Join Date: May 2011
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our MOB experiance
About 15 years ago my wife, myself and 3 other guys were sailing from Melbourne to Sydney Australia. We had sailed through the night and the sun was starting to rise. We were rounding Wilsons Promontory and jibing as we turned northward. The boom came around and one of the guys was caught in the main sheet and flung overboard. We saved him, but there was more luck involved then I would have liked.
When he went over, one of the guys screamed man overboard, and two folks kept their eyes on him. We dumped cushions, MOB stick and life ring overboard. He was not wearing a life vest, had just unclipped from the life line and was wearing foul weather gear. With 15 knots of breeze and 2 to 3 foot seas and probably a 3 ft swell running on top, he was hard to keep track of even with bright yellow jacket on.
The first pass at him we had the sails up, the windage caused us to move too fast. We then dropped the sails and motored into place. The boat with out the sails was rocking and rolling all over the place. The freeboard was pretty low at 3 feet, but with the rolling we were next to him or 6 feet away.
We positioned windward of him and drifted down. When we got next to him, he was struggling to stay afloat. He had started blowing air under his chin to create a bubble in the back of his jacket, it was sorta working as he was losing strength. He did not want to kick off his boots as he did not want to lose them. We had a lifesling, but he was unable to get it around him. Water was very cold (Bass straight in the Southern Ocean) and he was not moving very well. In the end me and another guy grabbed him when the boat rolled toward him and dragged him up on the boat after a couple of tries. It was all physical grunt with a bit of luck. If there was not 4 other people on board I am not sure what the result might have been. Even with a full crew, all being experienced boat folks, it took us 20 min to get him out of the water.
We then picked up all the life rings, MOB stick and cushions that had blown far from where he was.
Even if we had a scoop stern that would not have worked because of the pounding of the stern.
One of my instructors said that if you go overboard at sea (offshore) you have a 50% chance of getting back. If they know you went overboard, if they can find you (not lose sight of you), if they do not run you over when trying to get you, if they can get you on the boat without more injury (hitting you with the boat, a block, a shackle...) if they can get you warmed back up and get you treatment for any serious injuries then you can be saved.
I think there are a) near shore/coastal strategies and b) off shore strategies. We now sail coastal Cape cod with my wife and young kids. I wear a life jacket (along with everyone else), because if I go over, I expect I will be in the water for a while. If it is rough she will call for help on the radio there are people/boats everywhere. If she or one of the kids goes overboard they get the life sling or boat hooked and at least tied to the boat. The water is not that cold so we have at least 30 mins for help. I think of it as a two step process, one get them secured to the boat and two, get them in the boat. The second step is hard and you can make things worse by hurrying it.
For offshore I agree with rikhall, do everything in your power to stay on the boat. Harness, life lines, some type of inflatable device (there are inflatable belt backs that we considered) and don't do stupid stuff (you do not need to climb down on to the bow sprit to pet the dolphins). It is likely other people and boats are days away for help. The odds are not good if you go over.
I think sea state and water temperature are huge factors. Just a little bit of swell will screw up any recovery. Again, even when they are next to the boat you can run over them or hit them with a bit of hard gear making the situation worse.
I think it is a healthy exercise to think through. I think it is also very good to try your system out in calm weather. Any then next time you are in 3 to 4 foot seas, just stop the boat dead in the water and think through what you might do.