Tips for Going Overboard - SailNet Community
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Tips for Going Overboard

Some emergencies at sea can't be taken care of from on board. I've never had to go over the side while at sea, but it that ever were to be necessary, what precautions should I take?

John Kretschmer responds:
Going into the water while you're sailing offshore is something that all sailors try to avoid throughout their sailing careers. However, once in a while an occasion will arise that requires you to enter the water to make a repair or sort out some other kind of problem. We all know that one day we'll encounter heavy weather. In the same fashion, we should also assume that one day we'll have to go overboard for some reason. So, just like the precaution of assembling an abandon ship bag before heading out to sea, you should put an emergency repair bag together too. In this you should include a mask, snorkel, sharp serrated knife, a tube of quick setting underwater epoxy, rags, bungy cords, and a few basic tools. If you scuba dive, a small pony bottle and regulator would be a terrific addition. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you this situation ever becomes a reality for you:

  • Before going over the side, try to determine how far you will need to dive below the waterline. If the leak or problem is not low on the hull, the first thing you should do is put on a PFD. Unfortunately, if the leak is low on the hull, a PFD will prevent you from diving deep.
  • Regardless of the depth of your anticipated dive, launch a buoyed float astern, preferably with floating line. A large fender works well as a buoy and polyester line floats. Also, launch a PFD, or horseshoe style float, on a separate line aft.
  • If your boat does not have an aft boarding platform or stern step, try to rig the boarding ladder as far aft as possible, preferably on the transom.
  • If there is any sea running, heave-to before going overboard. Once hove-to, the boat will create a slick to weather and a lee downwind, making it easier to work and climb back aboard. Although the boat may have a bit of forward motion, it is much steadier in the water than a boat lying ahull.
  • Always keep your distance from the hull, especially in large seas. Begin your dives well outboard of the hull and be sure to push off and swim as far away from the hull as possible before coming up for air.
  • Rig an easy-to-open bag that you can tie around your waist. If you need to work with tools underwater, rig short lanyards and tie them to your wrists.
  • Don't waste energy. Work efficiently in the water and take time to rest. Don't underestimate how exhausting it is to tread water in even moderate seas, and save your strength for getting back aboard. Of course you should always have someone aboard keeping a close watch on where you are in the water.
  • As a last resort, or if the the work project is going to take a lot of time, launch the inflatable dinghy as a platform from which to work.

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