Over the years I have attended a number of Safety at Sea Seminars, and even presented at a few. And I’m a great believer in their benefit for cruising couples, even though they are often associated with ocean races and focused on the safety requirements of that way of going to sea.
Having said that, these seminars spend a huge amount of time explaining the procedures for recovering a person overboard (POB). For the short-handed crew, that time could be better spent:
Short-handed POB Recovery is an Illusion
In my opinion, for the two-person crew offshore, no matter how well equipped and drilled, the chances of recovery of a person overboard are not great, even in the best of conditions. And once the wind gets up they become slim indeed.
Just think about the ideal voyaging conditions for a moment: Twenty knots of wind on the quarter; big trade wind sea running; boom guyed out with a preventer; jib goose winged on the pole. And you are asleep below.
Even if you have an automated MOB alarm, as we do, and so know the moment the watch stander hits the water, what do you think the real chances of recovery are by the time you get on deck and get the boat turned around? Remember those guyed-out sails?
Even if by some miracle you locate a bobbing head in all those waves, perhaps with the assistance of one of the new AIS-based beacons, what about actually getting the POB back aboard?
You know all those great short-handed recovery practice videos you see? What do they have in common? Relatively smooth water without significant swell, that’s what. And swell will make every step of the process many times harder or even impossible.
But wait, it gets worse. In all likelihood the POB situation is not going to happen in the conditions I sketched out above. No, it’s going to happen just after the vane gear lost it and jibed the boat all standing…with a thunderstorm bearing down from aft…in the dark. Now how do you fancy your chances of a successful recovery?
This is why I always tell my crew in every POB briefing to “imagine that there is a 500-foot cliff on the other side of those lifelines”.
You Should Still Practice Recovery
Don’t get me wrong, I think every voyaging crew should have the gear and procedures in place to recover a person overboard. (We have both a Jon Buoy and a LifeSling, as well as a recovery tackle.) After all, you can still have a POB situation in smooth water inshore and, in that case, having the right recovery gear and knowing how to use it can save a life.
But what really matters to the short-handed crew offshore is making as sure as humanly possible that the POB situation never happens in the first place—we need prevention, not cure. That’s what this Online Book is about.