We sail with our two and four-year-old children. What is the best way to handle the situation if one adult falls overboard? What if one of the children falls in (with lifejacket)? We have a Lifesling onboard.
Sue & Larry respond:
Your question is a very good one and concerns a safety procedure that every sailor who leaves the dock should know how to perform—the man overboard rescue procedure. It’s truly not one of those things that just the skipper of the boat needs to know either. Both you and your spouse should review the procedure on shore first, and then practice while out in your boat by tossing a lifejacket or floating cushion overboard and retrieving it, until you are both comfortable with it. If and when the situation ever arises on your boat, there will be no panic, but just a series of maneuvers that you know you are capable of following in an organized manner. Get your children involved as early as possible in learning the procedure also, even if it’s just keeping an eye on the object overboard.
The size of the boat is a big determinate as to what and how much man overboard safety equipment should be carried. Everyone agrees that at minimum, every boat should have a throwable floating device, ready to be immediately deployed. Larger boats that are more likely to sail in bigger seas use man overboard poles that should be deployed along with the floating device the second a crewmember goes over. This flag-topped pole is usually between 12 and 15 feet in length and floats vertically to mark the spot of its deployment, making it easy to see and return to. Some GPS units have a MOB button feature that when pressed will enter the latitude and longitude of the crew who went overboard's position.
Once you have successfully returned to the person in the water, you then need to have a plan for getting them back on board. In a small sailboat, this can just be a matter of grabbing their clothes and pulling them up, but in a larger boat with more freeboard, the situation is much more difficult and a pre-set procedure becomes much more important. To reduce the chance of a child overboard, you may want to use a safety harness and tether.
For more specific information on executing man overboard drills, check out the following articles here on SailNet: Crew Overboard Gear, by Tom Wood, and Modern Crew Overboard Rescues, by John Rousmaniere and Crew Safety Briefing – Part 2, by Liza Copeland. Another great way to learn these skills is to take a sailing course. Even basic courses will cover the important man overboard procedure. Good luck to you.