Online Book: Person Overboard Prevention, Chapter 5 of 9

Flawed Jackline Systems, Part 1


Nearly three years ago I started an online book on person overboard prevention based on the system that Phyllis and I have used for some 20 years. All went pretty well for the first three chapters. In fact, I believe we publicized a major improvement to the state of the art for short-handed crews: the multi-tether system.

But then I got to the subject of jacklines and attachment points and that’s where it all came unraveled, when several engineers and climbers pointed out that my assumptions were, let’s see if I can put this politely…absolute crap.

In fact, it’s at least arguable that Phyllis and I might have been better off with no jackline and tether system at all, because at least then we would have been fully aware of the dangers as we moved around the deck, rather than wrapping ourselves in a false sense of security conferred by a fundamentally flawed system.

And here’s the real scary part. I’m pretty sure that many (probably most) offshore sailors out there are at least as deluded as we were.

Since that revelation Phyllis and I have put a bunch of time and effort, including some real world experimentation, into improving our system. But before we get into that, we need to expose those scary delusions and understand the fundamental mechanics at work here. That’s what this chapter is about.

As you read this and subsequent chapters, you may experience, in the words of Yogi Berra, “deja-vu all over again“.

The reason for this duplication is that, after much thought, I realized that the only way to clearly communicate what we have learned over the last three years was to rewrite the whole damned Online Book.

Much Ado About Nothing?

The realization that this rewrite was required, and the huge effort it cost me (more than any other subject I have ever tackled), did not make me happy, I assure you.  However, every time I stalled, a comment by Chris W drove me back to the keyboard.

…Randy Hooton, who died [by dragging] after going overboard from the bow (SW of Key West), was the brother of one of my wife’s life-long best friends…She has shared the unpublished details with us…

…while it is obvious Randy died, a dream died, a marriage died, and a family was brought to its knees…

You may wish to keep Chris’s comment in mind as you wade into what is not going to be an easy read, particularly since we have a bunch of explanation to get through before we get to the good stuff: fixes to flawed systems.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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