Man Overboard P3 - Recovering Your Casualty

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

In previous articles, we highlighted some useful techniques for identifying a casualty in the water and discussed how we could make contact. Here we consider how to get your casualty back on board.

Sadly many MOB situations have ended in tragedy with the casualty brought successfully alongside the boat but the crew are unable to recover them from the water.

Consider them helpless

Even in the summer months, the water temperatures around the coasts of the UK can be cold. We often forget that a pleasant paddle at the beach is a totally different situation to falling off a vessel a mile or so from shore.

Falling from a yacht can be a real fright and even the fittest crew member will not be able to avoid the almost instantaneous 'cold shock' that is experienced as we hit the water.

If the casualty is not wearing a life jacket then he or she will rapidly tire as they struggle to tread water whilst involuntarily keeping their head as high as they can as they search for rescue.

It does not take take long for a casualty to become utterly exhausted and as a result they will often become helpless.

This must be at the forefront of our planning and thinking when we consider how we are going to get a man overboard safely back on board.

1. Fixed Boarding Ladders

Fixed Boarding LadderMany boats, both power and sail, have a boarding ladder fixed to the transom. Whilst the majority of installations have been designed for the benefit of leisurely swimmers, we must not forget their usefulness in more serious circumstances.

It is worthwhile considering how effective your boarding ladder might be in more challenging sea conditions rather than when you are at anchor.

An effective boarding ladder should extend at least a metre below the surface, allowing a swimmer to get one foot on the bottom rung even if the boat is moving around in a swell.

Sailing Vessels

On sailing boats this might be more difficult as a yacht transom can often be higher than those on motor vessels, so you may want to consider changing your ladder to one that offers a greater length when deployed.

Motor Vessels

Many motor vessels have bathing platforms that extend from the transom and often you can find telescopic boarding ladders mounted into the trailing edge or bolted to the lower surface.

Being so close to the water, these can often be a very attractive means of recovery, but DON'T FORGET, just a few feet below these swim platforms is a whirling propeller (or two) and a weary swimmer can easliy blunder too close in their panic to get out of the water.

If you are the skipper of a power-driven vessel and there is a person in the water alongside then STOP THE ENGINES IMMEDIATELY!

With the engines shut down you can then lead the swimmer safely to the transom for recovery.

Top Tips

- Before a crew member leaves the safety of the cockpit to step onto a swim platform to help a person back on board, make sure they are WEARING A LIFEJACKET, with a deck safety harness and life line in place if possible

- Swim platforms can be relatively exposed with few hand holds, so it is a good idea to consider installing several safety line attachment points where crew member can tether themselves whilst helping to recover a person from the water.

2. Mobile Boarding Ladders

On many vessels, it is simply not practical to mount a permanent boarding ladder on the transom, so many people use portable boarding ladders that can be stored in a locker.

Available in various lengths and configurations, these can either be hooked over the toe rail or clipped onto the deck using a pair of flush-fitting keyhole plates.

If you are considering this type of ladder then it is a good idea to position it 'mid-ships' because if the boat is moving up and down in a swell, then the centre of the vessel will move the least. The bow and stern often rise and fall much more prominently.

3. Webbing Ladders

Webbing boarding ladders are very popular because they are extremely compact but they can extend considerably longer than a fixed boarding ladder. They are deployed by clipping the bag to a toe rail or transom then ripping open the cover allowing the ladder to fall.

Shorted handed or single handed crews often have one permanently clipped to the tansom with the deployment handle in easy reach for a swimmer to grab.

4. Rescue Slings

Because it is highly likely that the casualty will be exhausted when they are brought alongside, they simply may not be able to haul themselves onto a ladder.

With clothing trapping a lot of water, the assisting crew may find it extremely difficult and heavy to pull the casualty up and onto the vessel. This is when mechanical assistance may be required.

One of the devices you could choose to use in this situation, is a rescue sling. This is a padded sling which is attached to 20-30m of floating line. Instead of throwing this device overboard the vessel, it is simply streamed out behind and then the vessel circles the casualty a couple of times.

As the lines pass the crew in the water, they can grab hold and put the sling under their arms, allowing the crew on board to haul them in. This avoids the weakened casualty having to 'hang-on'.

Once the casualty is alongside, a halyard can be attached to the two metal D-rings in the centre of the sling and the crew member can then be winched on board in a similar manner to being winched up by a helicopter.

5. Rescue Scoops

An alternative to a sling, is to recover a crew member using a rescue scoop.

KIM Rescue ScoopThis device is essentially a triangular or square-shaped panel which is attached to the vessel's toe rail or stanchions.

The panel is then deployed over the side so that it is submerged making a u-shape in the water. The outer tip of the panel is attached to halyard and when the casualty is floated into the scoop, the halyard is winched up and the scoop rolls the casualty up the side of the vessel.

Once at deck level the crew can then manouvre the casualty over the toe rail.

An additional benefit of this method of recovery is that it prevents gravity draining blood away from the casualty's core organs because the body is kept in a nearly horizontal position.

6. Practice

As with any safety equipment, it is no good just buying a new device and storing it in a locker until you need it!

You must read the instructions thoroughly and make sure you understand how it is supposed to work. Where practical, and ONLY IF IT IS SAFE, you should practice deploying the equipment to see how it is best used on your own vessel.


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