more effective:

- Rescue Throw Line - this is a fabric sock carrying 20-30m of floating rope. Neat and tidy, the line is always ready to go, and with a little practice, can be much more accurate and have a better range than simply throwing a coiled piece of rope.

- Rescue Sling - this is a padded sling attached to 20-30m of floating line. Instead of throwing this device, the vessel simply streams it out from the stern and then circles the casualty. As the lines pass the casualty, he or she can grab hold and put the sling under their arms, allowing the crew to haul them in. This saves the weakened crew member having to hang on.

What to do when you are alongside

Sadly, too many MOB incidents have ended with the casualty being brought safety alongside the vessel but the crew unable to recover them onto the boat...

In the next issue of The Beacon, we will look at some of the techniques we can use to bring your crew member back on board, safety, quickly and easily.


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