The key to a successful crew-overboard recovery is to stay within visual contact of the person in the water, and the “quick-stop” drill is one of the best ways to do it.
The key to a successful crew-overboard recovery is to stay within visual contact of the person in the water, and the “quick-stop” drill is one of the best ways to do it, says Ronald C. Trossbach, a certified US Sailing lecturer.
“It’s like picking up a water-skier,” Trossbach explains.
The drill is for use on sailboats, which under sail are obviously less maneuverable than powerboats. When memorized and practiced, the quick-stop gives sailors an easy series of steps to follow to bring a lost mate back on board.
“The real benefit of the quick-stop is you stop as close to the person as possible,” Trossbach says. “Some people don’t like it because it can involve the jibe. But anytime they do tests — and the most recent tests were in Sausalito in August, about 200 people went out there and did 300 hours of testing — the quick-stop still comes out to be one of the top ones.”
The drill is best used with a Lifesling-type harness and tether. “The bottom line always is practice,” Trossbach says. “Are you familiar with what you’re going to do?”
Here are the quick-stop steps for a boat with more than two crewmembers, once the “man overboard” call has been made:
1. Designate one crew-member to spot and point at the victim.
2. Immediately litter the water with flotation devices: seat cushions, life jackets, almost anything on board that floats. Not only does this provide the person in the water with support, the litter helps indicate his or her location in turbulent seas, when a human head can be difficult to see.
3. Steer the boat into the wind so that the jib and main are luffing.
4. Continue turning the boat past the wind, backwinding the jib, as in a heave-to position.
5. Turn in the same direction until the wind is coming from abaft the beam.
6. Sail off on a reach (headsail still backwinded) for two to three boat lengths before turning dead downwind.
7. Haul the mainsail in to the centerline of the boat and drop the jib without easing the jibsheets. (Tight sheets keep the jib on deck.)
8. Continue downwind until the person in the water is abaft the beam.
9. Jibe and keep turning until the boat is tacking back upwind, toward the person in the water. (The jib is once again filled with air and pulling the boat.)
10. Steer a course between 45 and 60 degrees off the wind as you approach the person in the water.
11. Throw a line to the person in the water unless you have already launched a Lifesling or similar harness, which by now would have been towed in a circle around the person. Pull the person toward the windward side of the boat and haul the victim aboard.
Variations on the quick-stop drill — for shorthanded crews, yawls and ketches, for use with engines, and when under spinnaker — are published by US Sailing in the ISAF Offshore Special Regulations Governing Offshore and Oceanic Equipment and Preparation (U.S. Edition 2004-’05). It’s available at
US Sailing, Portsmouth, R.I. Phone: (401) 683-0800.