Person Overboard Recovery, Is The Quick Stop Bogus?

Quick Stop diagram from the Cruising Club of America (instructions linked to below).

I have always believed, and dinned into my crews during briefings, that once we are offshore in swell, and particularly when shorthanded, the chance of recovering a person overboard (POB) is slim to zero.

This is why my POB briefing before every passage ends with:

Pretend that there’s a 500-foot drop the other side of those lifelines. Sure, it may take a bit longer, but the result will be the same.

But that begs the question, what about all those POB recovery videos or demonstrations (common at Safety at Sea Seminars), particularly the Quick Stop manoeuvre, where everything always works so well?

Not The Real World

Here's the thing. Look at the conditions during the drills: pretty much always smooth water and light winds. Example 1 Example 2

Also note that the POB in these drills nearly always occurs conveniently when the boat is going upwind without the boom prevented or the pole up and guyed.

And even when a downwind POB recovery is demonstrated, like in this video, the situation is:

  • Smooth seas.
  • Light winds.
  • A relatively small boat with low loads.
  • A full-on race crew who are clearly well drilled in spinnaker takedowns.

In other words, not realistically representative for most of us.

The Harsh Reality

Now let's flip over to the real world, at least for most of us here at AAC: shorthanded offshore sailing.

We are cruisers, so how do we want to be sailing? Yup, downwind and reaching. So we will have a preventer on the boom, or at least we damned well should have, and quite likely the headsail poled out too.

Or, worse still, the keeners among us will have some large specialty off-the-wind sail set, like a Code 0 or asymmetric spinnaker.

In these conditions, the idea that a shorthanded crew could keep a POB in sight offshore in waves while getting the boat under control and turned around, is, at least in my opinion, just plain dreaming. Here's why:

Subscribe
Notify of
52 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alastair Currie

I am not sure when the the quick stop was introduced but back in the early 1980s it was not known to me and I read a lot of sailing books back then. It appears to be a development on tacking into heave to position, which certainly was taught to me. The objective is to stop the boat in the near vicinity, probably up wind, heave to and prepare to recover the person overboard. Later I learned an extension to the tack and heave to, engine on, reverse back, don’t touch sails and allow the wind drift down on the person overboard. This method works in 70′ boats, the biggest I have sailed. Like most things in life a one size fits all solution is rarely a good solution.

Alastair Currie

I have carried out person overboard training frequently and in strong winds and coastal seas, mostly in a 41′ yacht. I worked in sail training in the 1980s and was 1st Mate with an organisation for 4 years. Back then the quick stop was not known but what we did when close hauled was tack and heave to, not crash tack. In the heave to position it was easy to prepare the boat. For other points of sailing it was also similar, luff, stop the boat, douse head sails, engine on etc; if the canvas and sea state allowed, tack and heave to. Later a colleague introduced reversing backwards under power while still in heave to mode and today this is more or less an accepted tool that can get you back quickly, upwind and drifting down onto the person overboard. Like any yacht, if over canvassed, tacking into heave to position would have significant risks. I can’t remember the wind speeds on the 70 ft yacht but it was sailed in all sorts of weathers (UK coastal) and ‘MOB Drill’ was practised frequently in all the conditions prevalent. In all cases, stopping the yacht, preparing, engine on, approach and contact was made under power, something I still do today in my drill. I am also a big fan of going onto a reach immediately from down wind, and then feathering upwind to spill and stop, engine on, headsails rolled, tacked and reach back, under main.

I dislike the quick stop in tuition situations and prefer the reach / tack / reach when training as that develops and reinforces core skills about handling under sail which is applicable for anchoring and mooring buoy pick up as well. The geometry of the reach, tack, reach is also less disorienting for the crew. I had a break between sailing, nearly 10 years, when I came back, the quick or crash stop (as it has been called in the UK) was being taught and had entered text books.

Alastair Currie

On the 70′ yacht we had 18 persons on board, 3 x 5 crew watches plus a watch leader. The tack was always controlled as the risk of dismasting was real and a gybe was not to be undertaken without great care. In that boat a person overboard simply could not be rushed as far has handling the sails was concerned, no gybing as that was a complicated task that needed great care with running back stays.

Tomas

Thankyou for the best mob artickle I have read. No nonsens or false sequrity storys as on many trainings. I have often wounderd if they ever been offshore in 20 knots wind or more. I have never had a mob situation but have allways wonderd can those strategies really work? (Have been pretty sure that they wouldent)
I love the 500 feet analogy, from now I will use that.
What about all those systems to lift a unconsius person on board, shorthanded.
The only thing that really works is STAY ON THE BOAT!
We (my whife and I) will start our first longer cruise, 3yr, this summer. We start from Stockholm Sweden.

Whats your opinion on life boy, dan boy etc. We have a Najad 441 center cokpit. If I fall over board when we do 7knots of speed. In the best of scenarios my whife is in the cokpit and see me fall. Before she has reacted got to the stern deployd a life boy. How far away from me is it? Can I swim to it in 8ft waves. I think it could work when all is perfect but I would not trust it. Does it only add to false sequrity and make crew less risk aware. Be frank whith the crew, on this boat we don’t do false sequrity, if you fall off you probably die. Atleast in heavy weather.
I think the greatest chanse of survival is whith a AIS mob device.
Thanks again!
Tomas

Ian Morrris

Staying on board is the most important trick yet most modern boats seem to be equipped with near useless side deck jack lines. Why is it not mandatory to wear dual line harnesses, so that at all times one is clipped on and how many boats have a central jack stay line? In my opinion any line which still allows one to go over the rail is pointless. If one is wearing a two line harness then jack stays do not have to be continuous for the full boat length. Masses more on this subject.

Marcus Ward
Phyllis

Hi, Marcus; Colloquial usage is acceptable in online writing, which is a very different platform than the NY times (though thank you for comparing us to them). Regards, Phyllis

Jonas Edlund

Agree completely, if you are a small crew onboard, be sure not to go overboard by and always wearing an AIS-beacon. When me and my wife are sailing, we have agreed upon some basic rules that we have promised each other to follow. The reason is that we are dependent on each other to survive and the highest priority is to stay onboard!
– While alone in the cockpit, never leave the cockpit without telling the other person. Not for any reason.
– While on deck, use life vest with AIS-beacon and theter to the boat.

Finally, if the shit hits the fan and someone goes overboard, throw the marker buoy overboard and start the engine. Then start dealing with reducing sail area before trying to turn the boat. In our case we can furl all sails downwind.

Thanks for all insights you are sharing on this site with many interesting articles. I have learnt from some and get own experiences confirmed from others.

Regards, Jonas

Jim Evans

Just something less for us singlehanders to worry about. We know noone’s going to come back for us…
Seriously, though, John has an excellent point here. I guess the conclusion must be that you need a range of methods to suit the conditions rather than relying on a one size fits all solution.

Marc Dacey

While I agree that the QuickStops shown in the videos are easily done, my experience at the RYA Yachtmaster level is that the line-wrapped fender goes off irrespective of the wind or sea state and the crew, having been instructed and with the instructor able to suggest improvements, must retrieve it many, many times until they get it right.

This practice, which I periodically replicate on my own boat with my own crew, is (like knowing how to heave to or lie to a sea anchor) a great boathandling technique to have. It doesn’t preclude deciding when conditions make it sub-optimal, nor does it preclude using different techniques more appropriate to the situation. What was stressed to me is not losing sight of the POB, which is damn near impossible for the person in a cruising couple suddenly alone on deck, which really makes the case for the AIS-SART device: your “eyes” for when you cannot look uninterruptedly at your poor co-captain in the drink.

Marc Dacey

I don’t disagree, John. We may tailor a solution for our boat that combines some techniques, although I agree the best technique is “not falling off”. I did find the RYA YM approach at least methodical and the repetition in lively air does improve the boat handling aspect of coming to the right place having bled off most forward motion at least a step in the right direction.

RDE

If memory serves the Quick Stop and Lifesling techniques were first developed by Doug Fryer and the (Seattle Sailing Foundation?) in the 80’s. Entirely appropriate, because we never have waves (and plenty of windless days) in Puget Sound. LOL

I’ve always thought that the best way to never fall overboard is to never learn to swim. Fear is your friend! I lost a friend from a heart attack while he was practicing search and rescue techniques in our cold waters so drowning is not the only consideration.

Rob Gill

Hi John,
Here’s our thinking to date:
1) We need a SINGLE process to suit every situation, crewed or double-handed, night day, calm or gale, inshore, offshore. This requirement precludes the quick stop as our “go to method” for many of the reasons you list above and so we don’t practise it.
2) Having different recovery processes for different weather/sea states/points of sail/ coastal/ offshore seems just confusing. Add in new crew and that goes double.
3) As I do 90% of the deck work, and 100% of any damage control work, I am the one most likely to be in the water, and Jenny most likely to be a sole rescuer.
4) The risk of dragging or injuring a MOB in a rescue sling returning under sail in a 47 foot boat in rough conditions, outweighs the delay and risk of not finding him/her when returning to the AIS and / or Chartplotter position.
5) Shorthanded, the critical element is not distance travelled, but time to retrieval, and the more our MOB process is a routine, the more likely our response will work for real, first time.
So our process currently involves checking for trailing ropes, starting the engine, rolling away the jib (but leaving our pole up if on). Releasing the preventer / turning up-wind if needed, and then rolling away the main leaving the head in the feeder so it can be re-hoisted at any time without going on deck (we have in boom reefing so this can be, and is, achieved by Jenny from the cockpit every time without fail). Cranking the main on to secure the boom against the topper, then returning to the MOB position/AIS beacon, approaching using the life sling retrieval method pictured above but under motor.
We practice this exact sequence every time we lower our sails when arriving at an anchorage or port, and thus in many different conditions and points of sail. Jenny quite often does each step solo, so it remains practiced and practical for us both. We often discuss elements of “what if this was for real”, but I have to admit we infrequently practise with an actual fender or person.
We are under no illusion that a single-handed rescue under engine would be straight forward and realise there is a small risk of fouling the prop with the rescue sling retrieval line. Jenny is sure she would at least be able to return in most conditions using this process and that is so important. She could have a good shot at bringing me close enough to effect a rescue. If she misses, she could go around again without too much worry (we are fairly beamy so there is little risk of prop injuries).

Excellent topic John, I look forward to reading what you and others have adopted, and modifying/improving our process. We have already chatted about pressing the chart plotter MOB button before we take our sails down, and motoring back to that point, seeing how long we take each time.
Rob

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
You ask about Quick Stop experience:
For MOB drills, occasionally, we get another sailing couple on board, and we take turns having one person jump overboard in a wetsuit/lifevest while the other couple watches/spectates (and is there if needed) and the partner single-hands the boat to recovery, including getting the MOB onboard. Then we move to the other couple’s boat and they have a chance to practice. Other times we throw a cushion overboard. Doing these drills made clear that Alchemy’s admonition: “If you fall overboard, you are dead” holds a great deal of truth even as it sounds quite harsh. I may prefer your “cliff” analogy.
Our experience: The Quick Stop works best if close hauled: the farther off the wind, the more difficult it is to execute. Sailing and circling the MOB was quite possible but hit & miss. Sometimes with waves, we found it almost impossible. Generally, even with drills, a single-handed recovery using Quick Stop was too un-likely to be effective (or quickly enough effective) for our liking.
So, we think of the Quick Stop now as just that: a maneuver to stay near the MOB. Then we (actually singular as one of us is in the water) douse the sails as we are essentially (when we were on the wind) in hove-to position. (This is easiest with slippery mainsail track and may not be possible with conventional track. We also will use the winch on the jib pennant to get the headsail in quickly, a practice we rarely do otherwise.)
Off the wind, our goals remain the same, get the sails down and lines secured, while remaining as close to the MOB as we can. We would not turn into the wind with preventer secured or jib out on the pole: once the jib is in, the pole can remain out. If we are using the asym, it can just be socked and left up (this is where having the asym tack able to be blown/released under load will make this easier single-handed). Some might feel one can motor fairly easily to the MOB with the mainsail secured amidships, but I feel the boom/main combo is too dangerous in single handed maneuvering under power in seas and wind: get the main down (conventional track may make this difficult) and the boom strapped in hard. The loose mainsail can slop around and not get in too much trouble: this is made less of an issue with lazy jacks.
With sails down, we motor to the MOB with great attention to any line which might get overboard and into the prop and, of course, to any danger of the MOB getting near the prop.
I would in no way advocate for the Quick Stop: except for the fact that elements of the QS have until recently given the best chance for MOB recovery. Last year we moved to AIS/DSC devices to make success more likely. I look forward to your thoughts on this new-ish technology and especially how to incorporate drills into making their use part of Alchemy’s SOPs.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Henrik Johnsen

Another great article.
As a man and wife crew we have come to the conclusion of four vital points in our MOB drill. We always use the track mode on the chart plotter, so the drill will be:
Regarding the both of us:
1. Don´t ever fall over board, but if you do, make sure to wear the lifejacket with two solid crotch straps.
The one left on board:
2. Deploy the lifeboy immediately
3. Push the MOB button ASAP (As Soon AS Possible)
4. Take control over the boat, turn around and start searching/ recover.

# 2 is very important because it will give the crew onboard something easily spotted to look for in the water. (Demands a tall pole with flag), and the one in the water something to swim towards. It will also tell the drift compared to the MOB point at the plotter. With track mode ON and MOB button activated, you can easily back track. Plotter at the helm is of course a big advantage.

# 4 The crew left on board, probably trying to work despairingly fast, must take care using what ever time it takes to turn around in a SAFE way. If anything happens to the rig, rope in the propeller, or worse the crew getting injured, the one in the water is most likely to be doomed.

AIS POB beacon will be of great help to locate the victim, but we will still carry out the same MOB drill as described because having the floating device in the water to steer to/ look at, together with the MOB point on the plotter gives better chance to find the victim in the water. Not speaking of having technical trouble with the plotter at this time…
For the one in the water getting close to something that have extra buoyancy and will be easy spotted by the rescuer will certainly give strength in the hope of getting rescued.

Ernest

Re MOB button – it just came to me that this might be a convincing function of the Bluetooth-based CrewWatcher device, as soon as the link is broken the MOB button would be “pressed electronically”?
While not available now, wouldn’t this be an idea for such a device (see https://www.morganscloud.com/2018/02/03/smartphone-or-ais-based-person-overboard-beacons/)?

Michael

Very sad, and while some may question its relevance here, I would say it’s just a very extreme example of John’s main point.
https://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/news/11356_An-update-on-John-Fisher.html

Ernest

Thats just devastating…

However: “wearing appropriate survival gear when he went overboard” – shouldn’t we rethink the definition of “survival gear” to point more to the “survival” term? Safest gear is to be bound to the boat, as John and many others always mention. Second any device that would have helped in finding the victim…

I’m curious what kind of survival gear has been in place, the more as the victim was on watch, and possibly not using a lifeline in gale force conditions?

Ernest

In January, the Scallywag team had an overboard accident as well (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7Efkev5lBU). It took the highly trained team 15min in calm seas to get the man back on board – fortunately no injuries.

But why I am posting this video link: you can see them racing, in tshirt or even topless, not clipped on, and not even a PFD. I doubt this is how it should be, honestly.

Michael

In interview a day ago with Ian Walker (who won the previous race), Walker said it would take about 45 minutes to stop one of those boats in conditions they were experiencing, and get it sorted. A recent message from the boat that tragically lost the crew member indicated they were able to turn back and head to the MOB position 42 minutes after the unclipped crew member was knocked off the boat by the main sheet system during a chinese gybe. Conditions: 35-45 kt, 4-5 m seas.

Steve Holloway

I hadn’t been to a boat show in many years but this year work took me to the London and Paris shows so I took the chance to look around a couple of boats a similar size to my own. Maybe it’s just the sort of boats you find at boat shows but I struggled to find a boat I’d be happy to take out to… I was going to say ‘sea’, but ‘out of the marina’ would be more accurate!
While climbing down the companion way steps of a million pound plus 50 footer I was laughing, I thought to myself, but something must have shown as the salesman gave me a strange look and ask if all was okay. I just said I was wondering if there was some sort of knack to coming down below in a seaway as there wasn’t a handhold within 10 foot of the steps. He muttered something about having handholds on the inside of the coach roof as an EXTRA! then went on to show me how lovely the table was. On further inspection and in response to him pointing out the spaciousness of the main cabin (It was certainly spacious, seemingly twice the size of my Han Christian 48T) but it didn’t take long to notice that was because there were no cupboards in the saloon. I mean none! I mentioned storage and wondered if there was much room under the sole as I struggled to find a way to lift a panel, there didn’t seem to be any catches.
He smiled and with a flourish said ’Arrr’ as he pulled a plunger from a draw (one of only three on the whole boat) He then proceeded to slap the plunger on the panel and lift it deftly from its place. ‘ we supple 2 plungers he said with a smile’ I’m sure you all know what my next question was, although it seemed to come as a complete surprise to him…
‘So you mean it’s only gravity that holds that in? So in a knock down you just end up with all your stores taking lumps out of you lovely table and all the rest of the fragile laminate this boat is made of?’ ( to be fair the storage space was so small it would only be half a tool set)
His reply?… It’s a big boat sir, that wouldn’t happen!

Steve Holloway

Sorry meant to post this in the yacht designer artical above

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I tend to agree with you about companionways being the gateway give-away to good design. Over the years of experience (and accumulated age) I have increasingly come to appreciate our Valiant 42s companionway entrance. It goes down to a “hallway” (aft cabin on one side, head on the other) where you can safely struggle, well contained and supported, with those items before and after watch (when waking up or later, when tired and wet) which often have you off balance and vulnerable (putting on foulies/boots and harness/lifevest).
Right at hand on the other side of the hallway “wall” is the toilet that Gordo mentioned in an earlier post: facing fore and aft and with walls/counters on either side for bracing oneself and containment (again at a vulnerable time).
For sea going boats, what some might see as close and claustrophobic, experienced passage makers will see as contained and cozy.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Terry Thatcher

No need to respond. I just wanted to thank you for the article. I have practiced the life sling deployment and always worried about the down wind problem. You naIled it, as usual. My son and I just returned from a 10,000 mile voyage around the Eastern Pacific, sailing mostly with the jib poled out. We made sure we could roll up the jib with the pole controlled with after guy and topping lift and always wore our personal AIS beacons. Unfortunately, ours did not self deploy so if one of us went over the side, he would have had to be both conscious and calm enough to deploy it. But the devices are a great idea. I understand that some are now designed to self deploy when a vest inflates. But, most importantly, we never went on deck without tethers and always observed the rule one of the other commenters set: no one on night solo watch left the cockpit without the other on deck, tethered in and ready to help. Disturbing the off watch was worth the safety.

Dick York

John-

Your comments on POB recovery are (as usual) keen! I enjoyed reading this thread, and the one on AIS beacons. Many of us in the CCA (and other SaS committees) have talked about how new technology should change our outlook on POB recovery. Your article has encouraged that discussion along. As the author of the article you mention in this chapter, I am looking to publish some more information including the practices that might change due to AIS-based beacons in various environments.

Everyone I talk to also emphasizes the main point of all this…. Stay Aboard! in the first place. Clip On, One Hand for Yourself………..

Marc Dacey

There was an interesting short article on this earlier in the week on the use of AIS beacons in the next Newport-Bermuda race: http://bermudarace.com/ais-man-overboard-devices-lessons-learned-in-set-up-and-usage/

Chris Waters

I am a recent subscriber to this forum. Sorry I’m a bit late to this discussion.

POB is a fascinating subject, and poorly understood, because all of us fear it, but very few have done it. Travelling down Spain, Portugal, Spain, Africa and the Canary Islands, with many many cruisers, we would frequently meet up and socialise. (Marine grey nomads). I became fascinated by POB and how unprepared the boat owners were. Many had great gadgets. No one had practiced, and no one accepted that they, the owner, might be the POB!

Here is my take (as an instructor and journeyman).
POB comprises 5 separate tasks. You can’t deal with “POB” as a topic. It is a complex collection of many. Each has its problems and purpose:
1. Locate, and keep located, the POB
2. Position yourself for attempted recovery.
3. Position yourself to effect recovery
4. Recover the POB.
5. Deal with the aftermath.

Forget quick Stop! A disaster in my view, involving 2 gibes, disorienting and dangerous manoeuvres. Alistair Currie’s posts, in my opinion, address the essence of the problem. Some refer to this as the “figure 8” manoeuvre.

In step 1 we are endeavouring to stay as close to the loss point as possible to the POB. (Vital! Vital!) Keep 2 buoyant torches in the cockpit. Paint them bright Fluoro! Light and throw a torch. Try to hit them! 10 seconds later light and throw the second torch. You now have a set of lead lights that substantially indicate the line on which the POB is. Don’t fart around starting engines, furling sails, pushing buttons etc. if you get more than 100 metres away from the POB your quest is likely lost. STOP THE BOAT’S PROGRESS. If you are going to do the manoeuvre under sail, turn back (bear away if you were upwind, luff up if you were running) aiming to look along the waves / troughs. The best chance to see the tiny bobbing head. On location, or after 90 seconds, tack. No location? Keep hunting – slack reach- tack, slack reach, tack. Search techniques and patterns are another subject entirely!.

Step 2, your aim is to be 30° below the lateral line of the POB and 50 to 100 metres away. Your approach is then into the wind, but your sails can completely luff, or you can tease your sails to get drive. Approach gently.

Step 3, you want to “cuddle” the POB, turning head to wind around them, so they are on the Windward side of the boat. Drop a line, a buoy, a sheet tail, to them, as long as it is secured to your boat!

Step 4, – very tricky! Many gadgets are discussed, but depend on having a hoist point or a ladder or such. My current preference ( this is a profoundly learning experience!) is a poor mans Jacob’s ladder. A 3 by 2 metre square of coarse netting (100mm ish mesh) with a tubing attached to one edge, a long loop attached to the corners of the opposite edge, and the tube attached to the toe rail midships. Rolled up and held secure with Velcro loops. Single handed, if you can get to the side of your boat you have a chance to release the Velcro and scramble up the net. With assistance aboard, the trailing edge can be “followed up” with a line attached to the foot loop, after the POB, allowing them to stand higher and higher until victory! They can tumble onto the deck. If they are unconscious, you still have a reasonable chance to haul them up

Step 5. First aid principles. Also debrief for everyone. Everyone will be shocked and distressed. In the dreadful event that you couldn’t achieve recovery, make the boat safe. Share your grief. Write a clear and thorough account. This will help everyone come to terms with the event. Then – suck it up – get on with your revised journey as best you can.

Now, in my view, these steps are inviolate. Your boat, your rig, your methods, will need to accomodate these 5 steps. Test your rig, your preventer strategy, your downwind method, your boom break system, etc., against these. These steps (or whatever you should develop for yourself) are inviolate. You can change your rig, but you can’t change what you must do in a POB recovery attempt. So sort out which is more important. Make sure your rig can accomodate your method, whatever the conditions. You, if you are terribly unlucky, will only do a POB once. Don’t rehearse multiple methods. Have one method, and ensure your boat doesn’t prejudice your method!

Sorry to be a bit Bolshie, but it is not a soft subject.

Chris

Phil Faris

(I’m a new member, so I just now looked for your MOB philosophy).
I concur. But your two flagship points (prevention, and beacon/tracking devices) ought to have a third. Specifically, How to quickly but safely stop the vessel and shorten sail, then safely backtrack under ALL conditions and quantities of canvas. It’s true that flatwater MOB drills all train crews to think about maneuvers that can’t be done under real conditions and those drills also train those crews NOT to think about prevention, beacons or handling the vessel at slow speeds and stopped in heavy weather. Wasn’t this faulty training and practice “why” you made the errors that you speak of? I’m merely advocating training crews to stop boats not just for picnics while hove-to in paradise but for controlled maneuvers under adverse conditions.

Marc Dacey

A very good point that reinforces the need to “stay on the boat”, because if you are running off before building seas, coming about and working to windward to retrieve someone might be difficult enough, but getting the MOB back aboard from the lee side might be near-impossible, dangerous or at least damned ugly. I had the opportunity to do practice rescue retrivals under sail only on RYA courses in Brittany and it got pretty interesting pulling that weighted fender aboard when a 35 knot squall came through.