Until publication of the final report, the recollection of drill participants’ observations and experiences is a good road map for fellow boaters to improve their crew-overboard recovery skills.
Until publication of the final report, the recollection of drill participants’ observations and experiences is a good road map for fellow boaters to improve their crew-overboard recovery skills. “It was good to test different equipment and approaches to pick up people, not just dummies,” says Cathi Cox, a part-time sailing instructor in the Los Angeles area.
As expected, the event validated some conventional methods, but also provided surprisingly simple new perspectives that could shape the future of crew-overboard protocols:
• Know your boat. Skipper and crew should be familiar with their boat in different conditions, and know how long it takes to come to a stop both in flat and choppy water.
• Experiment. Try down-speed maneuvers and become familiar with the turning ability of the vessel. Performance keelboats turn faster than cruising vessels; trimarans with a centerboard tack faster than cats with small keels, but cats are easier to jibe.
• Keep it simple. Many praised the deep beam reach return because it only involves two points of sail, and gives the crew options to bear off or head up to control speed and position relative to the person in the water.
• Not all boats are equal. Find out what kind of maneuver works best with your boat. One of the trimaran skippers reported consistent success with the traditional figure-eight method, which wasn’t necessarily a favorite among monohull crews.
• Keep a lookout. Spotting the victim and turning back, without losing sight of him or her, is extremely important on fast boats (multis and powerboats) that can cover a great distance in a short time.
• Lose the jib. If possible, douse or furl the jib before picking up the victim. It frees crewmembers for spotting and recovering the victim, and prevents foul-ups or injuries resulting from flogging sheets. If your boat won’t sail to weather under main alone, choose your point of sail accordingly.
• Practice. Put a live person in the water. “Man-overboard drills with cushions and boathooks are ridiculous,” says Ruth Wood of BoatU.S. “You need to stop close to the victim to get a person back on board.”
• Keep an open mind. Learn and practice different techniques. Not all methods suit all types of boats and points of sail equally well.
• Start the engine if necessary. “Maneuvers can get sloppy if people are distressed, and the engine can substantially speed up the return, especially if you’re downwind of the victim,” says Marshall.
• Be selective. You won’t have enough storage for a truckload of gear. Assess what works for you, learn how it works, teach your crew, and keep it handy.
• Establish a chain of command. Even on expertly crewed boats a lack of leadership produces chaos. Think about the unthinkable, too: Who’s going to get the skipper back on board?
• Prepare. Take some time to go over the procedures while still at the dock. A briefed crew will work more efficiently.
• Improvise. Modifying equipment — for example, extending a halyard or rereeving it to reach an electrical winch — can save the day or a life. Make sure you have supplies (blocks, line, shackles) handy.
• Put the victim in the lee. “You can’t throw a line to weather with any accuracy when it blows, and the boat drifts much faster than anyone can swim with boots, foulies and an inflated PFD,” says John Connolly, president of the ModernSailingAcademy.
• Be smart. Scoop sterns and low-freeboard amas on trimarans provide a convenient alternative to hoisting the victim over the lifelines.
• Mind the motion. Even with all sails down, a hull’s windage pushes the boat along, which can make recovery difficult in rough conditions.
• “Elevator” lines, rigged between a clamp and a winch, can work in absence of a boarding ladder, but the victim can gain necessary additional support by grabbing the toerail, lifelines, shrouds or a heavy line from the cockpit.
Crew-overboard rescues rarely follow scripts, so keeping an open mind and mastering different maneuvers is probably more important than buying a load of gear or watching videos. “Pilots undergo periodical reviews of their skills,” says Chuck Hawley of West Marine. “Perhaps regular refresher courses for crew-overboard recoveries would be useful.”