Re: Man Overboard equipment and procedures
This has been a most enlightening thread.
Most importantly, I agree with others that the first strategy is to STAY ON THE BOAT.
On our boats, we have always set rules. Whenever we encountered a situation where during the post mortem of any undesirable experience, where we felt we could have done better, we made a new "rule". I think we are now up to Rule # 3197. ;-)
Simple stuff, like rule # 8 - "Before heading out, all seacocks except engine seawater intake and cockpit drains are closed, deck hatches and cabin ports are closed and dogged", and rule # 17, "When the first reef goes in, (if not already) the PFDs are donned and tethers attached, and rule # 36 "When the second reef goes in, the cockpit locker lids are dogged and the companionway storm boards latched."
These are just OUR rules, based on our experience; they work on our boat.
The rules aren't managed in military discipline fashion, they're just a mutual understanding of the way things should be done in the future to avoid making the same mistake twice.
I believe many establish their MOB procedures, based on readings, personal procedure development, and practice; at least I hope so.
But after talking with many many sailors about MOB procedures, I realize few have actually practiced their procedures on the boat, even once, even with just a fender. Of the few who have, it has been in totally benign conditions, < 8 knots and 1/2 metre waves. This is because, nobody wants to lose equipment, or get hurt, or scare anyone, needlessly.
I don't believe practising MOB procedures in realistic conditions are needless. I feel they are essential, to verify the fair weather MOB procedure is actually valid, in anything but fair weather. A fairweather MOB recovery drill using a fender, is little more than plucking a balloon off the water. Even using a real live person, is like a "scheduled swim".
My experience, is that depending on the size of boat, once we get above 12-20 knots, and 1-2 metre waves, fairweather MOB procedures are typically doomed for failure. This may be why so many consider the MOB will likely be lost forever, in these conditions or worse. They simply know that their standard procedures are not likely to be effective.
Well, there is an alternative; develop and practice foul weather MOB procedures.
One of the biggest differences, is that it doesn't have to be very rough, before it is unsafe to attempt to recover the MOB at the stern (on that nice swim platform or sugar scoop with boarding ladder) as with a wave coming up and the stern coming down, the MOB will be smashed to bits, they may get chopped up by the spinning propeller (hello sharky), or a MOB retrieval line may get caught in the spinning propeller, stop the engine (hopefully before dismemberment, and now all maneuverability is lost, if depending on the engine to hold the vessel on station.
Instead, depending on size of vessel and stability, once we get to about 20 knots and 2 metre seas, the only safe MOB recovery location, is amidship, where boat pitching is minimal.
Incidentally, this is where the boarding ladder is on our personal boat. Its on a track, with locking sliders, so that it can be transferred to the opposite gateway in about 30 seconds, if required. Its normal position is on the starboard side. When not in use, it is collapsed (telescoping) and slid forward of the gate opening, to avoid interference getting on and off the boat from the dock under normal conditions. It is useable in the stowed position; one just needs to step over the lifelines. It has a lanyard so that it can deployed from the water. Many passersby have hollered to us, from the leeward side, that we are dragging a line in the water, as if we are unaware. We of course just smile and wave back and holler, "Thanks, it's supposed to be that way." (This lanyard is about a foot from the water on a starboard tack.)
Another issue of foulweather MOB recovery, is that the MOB may be wearing warm clothing and foul weather gear. WOW! There's a revelation! What I would like everyone reading this thread to do, is don warm clothing (e.g. polar fleece), their bib pants, offshore jacket, and boots, hop over the side, allow the clothing to "fill up" for 30 seconds, and then climb back up the boarding ladder (even using the swim platform if so equipped). Your 100 lb wife or daughter, just gained about 300 pounds and is not getting up that ladder under their own steam, and not even with a burley, very fit guy, spiked with adrenaline, without mechanical advantage.
Now remember, in foul weather conditions, it's not safe to even attempt to reboard the boat at the stern. So now we also have the midship freeboard to contend with. Can you even reach the MOB, to hand or attach the MOB retrieval gear?
The next issue about foulweather MOB recovery, is that when pointed up into the wind with no sails up, and the transmission in neutral so no lines will be wound around the propeller, the boat will coast to a stop, and then in no time (seconds) with no way on, and all underwater foils stalled, the boat will start to move astern, and the next wave will knock the bow off, so that the wind will catch the bow, spin the boat around, and it will start careening downwind surfing the waves, near or over hull speed, under bare poles. It may end up settling into lying ahull and drifting about 3 knots or faster down wind, taking breaking waves abeam. If the wave height is equal to beam and breaking, their is a distinct possibility the boat will roll. Remember that there are no sails up to dampen the wave induced roll. In all probability, the MOB is nowhere in site, and without some form of communication, is likely lost forever.
Alternatively, if the helmsperson plays the wheel and throttle (and no MOB recovery line happens to wrap the prop) the boat can be held to weather, on station. If the MOB drifts away from the boat, the wheel and throttle can be further played to edge in their direction. I've done this many times (actually, holding the boat on station in a turning basin during high winds, awaiting dock hands to prepare to assist a high wind docking procedure).
Now here is the problem. If the person at the helm playing the wheel and throttle is needed to leave the helm to assist MOB recover, even if they put the autohelm on, the same thing is going to happen, as did with no motor power at all, except now, when the boat turns down wind or ahull, the prop is turning at whatever revs were required to hold the boat on station to weather, driving the boat off the wind, even faster than the prior scenario.
So any MOB procedure, requiring the motor, to hold the boat on station, so the person can climb aboard under their own steam, will only work in fair weather, if the person is conscious, and not overly fatigued from treading water, or holding onto the MOB pole and flotation device, and just being overly panicked, for too long, because the MOB procedure called for doing all kinds of unnecessary things, before returning to the MOB, and due to drifting or motoring to windward, so far away that the MOB sighting was lost and then had to be searched for.
I am absolutely shocked at the number who have such limited experience heaving to.
I believe heaving to, is a basic sailing skill, that should be learned about the same time, as tacking and gybing, and while perhaps not practiced quite so frequently, at least enough, so that one can perform the action proficiently, without even thinking about it, whenever it would be useful (which is actually quite frequently if one is proficient at it and confident in their ability).
Many of the comments about the difficulty heaving to are completely unfounded in my opinion. All of the boats I have sailed (many) do not even require the main, to heave to effectively. In fact, best practice on most boats, and all I've been on, is to simply release the mainsheet to near or gently luffing behind the backwinded foresail.
Perhaps this is why so many have had difficulty successfully completing the maneuver. For all of the boats I have been on heaving to, there is no mainsail trim required, other than to just ease the mainsheet to depower, so the boat can't pass back through the wind, against the backwinded foresail. Additionally, there is no need to adjust foresail area. In all cases I have hove to in, the foresail area used to sail close-hauled in, even when over-powered to max heel and verge of rounding up, is perfectly effective for heaving to.
I am absolutely shocked by those discounting the merit of heaving to. I don't believe this is an "old fashioned" tactic at all, any moreso than tacking or gybing are, which have all been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. Anyone could refer to sailing in general with a derogatory "it's too old-fashioned" claim. If I'm called "old fashioned" as I pull a MOB aboard, vs, hollering to them from a distance after the first shark attack, "Sorry old chum, I had to take my sails down before coming back for you, and because I don't know how to heave to properly, I can't leave the helm to assist you aboard, but it's your own damn fault anyway, for falling off that 900 foot cliff I warned you about."
Of course I'm being a bit facetious, but I hope everyone gets the point.
Now the one thing that is absolutely blowing me away (har har), and I hope I can learn from this thread; in all of my experience, motoring a sailboat to windward, in any kind of wind, and any kind of sea state, it takes someone at the helm, to work the wheel and throttle CONSTANTLY to stay on station (as so many in this thread have recommended.)
So can anyone please advise, when one is fighting wind and waves to hold the boat on station with the engine propulsion, how can you possibly leave the helm for even a few seconds, to help assist MOB recovery amidship, if your 100 pound daughter, can't drag your clothing soaked, and foul weather gear filled, normally 100 pound wife aboard, even with the help of your 200 pound bricklayer brother? What do you tell them at the funeral? It's OK, they tried their best? Little consolation I'm afraid.
Remember, that in these foul weather conditions, your vessel will need about 3 knots of way on, to stay pointed to windward for the autohelm to hold the boat to windward, which is darn near fast enough to drown the MOB dangling over the side, or at least make their recovery even harder.
So what is the solution.
While the boat may still rock and roll a bit, and drift maybe 1/2 - 1 knot (when hove to properly), compared to bare polls and helm station vacated, the vessel will be virtually motionless. This will enable the helmsperson to assist MOB recovery, which may be essential for a double-handed or short-handed crew.
BTW, my wife and I, while I consider "cruisers", do participate in double-handed, multi-day passage, offshore racing. The "rules" we have developed for MOB recovery, do not only apply to fully crewed race boats, they are the most effective we could develop and practice for every day boating, under any conditions that could be encountered.
If someone doesn't agree that our practices are "best", I really could care less, because we "know", by real experience (not just armchair theory) that they work, in fairweather and nasty, nasty conditions. Fortunately, we've never had to perform a real MOB exercise in anything but fairweather to about 12 knots and 1 meter waves. But we have lost enough old fenders in nasty conditions to know what is, and what isn't, likely to work, in a real situation. Based on these practice drills, we know, that attempting to stand at the helm, with bare poles, using the motor to hold on station, DOES NOT HAVE EVEN A REMOTE CHANCE OF WORKING in any conditions but fairweather and for a very fit MOB in little more than a swimsuit.
I understand, that this little post, is not likely to convince anyone, with fast held convictions that their MOB procedures are valid, to immediately change their mind or even slightly agree.
What I do ask you to do, for YOUR sake and that of YOUR crew, is that the next time you are out in open water, in conditions where you would normally put the first reef in, and reduce the headsail to ~ 120%, (15-20 knots on most boats) practice your MOB procedure. Not with a person, because I fear what will happen to them. Use a MOB pole (if you have one, and I think everyone should) tied to a fender, with an old harness tied around it.
Follow your normal procedure, dousing sails and starting the engine if that is part if it.
If you have lost sight of the MOB (pole) while doing so (and of course you will during these procedures) regain "eyes on the MOB", which likely won't be visible more than 400 meters away in good visibility, or much less in rain, mist, fog, dark, or any wave action. Start on a reciprocal course and if you just can't find them, lay out a search pattern starting from the centre of where you think they went over, and expanding outward, favouring the downwind or current drift direction.
Once you spot the MOB (if ever), motor up alongside, and hold the vessel on station there.
Now set "auto" for your current course (to windward) and leave the helm to rig your MOB hoisting gear, which could be a davit or outboard crane per your normal plan, but I want you to ignore those, as while the stern of the vessel crashing down on a fender is not likely to hurt it, in real life the MOB could be severely injured or killed. Instead, unrig an unused halyard that is normally led aft, so you have a long enough tail that you can keep ahold, while dangling the snap shackle down to the water.
Now because a fender can't connect the snap shackle (similar to an incapacitated or possibly even panicked real person with now cold extremities that just don't work, let alone the fingers to pull the shackle release), imagining that you don't wish to get in the cold rocky rolly water, with no one else aboard, unless you absolutely had to (and I don't recommend it to recover a fender) hook the fender harness with a boat hook, lift it up, connect the snap shackle, and drop it back over the side. Now hoist the MOB. Imagine if it had a 300 lb sack of wet cement connected. Unless you weigh way more than 300 lbs, you are likely to lift yourself off the deck, long before the MOB is raised off the water. So now you have to rig the halyard tail around that old mast winch (that you haven't used since you rigged the lines aft), cleat it off, go get the winch handle, and come back, all the while the MOB is attached by the halyard. Now raise MOB and drag it over the lifelines.
One thing to remember during all of this...
Once you leave the helm, you cannot return to gain control of the boat, because if the MOB is yet to be connected, they are likely to be lost again (if sighting regained the first time), perhaps this time for good, and if they were attached but not yet hoisted aboard, they have likely been dragged along side at sufficient speed to be drowned. The bright side is that you can recover the body for funeral services and friends and family to bid their last fairwell. Maybe someone could faintly play "taps" on a bugle, while the MOB pole and fender are buried in a dumpster. ;-)
So what is the alternative?
I can't speak for everyone, but on our boat, the following steps are exercised for every man overboard situation, real or drill, in any conditions:
1. Yell "Man Overboard". This alerts all crew (often just the wo of use, but sometimes more) there is an emergency (real or drill are treated the same), and triggers the rote learnings swiftly and proficiently to execute the plan. (1 second has passed.)
2. Deploy the MOB pole and life sling. (5 seconds have passed.)
3. Immediately turn the boat on reciprocal course back toward the MOB. In most cases, a flying sail will not be up, but it could be, (If only double-handed, the symmetrical was not likely up, unless this was our boat.) ;-) If fully crewed, the normal procedure for takedown on a mark rounding should be executed. If it hits the water, too bad, get it back aboard and stuffed down the hatch wet ASAP.) DO NOT FRIG WITH ENGINE OR SAILS before throwing the helm over to turn on reciprocal course.
4. If the MOB is directly up wind, (possibly not) determine if they can be returned to most quickly with existing sails up, or by taking eyes off them, to start the engine.
5. Loop around the MOB with the life sling dragging, just like turning a mark.
6. The instant the MOB is rounded and vessel headed up wind, heave to if the foresail is up, or just pop the main sheet if it's down.
7. Hopefully the foresail was up. (If not it may have to be raised if conditions are such that the boat will drift too quickly if not hove to, potentially drowning the MOB trying desperately to hang on the sling, with nobody at the helm to keep the boat on station.
8. Heave to.
9. Pull the MOB by the lifesling up to the gangway gate on the leeward side, where pitching and wave action is minimal. If the boat is hove to, rolling action will be minimal as well, and drift will likely be 1/2 to 1 knot instead of 3 knots or more, if the vessel was not hove to, and nobody is holding it on station with the engine.
10. Open gate lifeline, deploy the boarding ladder, and determine if the MOB can self recover.
11. If recovery assistance is needed, extend a halyard to them for attachment to their PFD / harness.
12. If mechanical advantage is required to hoist them, use the mast winch and winch handle pocketed at the mast base.
13. If the MOB is incapacitated, on the short tether (3 foot) grab the boat hook (located on both deck handrails) hook on to the harness, and lift as high as possible with one hand, so that the halyard snap shackle can be attached, with the other.
14. Return the boat hook to its resting place inside the handrail. (So it isn't lost if required again, as the back-up is on the other side of the cabin roof.)
15. Under no circumstances is the person aboard to become untethered to the boat by their harness, to avoid doubling the MOB recovery required with nobody left aboard (ie, almost certain death for both).
16. With the MOB aboard, render any first aid required, which at the very least will likely include, getting them down below, into warm, dry clothes (and blankets in cold conditions) and something warm to drink unless hypothermic.
17. When prepared to get back underway:
i) Raise and secure the boarding ladder.
ii) Remount the MOB pole (if recovered).
iii) Reset the lifesling (and life ring if used).
iv) Hardness the mainsheet.
v) Unlock the helm and fall off.
vi) Pop the loaded sheet.
vii) Sheet in on opposite side.
viii) Sail away.
ix) Save obituary writing for another day.
OK, so some may disagree with every single word of this. That's fine, you do on your boat, what you think is right, but be gentle, as I took 4 hours away from my customers to write this, in the hope it may help someone.
If nothing else, maybe it will inspire someone to practice their all but forgotten MOB procedure just one more time, looking at it, from another perspective.
Last edited by boatsurgeon; 03-22-2019 at 05:26 PM.