Person Overboard Recovery—Our Replacement For Quick Stop

The availability of comparatively inexpensive, and proven effective, AIS/DSC POB beacons has made Phyllis and me think long and hard about what changes we should make to our Person Overboard (POB) procedures.

These devices are the biggest advance in POB recovery in my lifetime, because (like the EPIRB did before them) they have essentially taken the search out of search and rescue: We will now know where the POB is with pinpoint accuracy as long as we remain within two to five miles of them.

And, better still, any other AIS-equipped vessel (most these days) who responds to our POB Mayday call, will have the same information.

This is a huge advance, but to get the increased safety benefits, just buying the beacons is not enough, we must also:

  1. Set up the beacons and receiving equipment on the boat to make sure that a POB alarm will be heard and that homing in on the signal will be easy for the busy and highly-stressed crew remaining aboard.
  2. Revise and practice the techniques required to return to the POB.
  3. Come up with, and practice, realistic methods to get the POB back on the boat—perhaps the biggest remaining problem to solve.

It’s tempting to start with number one, if for no other reason than talking about marine electronics is fun. But thinking about gear before technique is a huge mistake, and one that contributes to a lot of poor decisions, so I’m going to start with number two:

What actions are we going to take if the POB alarm goes off?

Moving On From The Quick Stop

First off, Phyllis and I are abandoning the Quick Stop manoeuvre. I explained our reservations in the last chapter, but here’s a quick recap:

  1. Often subjects the boat to huge loads, with the attendant risk of a gear failure, which will, in turn, reduce the chance of rescue to near-zero.
  2. Requires the crew remaining aboard, who may have been below and asleep when the POB occurred, to react instantly and start a violent and potentially dangerous manoeuvre with no time to think.

I looked at the first flaw in detail in the last chapter, now let’s think about the second.

In my years at sea, one of the important lessons I have learned over and over again is that when something goes wrong, instant fast action, while it may feel right at the time, is often the worst possible response.

Rather, we are generally more likely to solve the problem with deliberate steps—each only taken after thinking and carefully looking around for potential dangers. And so this became a vital criteria as Phyllis and I thought about what to replace the Quick Stop with.

Hybrid?

Next we considered keeping the Quick Stop for a POB when we are going to windward (or close), a situation where the manoeuvre is relatively easy and safe to perform.

But, after more thought, we decided that requiring the crew remaining on the boat to choose from one of two possible manoeuvres in the heat of the moment was a potentially dangerous complication—in almost all cases, the best safety procedures are the simplest safety procedures.

Going All In On The AIS Beacon

One more thing before we get into the details of our new POB recovery procedure:

I need to make crystal clear that everything that follows is based on the assumption that the POB beacon and its reception equipment works, and that the combination has a tracking range of 2-5 miles.

And this in turn means:

  • It’s the final nail in the coffin of Bluetooth/smartphone-based systems like the CrewWatcher.
  • We are putting 100% faith in our AIS beacons, so we better get religious about testing them (and the related reception equipment) regularly, making sure they are installed on our lifejackets, and wearing those jackets at all times.
Bottomline, by adopting an AIS beacon POB recovery strategy, or at least the one that follows, we may be reducing the chances of recovery if the beacon does not work, as measured against the Quick Stop strategy.

Phyllis and I are comfortable with this trade off, but each of us needs to make this decision for ourselves.

OK, with that out of the way, here’s the Morgan’s Cloud Version 1.00 AIS Beacon-based POB Strategy, based on the old reach and return method that was popular before the Quick Stop:

(I write Version 1.00 because we fully expect to improve upon it with your help in the comments and after practicing this summer.)

Immediate Actions

  • Maintain course.
  • Move slowly and carefully.
    • We have between 20 and 50 minutes of moving away before we will lose contact with the POB and even outside that we can return on the plotter track to get back in range.
  • Remain tethered at all times.
    • Two people in the water is not going to solve anything, and in the stress of the moment the remaining crew falling in is a real possibility.
  • If the POB is still in sight—the remaining crew was not below and asleep—throw the Person Overboard Module (MOM). (More on this gear in a future post.)
  • Make sure the plotter track feature is on.
  • Do not use POB Waypoint features on the plotter.
    • We gave this a lot of thought and came down in favour of not cluttering the plotter screen with two icons that could be confused in the heat of the moment; i.e. the actual POB position from the AIS beacon, and the point-of-loss waypoint.
    • And remember that we always have the plotter track function on, so if the AIS beacon did malfunction we could always return along our track.
    • And, assuming the beacon does work, as soon as we are within 2-5 miles of the POB their actual position will display on a properly configured plotter screen.
    • Another advantage is we have eliminated a task—just one less thing to do.
    • All that said, this is definitely a judgement call, and your judgement may differ.

Headsails

  • Furl the jib-topsail (yankee jib).
    • Boats with small headsails, and/or small engines, might consider keeping the jib-top or jib set, at least until getting close to the POB. On our 25-ton heavily-canvassed boat with a powerful engine, we will be more easily able to manoeuvre without it.
  • If set, snuff the spinnaker and lower to the deck.
  • Leave the pole in place.
    • We use a guy and lift system that holds the pole rigidly in place with no movement even after the sail is struck. We strongly recommend this.
  • Leave the staysail set, if in use.

Conditional Course Change

The goal here is to not get too far downwind of the POB. However, we don’t want to rush into a course change until we are sure everything is under control and clear.

If the wind is:

  • On the beam, or forward of the beam: hold course.
  • Aft of the beam (broad reaching or running): come to a beam reach (true wind; the apparent wind will be a little forward of the beam).
    • If in doubt, err on the side of closer to the wind.
    • Trim main to suit.

Start Engine and Get Ready To Tack

  • Keep in neutral.
  • Check for lines in the water.
  • Remove main preventer if in use.

Tack

  • Do not jibe, too much risk.
  • Use engine as required to bring the boat through the tack.
  • Tack staysail if set.

Return to POB

  • Use the autopilot.
  • Set a course back to the POB.
  • Set the autopilot to aggressive steering (low speed) mode.
    • On our autopilot this is accomplished with a quick double press of a single button and assures that the pilot will keep the boat as close as possible to course, even at slow speeds.
  • Make all errors to windward.
  • Adjust engine RPM to stay on course and make best practical speed to the POB.
  • Check engine gauges and water flow.

Course Check

After each of the following tasks, check that the course back to the POB is still correct.

DSC Distress Call

  • Press red distress button on VHF.
    • Note that for this to work the VHF radio should either have an internal GPS or be connected to one. All VHF radios should be set up in this way.
  • Dial in Distress Type: POB.

Verbal Distress Call

We are still thinking about whether or not a verbal distress call is even required, but given the complications of DSC we are going with this pending more research.

  • Make a single call:
    • “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday.”
    • “This is the sailing vessel Morgan’s Cloud.”
    • “Person overboard in position, L&L.”
      • Don’t waste time reading the POB position, our own off the GPS is close enough.
    • “Person overboard is transmitting a position on AIS.”
    • “Request immediate assistance.”
    • “Am now single-handed, no time for further communication.”
  • Repeat all of the above once.
    • “Commencing recovery attempt…OUT.”
      • Do not get drawn into a conversation with other stations, even official ones. In particular, do not respond to silly check lists like “is everyone wearing a lifejacket” and the like.

Reef or Drop Mainsail as Required

  • The goal is to be under-canvassed but still have enough sail up to steady the boat.
  • True wind:
    • Less than 10 knots: consider dropping the mainsail if sea state is flat.
      • Don’t forget to use the tackle to control the boom.
    • 10-15 knots: One reef.
    • 15-25 knots: Two reefs.
    • More than 25 knots: Three reefs.

Prepare Recovery Equipment

  • Deploy LifeSling.
  • Hold Person Overboard Module (MOM) (if not previously used) in reserve until close to POB.
  • Prepare heaving line.
  • Prepare lifting tackle.
  • Prepare other recovery equipment (details in a coming chapter).

Furl Staysail

  • If set, furl staysail when within 1/4 mile of POB.
    • May be unrolled, or partially unrolled, again during the recovery to heave the boat to. 

Control Mainsail

  • Immediately after furling staysail:
    • Centre the mainsheet traveler.
    • grind in mainsheet hard to centre and control the boom.

Recovery

We believe that now we have AIS POB beacons, the actual process of getting the person back on the boat is the largest remaining problem to solve, so I’m going to devote an entire chapter to it, but probably not until late summer, after we have had a chance to experiment.

Trade Off

As this point I need to point out that in selecting the above recovery strategy we have made a second big trade off:

With a single person left on the boat, I’m near certain that the time needed to return to the POB will be greater than 15 minutes, and may easily extend to 30 minutes.

This means that in cold water, while the POB will probably still survive if recovered and properly cared for, their ability to help themselves during the recovery will be severely compromised and may even be zero.

Each of us must weigh this potentially fatal drawback against the possibility of quicker recovery offered by the Quick Stop.

Phyllis and I feel that the dangers inherent in the Quick Stop, that I discussed in the last chapter, justify this choice, particularly in light of the size of our boat in relation to our strength, but we are by no means certain that this is the right choice. Each of you must make your own call.

A Reality Moment

It is our belief that even with a well thought out and practiced AIS-based recovery procedure, once offshore and particularly if the wind is over 20 knots, the chances of retrieving the POB alive are substantially less than 50% even for a strong crew—the two recent Clipper Ventures fatalities support this.

And for a newly single-handed crew, they are way less than that.

Bottomline, nothing has fundamentally changed. Prevention (staying on the boat) is still, by far, the most important thing.

Thanks

Several of you will note that some of your thoughts expressed in the comments to the last chapter became part of our procedure. Thank you.

Comments

If you have questions or suggestions for improvement to the above, please leave a comment. Also, if you have decided to stick with the Quick Stop, or use some other completely different recovery technique, we would be interested in your reasoning.

As usual, please save your thoughts on AIS beacon usage and reception gear set up, as well as the actual recovery, for the relevant future chapters.

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Ernest

Hi John,

as you said “write about […] developing the best ways to take advantage of these beacons”, before continuing to read I pondered “how would I try to tackle the situation?” when short handed, basically two people (now one aboard).

My thoughts went like this:
1 – if MOB is still in sight (basically when he/she went overboard with me on deck or at least near the companionway), throw the MOM. Would make no sense if you can’t see the victim anymore as he/she wouldn’t be able to see or reach the MOM anyway.
2 – check the POB AIS signal. If it works, good. If you don’t, press the MOB on the plotter so you have at least an approximate waypoint to start a search pattern later
3 – start the engine, NO GEAR
4 – get the speed out. This is the most volatile issue as it largely depends on your current sail wardrobe. Most of the time this would mean going more to windward, and/or to luff the sheets. Note that I started the engine before so I can decide how to proceed if the engine wouldn’t come up (which would make the situation a lot worse)
5 – clear up sails and lines, you get into this detail a lot, and make sure no lines are in the water. Depending on the boat and on the wind, have some residual sail up, preferably the main, close hauled
6 – engage the engine, tack, and track back to the AIS position, or the MOB waypoint if AIS didn’t signal. I didn’t think of using the AP but this is the right idea, giving you time to prepare gear to hoist the POB back on board
7 – VHF the mayday. Good point about telling everyone that you won’t communicate, and don’t do it after your distress call. If necessary the call might be repeated later while searching, or tracking back (only if you happen to have a mic at the helm).
8 – if no AIS, think through the necessary search pattern you will have to go through.

I believe this online book could be the most important your website has ever seen.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Well done. I agree with Ernest that this may prove to be AAC’s most important contribution to offshore sailing.
A few initial thoughts as I digest the whole package:
My MOM would be first to go. I would want a visual even if I was putting all (or most of) my faith on electronics. It is right next to my autopilot disengage control and the MOM release is just a quick yank on a handle.
Whether you do a quick stop (when going to windward-or close to it) may depend on boat size. I would not hesitate on Alchemy at 40 feet and with a quite robust rig on anything close hauled to close reach. It essentially going to a hove-to position: over-canvassed for hove-to for sure but not badly or damagingly so.
From close reach to broad reach, I think I would try to get the jib topsail furled quickly and then do a quick stop with the likely deployed staysail left out. This is because coming closer to the wind with reaching canvas up: while I believe the rig/sails would be fine, would be such an increase in noise, apparent wind and bouncing around as to be disruptively detrimental to single- handed POB retrieval.
The above maneuvers would end up with boat in a hove-to position near the POB, quite near if the boat were close hauled and the remaining crew were on deck when the POB occurred. Time now to take a deep breath and decide how to proceed.
The advantage to staying quite close to the POB, especially if the remaining crew is on deck and reacts quickly, appears to me to outweigh other considerations. One might even keep the POB in sight and the MOM definitely so. I find a visual immensely helpful for orienting, even if I am relying on electronics, as I expect to be hand-steering looking at the compass while putting my face in the chart plotter. Anyone who has tried to make a phone call, punching numbers and looking at the display while driving a car, knows how quickly one can drift off course without a clue.
Although I agree completely with your reasoning and admonition to move slowly, I believe moving slowly with consideration is most pertinent to emergencies where actions are not clear- cut and practiced, where decisions need to be made and plans thought through. The above two maneuvers, especially a Quick Stop from close-hauled sailing, can be almost instinctual: especially if practiced sufficiently as I believe to be wise. So, this is one area where, with the sufficient practice I mentioned, I believe that one can and should move quickly as I suspect that moving quickly increases the odds of POB recovery with little down side.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Jim Evans

And another Volvo Race crew was lost last week. Even on a boat with lots of crew and, presumably, all the gear, it still happens. Stay on board.

Robin Bower

The tragic loss of Volvo Ocean Race sailor John Fisher from SHC Scallywag in the Southern Ocean highlights the tremendous challenge of finding a POB in extreme conditions. With a crew of 8 well trained, professional sailors on board, they were unable to find John and were forced to make the heart wrenching decision to abandon the search. The wind and sea state threatened the safety of the boat and the rest of the crew and the only alternative for the skipper was to protect the boat and the remaining crew.
This event does reveal some of the limitations of the latest POB equipment. Establishing visual contact of the person in the water in storm conditions, especially if they are unconcious or incapacitated, may not be easy. Let’s hope that most of us will never be faced with this scenario.
Perhaps with the increasing proliferation of the use of drones and there video capabilities, this technology could be put to use in designing a drone that launches automatically and hovers over the POB personal locator position, facilitating retreival. Sounds like a good use of technology to me.
Robin.

Charles L Starke

Hi John
Drones have a battery life that is comparable to the turn around time for anything but a quick stop on a boat that is going to windward. I agree. It does not seem workable and too much of a distraction in an emergency.
Excellent article.
Best wishes,
Charles L Starke MD
s/v Dawnpiper

Stein Varjord

I think a drone that launches automatically would be quite useful for increasing homing range dramatically and probably several other advantages I haven’t thought of. However, a POB system must be designed around a heavy weather scenario with very strong wind. There’s no problem to make a system that will reliably launch a drone automatically or with the push of a button in any weather, but only very powerful drones can keep up with say a 50 knot wind. If it can, it won’t be able to do this for very many minutes. Also it will be very expensive.

In the future this will probably change, but I think its safe to assume that it’s not realistic now. When it gets possible, we can also use it for making a video that can stream directly on Facebook, so family and friends can participate and suitable companies can offer their products to the POB…..
😀

Michael Lambert

While thinking about big budget solutions, what about a masthead, or aloft somewhere, infrared/visual camera? They are useful for other things, so POB would just be an added benefit. I’d imagine the better angle and infrared would make finding them in a swell or the dark or both much easier.

David Oliver

This sounds like a workable, soundly considered solution to a grave problem. And yet. . . in depends on all the electronics and power supply to be functional. That makes me twitch a wee bit.

Dick Stevenson

Hi David and Robin,
Certain occurrences seem so remote as, to my way of thinking, need not be worried about or planned for. The power supply and the engine starting are in that realm. If they go down while in the midst of a POB, the sea gods are certainly against you and it is time to throw a tot of appeasing rum into the ocean for Neptune.
EPIRBS are electronics that, again to my mind, have proven themselves to be dependable, although I do have 2 on board. The new MOB1 has a track record, but it is still early days as to its prolonged effective life span and utility after being in and out of lockers and storage in the folds of damp inflatable lifevests. This is one reason I am still thinking (under review), that my MOM will be deployed ASAP.
And Robin, your point about visibility is exactly on point. The new POB equipment, if it works properly, (and we are still unsure of how big an “if” that is) should relieve the remaining crew from any necessity to maintain a visual of the POB: a huge increase in the likelihood of POB recovery. The remaining crew, often singlehanding, can concentrate on working the boat secure in the knowledge that the AIS will bring the boat back to the near vicinity of the POB.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Ps. I am not sure the Scallywag shows anything about limitations of the latest POB equipment. To me, quite the opposite, how hard it is to find someone without the latest PLBs. Am I correct that they have had 2 POB incidents and one recovery? And that they were not wearing personal locator beacons? Maybe not lifevests?

Ernest

Hi Dick,
the VOR race director stated JF “was wearing all his necessary security and safety equipment” (https://youtu.be/-5Fgzcze2q8?t=81) but this still doesn’t disclose what this actually was. From another report I got that he “momentarily unclipped and was washed overboard”. Another report writes about being thrown overboard during a chinese gybe.
“Momentarily unclipped” seems to be the key, at least in such harsh conditions.
The other POB situation was in January (summer) in more or less benign conditions and still took the crew 15 minutes to get back to the (unsecured) POB, see my video link above.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Ernest, Thanks for the information. From my (casual to be sure) watching of video, I do not see a lot of harness use. Dick

Ernest

Just read a news statement to the POB situation on team Scallywag dated March 28th (https://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/news/11370_Update-from-Team-Sun-Hung-Kai-Scallywag.html). This describes the situation and the circumstances.
Key points:
-) John Fisher was unclipped (“as a standard procedure”)
-) he was hit by the boom during a crash jibe and possibly unconscious
-) the DAN buoy was deployed immediately
-) and when they returned they didn’t even find the DAN buoy
My conclusions: there hasn’t been an AIS device. And if there had been one JF had most certainly already drowned, being unconscious in a severe sea state.
Tragic, RIP, but cruisers should make it a standard procedure to NEVER unclip when working on the boat.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
I very much agree that the blame game that usually comes is inappropriate, (which is the most polite word I can think of in that context). The reason there is none of that here, might be that people here are just competent. It seems as if in this context, the strength of critisizm is inversely proportional to the competence of the person speaking.

Max Shaw

Thanks for another excellent article John. The thoughtful comments from the readers just add to the value.

A quick note on the loss of John Fisher from SCALLYWAG. My understanding from the press (see this link https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/sports/volvo-ocean-race.html) is that the boat’s AIS itself was unserviceable so they were unable to locate John’s AIS. Such a sad story. We had a chance to meet him in Auckland when he showed us around the boat – surreal Facebook has pictures of him briefing my family. Looking forward to seeing what lessons learned are available from the official report when it is released.

While I would not categorize AIS as mission-essential, we sure missed it when our transceiver died between Mexico and French Polynesia despite the lack of traffic. We now had a dedicated AIS transceiver with its own display and we replaced the VHF/FM with a unit with AIS receive so we have some redundancy.

I just replaced my old eight year old Spinlock Deckvest as the plastic was coming apart with a two year old but unused one with a MOB1 AIS unit. Quite a few improvements over the years. A new lifejacket for my wife will be on this list when we get back up to the Marshall Islands.

Much thanks for all the good work,

Max
SV Fluenta

Benoît

Hi John,
Another high quality article and great to see how one should always rethink and adapt his procedures.
I buy nearly all of it, since our procedure is much less formal, detailed and efficient.
Sailing on a cat, I would fully take the main down as we don’t really need it for the balance. That will avoid an unintentionnal gybe during the recovery process even though i imagine that “to strike the mainsail’ means to tighten it parallel to the hull (can you confirm ?).
I would also keep the ManOverBoard wording. Although I fully understand the PersonOverBoard way to put it, and have pleasure reading, if I ever get someone to answer my distress call, I can be quite sure that he knows what is a MOB, less certainty on POB (re the english skills). Ok Overboard should suffice but I would hate to waste time on VHF because of it.
This is minor consideration but details might make a difference.
Thanks for the job done as we should be practicing this summer.

Rob Gill

Hi Benoit,
I agree that MOB is better wording, albeit of lesser equality. In NZ “POB” is a common acronym for “persons on board” and is widely used in Trip Reporting with coastguard and NZ Maritime Radio, ie. “we have 3 POB” or “persons on board”. “Persons overboard” and “Persons on-board” sound quite similar. “Man Overboard” I agree is more distinct.
Similarly, I prefer “Roger” (even though it is technically archaic) to “Affirmative” as affirmative can be easily confused with “Negative” if someone is too quick to speak into their VHF mike. And for some reason “Romeo” is not widely used!
Rob

michael

consider Crew Overboard (COB)?

Rob Gill

Sorry, brain fade – I should have written “Charlie” (for affirmative)

Rob Gill

Hi John, another excellent chapter.
May I question how valid it is for us to consider point (2) above before first committing to a rescue technique in your point (3) above – or at least carefully considering the options that best suit our boat and level of crew competence? For example, for Morgan’s Cloud making the decision to arrive back at the MOB with sails up commits your remaining crew (probably Phyllis) to heave-to whilst a recovery is attempted, is that correct?
Leaving most boats to sail themselves in any other mode whilst recovering a MOB in bad weather would be highly questionable – doubly so in that the MOB situation may have occurred with a violent wind change many forces higher than that which the sails are set for. Considering that possibility, is the remaining crew able to hand two or three reefs solo in a short time (say less than 10 minutes) before returning under sail / motor sail? Will the remaining panicked crew member(s) have the seamanship skills to reach back in strong winds (which in our case would be about 4-8 knots even with three deep reefs)? Can they deploy the life sling whilst slowing the boat enough to not dangerously drag the MOB through the water (less than 2 knots)? Do they have the perception of distance on a dark night to estimate distance off the MOB in large waves with a strobe light, alternately disappearing behind rolling waves, and adjust course under sail? Having reached the MOB, are they then able to tack and settle the yacht to heave-to quickly and reliably, all this assuming the MOB is able to hold on to the rescue sling. Meanwhile, they (the crew) remain tethered at all times?
Answering these questions truthfully for us means Jenny can’t safely contemplate a recovery with any sail up, so as I (prematurely) commented in the last chapter, our POB process is under engine only. This has a secondary advantage of keeping in quite close proximity of the POB, and a tertiary advantage that we practice this series of steps every time we drop our sails. But it has a major downside. It commits us to a rescue with no steadying sail with attendant risk of crushing or drowning from heavy rolling alongside. This means our pick up will be best achieved up wind and into the waves, slowly under engine. We have developed a technique for bringing the POB aboard that best suits this part (3) approach on our yacht.
Best regards, Rob

Rob Gill

Thanks John, that makes obvious sense for Morgan’s Cloud.
Bonnie Lass will heave-to, but it takes time to balance her sails and settle to a gentle fore-reach – not something WE could easily achieve in a panic situation at night. We had several instances of our auto-pilot packing in mid-passage at night and usually on Jenny’s watch!! Being relatively inexperienced as a sailor, Jenny found herself disorientated and frozen by the experience as we veered off course and ended up back-winded, and so as you have said, the more we can simplify our rescue, the higher the chance of success. Maybe with more practise in all conditions, heaving-to during the day and at night, we could modify our process later to leave some sail up.
This article and others in this series are very helpful in challenging and revising our thinking.
Rob

Sterling c Williamson

Hi John,
Great chapter. Do you have any points on testing your AIS POB beacon without alarming the coast guard?
Thanks

Stein Varjord

Hi John.
Excellent topic and thoughts.
I have experimented quite a bit with POB on several boats and still have to admit that I’m far from certain what is the best procedure. I think your text here is a very good place to start developing what fits each boat and crew.

Your description is quite detailed. All details are important, but it’s not easy to have a clear image in mind that can get into our “muscle memory”. According to some specialists, that kind of “memory” needs more than 800 repetitions in a fairly short time frame to be established, and then regular practice to be kept active. So, to make us do a POB maneuver well we either need to practice it way more than I’m going to…. or use an intuitive combination of maneuvers that we use in every day boat handling. A quote from your comment: “don’t ask the remaining crew to do anything that they don’t do every day while sailing.” In that context, all aboard need to have a full set of maneuvers they feel fully confident with. The skilled captain Who won’t let anybody else to struggle with difficult or uncomfortable or potentially risky tasks, thus is a danger to general safety.

The physical maneuvers may be well drilled and safe, but to make the sequence of many such maneuvers intuitive, it needs to be extremely simple to remember and understand. If I were to make such a sequence based on what you have presented here, a draft might look something like this:

1. Drop MOM, if POB is close.
2. Stay safe. Depower. Slow down. Get control.
3. Luff to a beam reach or higher. Start the engine.
4. Tack, and move towards the POB. Use the autopilot.
5. Check the boat and engine. Make the distress call.
6. In proximity, slow down more, prepare recovery.

I’m certain that this list can be refined a lot. Maybe even this is a too wordy list. I also think that the list should be adapted to boat and crew, depending on how both their properties are. Either way, it’s the type of list that should maybe be permanently visible near the steering position, so we read it every day and can refer to it when it happens. The natural reaction when a POB happens is panick and impulsiveness which normally makes things worse.

Such a list would make it easier to refer to the procedure that has been practiced and repeated. It’s not at all a complete description of what to do. Just a way to remember the main steps towards a recovery. Just as important, it’s a way to feel more ascertained that one is doing it right. A check list. A way to keep calm enough to stay operative and able to adapt. A way to always be aware of what is the goal right now rather than becoming a scatter minded impulsive walking catastrophe named Murphy, which is THE natural reaction.

I hope this chapter and discussion can develop the new standard for best practice with POB, as happened in the case of POB prevention. This site has proven its ability to dig deep in a problem, be creative with solving it and then test and improve the ideas immediately by playing tennis with the massive experience on both sides of the table. Also, since the findings here get implemented by a lot of authoritative people, it has a better ability to influence the standards of the whole sailing world than one might think. Pretty cool!

Stein Varjord

I totally agree that every detail needs to be figured out before the situation is reality, to the level that the list will change with every boat and perhaps even with crew situations.

Perhaps the right solution for a list is to have the complete list at the helm, but that it’s visually presented so the main points stand out well and the details are there in small print for reference, if the brain goes into panick mode. That way one would have a quick reference and a complete guide at the same time. Since it will be read several times on every watch, it will soon get properly memorized. That should make a difference…

Adam Kerner

Excellent article on practical application of the AIS personal beacons. My wife and I do have our pfd’s so equipped. One additional item which we’ve started to use on passages is our dive VHF radio. It’s basically a small channel 16 VHF, sealed in a pressure proof plastic housing. Pocket size (at least for our bcd or foulie pockets). We hand it off to the on-watch person when changing watches. Our thinking is that even w/ the AIS beacons, it would sure be nice to have voice coms w/ the POB as the boat gets closer. Obviously would not work w/ an unconscious POB.

Unfortunately the manufacturer, Nautilus, has discontinued the original model, as I’ve heard that authorities were not happy issuing so many MMSI #’s to individual divers worldwide. So Nautilus now just makes the unit as an AIS beacon for divers, much like the ones we carry, but, of course, cannot turn on automatically when a pfd is inflated. No longer a 2-way VHF radio. Likely could find the original Nautilus VHF radios on Amazon or eBay for a while yet. Small and compact, with the antenna folded down into the case until lid is snapped open. Cheers from Tasmania.

JCFlander

Hi John – and thank you for a highly valuable article.

And, sorry to stir the pot, but it’s difficult to resist the urge to suggest some whistles and bells. These might work out as some variation, and/or additional layers of defence.

1. How about towing a warpline or loop when conditions get challenging?
This might serve as an additional layer of defence after lifelines, since there is a chance that MOB can grab it before it runs past. If succesful, it will simplify MOB effort substantially because if it’s a catch helmsman just needs to stop the boat by turning it heave-to, or sort-of, and then just pulling the rope to get MOB to swimming ladder – assisted by a winch if necessary. Seems to be much easier than furling the whole sail set, maneuvering, searching and retrieving.
And, yes, it’s not an option to hang on the line indefinitely when boat goes 7 knots, but you have the initial option to let the line slip on hand, and then let loose altogether when it just doesn’t work anymore. But it’s way better than nothing. There’s at least one singlehander that was saved by a warpline. I would be surprised if he was the only one.

2. How about rope gun/line thrower gun? (ResqMax or similar)
Shoots a floating rescue line over 100 metres/yards. That distance is done on 30 seconds at 7 KN. If this results a succesful catch, we might be again saved from all the further mayhem. if stowed readily accessible on cockpit or stern rail, it might be even launched on time.

And if it’s not a catch, but drift…

3. How about an agreed and rehearsed signaling scheme that tells MOB what’s going on and what to expect, and when?
Example:
— “Man overboard noticed”: one long sound from fog horn. This also wakes up the off watch (if any).
— . “MOB buoy thrown”: one long, one short sound. Continue with one long every minute. MOB then better knows how far to expect to swim to get to the buoy, and where to search.
— — “Boat turned around, commencing to search area”: two long sounds. Continue once in a minute.
— — — “On search area, starting the search and lookout, no contact yet”: three long sounds, once per minute. This tells MOB to start to prepare making himself visible by all means at hand, and act when boat is sufficiently close.
— — — — “Contact made, proceeding to MOB direction”: Four long sounds, 1 per min or more. Contact is either AIS signal or visual sighting.
,,,,, “wtf/hurry up”: Five short sounds. This is for final recovery phase, and asks MOB to act to grab a nearby line, if still waiting/passive.

I think this might relieve MOB anxiousness substantially. I believe it will be rather stressful situation to wait 20-60 minutes wondering whether to see the boat ever again… Did the crew notice? Is the ais working? When they turn back? When do I wave? Do they see me? … Is it much longer? Are we there yet?…
This scheme should relieve MOB to concentrate on what’s most important: after stabilizing the situation, swim to MOB buoy because it improves chances to be found and horseshoe/ring float (+kit) is there, then, save strength and body temp and wait for the boat to start search pattern, then make yourself seen when search is on.

4. Assembling a heftier survival kit to MOB buoy?
That is, buoy set could consist more survival aids than just a pole and flag and horseshoe. There could be a flash beacon, another AIS beacon (with preferably higher antenna than POB-AIS), and dye cartridges for day visibility. Also perhaps a floating case that could contain eg. flashlight, fog horn, red rockets, hand flares, smoke cartridges, mirror, VHF handset, chemical warmer pads, EPIRB, scuba mask and snorkel (for more efficient swimming on recovery phase) , brandy for moral boost… you name it.

5. Full-christmas-tree MOB kit on vest?
Namely, high-intensity floating strobe light, Spinlock glowlight led pads, flashlight, dye cartridge, hand flares (they don’t extinguish if got underwater and blaze through fog and rain like nothing else) , chemical warmer pads, small swimming goggles, etc.

6. How about waterproof VHF handset on vest?
This is especially for situations when there’s no POB AIS beacon available, and as backup in case it doesn’t work in anger. Handset provides instant two-way communications and also facilitates the option to get MOB bearing by radio direction finding. This can be done with another VHF handset that has a directional antenna hooked to it’s antenna connector, instead of the regular stub vertical antenna.
To get a bearing, helm asks MOB to press tangent for eg. 10-20 seconds depending on sea state, then turns his handset w. DF antenna until finds where the MOB VHF signal is strongest, and steers to that direction.
And, also, if boat VHF is kept on ch16 with suitable squelch and volume settings, yelling to handset might be enough to raise the other hand(s) , right from ditch…

And, yes, this is more like thinking aloud than shelling out polished cannonballs… Hope this turns out more as food-for-thought than distraction :d Cheers.

Rob Gill

Hi John,
We were out over the Easter weekend and I had a look at our MOB process. I forgot that our very first step is to shout “Man Overboard” as loud as possible (assuming someone is present and the incident is seen) continually as they are releasing the Dan Buoy. This both alerts any off-watch crew, but most importantly alerts the MOB they have been spotted, to expect and get to the dan buoy and that the rescue process is underway.
I believe it is so important for the MOB to have faith that the rescue is happening, and hearing that “Man Overboard!” shout will be of great comfort.
I once sailed with a second officer, who as a young trainee was involved in a multi-vessel search and rescue mission for a MOB, from another ship. It was in the Caribbean in the mid 1970’s and from what I remember of the account, the MOB was successfully rescued more than 24 hours after the accident occurred. My colleague was the young man who spotted the victim in the water, not wearing any life preserving equipment. That taught me that the will to survive by the MOB is as important as the determination and skill of the rescuers. Our process sheet used for crew briefing tells that their job is to get to the Dan Buoy, clip in, to ensure the AIS beacon on the Dan Buoy is deployed and assume the HELP position to preserve warmth – we will be back!
Rob

Florian

Hi,

based on the gravity of loosing a person over board and the amount of time it takes to efficiently recover in combination with inexperienced crew or many other issues, I am wondering if it would be justifiable to deploy the life raft right away?

Probably a very controversial thought, but I believe my co sailors could be able to remember that and it is quite easy on our boat. Now how big are the chances that you will experience a real abandon ship situation on that trip after recovery of the MOB, probably better with all the crew back on board would be my guess.

Best Florian

Marc Dacey

Could this be considered the intermediate step? Deployed quickly, one of these would supply added buoyancy and they have the small drogue that would presumably send them in the general direction of the POB. Of course, if said person is unconscious or has a broken limb and can’t swim, it’s only a glorified marker for a few minutes of the general vicinity of “last seen”. https://www.plastimo.com/en/safety/ior-dan-buoys/perche-ior-gonflable-9387.html

Martin Hassellöv

Hi John,
As always very inspiring thoughts and discussions, and this time on the unthinkable situation… I have a couple of thoughts I wonder if you like to comment on:
Your strategy is clearly based on a two person crew, with the MOB situation leaving the remaining crewmember single handed for all the needed tasks. It might be interesting also to have a thought of strategy if there was two persons left on board; what might be wise to change. For example, the key rule of assigning one person to point and watch and never leave eye sight of the MOB, that is of course not possible for a single handed crew, but with the new technology (AIS-PLB), I still have that procedure in my drill to assign someone to point and watch. Possibly once AIS-PLB is noted to function and boat is slowed down and under control and other tasks to safely reduce sail area, tack etc, it may be better use of the point-n-watch person to assist in boat handling? Any thoughts on that?
Another important aspect to communicate and drill for crew more than 2, I think, is to take charge of the situation. It may well be the skipper that goes overboard, and then within a split second one of the remaining crew need to take charge of the situation, and act as skipper, very clearly delegate tasks to the remaining crew.
This is something that can be decided beforehand; like if the skipper is MOB then NN takes responsibility for MOB recovery… In my experience when practicing MOB drills it helps if the helmsman is also skippering (delegating tasks to remaining crew). Any thoughts on that?
Looking forward to next chapter on recovery methods. On Hrimfare I use rescue sling to catch and teather a MOB (that is consious), and we have a very nice scramble net from Markusnet.com, where an unconcious MOB can be pulled in an rolled up against the freeboard (not so comfortable but it works without too much forced).

PS. Here is a very illustrative video of the recovery of the Andrew Taylor that went overboard from the Clipper race in 2013/14:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6WuXA9fbmo
and his description of the situation:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/sailing/clipper-race/11577493/My-100-minutes-lost-in-the-most-inhospitable-seas-on-earth.html

Cheers
Martin
S/Y Hrimfare

Martin Hassellöv

Hi,
True, it all comes down to boat speed and complexity at the time and sea state I guess, that dictates the time to sort the boat out and visibility as well. I have been doing quite alot of fishing and hunting for sea ducks and so on and it is amazing how easy it is to loose track of the visibility of a small bobbing object in only medium rough sea state if one dont have a spotter only pointing and looking. But AIS is of course a game changer.
Another interesting observation one can do from that video and also this one from another Clipper MOB event:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Xmx-yS8ESI
Is how difficult it is for the casualty to make any sort of swimming with a big bladder inflatable. The only way to make any kind of progress is backwards I guess. On Hrimfare I have a full set of Crewsaver Ergofit 290N, with AIS PLB, and even though they have two bladders to keep a heavy person with drysuit and gear upright in rough conditions, it is still comfy to wear on deck, BUT, when inflated you are like a Michelin-man and cannot do any swimming, and I think need to deflate the bladder to some extent to be able to board a life raft for example. Some people I know are in favour of the hybrid fixed floatation and manual bladder that the Swedish lifeboat crew wears:
http://www.baltic.se/en/produkter/hybrid/hybrid-220/
But I have am running the boat under small commercial vessel code and am restricted on manual inflation, but it would be interesting to hear your opinions.

They guys in the link above, also had a hard time winching the swimmer and MOB back onboard here, emphasizing the recovery drill in real conditions…
Additionally, if a POB has only been in the water for 10-20 minutes, in temperate (cold) water, even if the person is conscious it is still not certain that he/she can even grab onto a life sling with numb hands and hypothermia starting to set in, so a recovery with a boat hook and scramble net is what I am thinking of. But I guess that will be discussed in depth in coming chapter so I am waiting with interest for that.
Cheers
Martin

JCFlander

I think Florian’s idea about liferaft is excellent!
It makes absolutely huge difference on ‘rescue time available’ on colder waters.
Maybe the best way to do that is to attach an ‘ejection seat sea rescue’ type pilot’s mini-inflatable-rubber-raft to MOB buoy. It should be very compact when packed, and it’s likely they are avaliable second-hand in good condition.
Also, if kit contains a hand-operated watermaker and EPIRB, rescue even by another vessel is much more likely, no matter what’s the situation of the boat or AIS devices. The only question is heavier sea states. Even real liferafts have capsize risk there , and mini dinghy could be untenable.
But, still, it’s easy to deploy, small, and better than nothing.

Stein Varjord

I also see some very interesting sides to the thought, when combined with JCs comment. I agree that the actual life raft might not be the thing to deploy. It’s a big heavy item made for a different purpose that takes too much time to drop and that might be useful later in the process.

The MOM kit is normally at least a Danbuoy, a light, a horseshoe buoy and a small drogue. I’d think it should also contain an AIS beacon, in case the personal beacon doesn’t work. If the kit also included a small life raft that could be deployed by the POB, it would not make the kit drift faster. Perhaps the horseshoe buoy could even be skipped, to make the kit more compact and drift even slower.

If the POB can get mostly out of the water, survival time can be extended massively in cold waters. I think such a raft would have to be made for that task. It can be relatively small and simple, thus cheap. It’s quite hard to climb up in an inflated raft, so I’d think it’s better if the POB can unfold it and in some way be on top of it or wear it before releasing the air. The air should probably have two stages. One for stabilizing and the second would lift the POB out of the water and insulate. (A one layer raft bottom is very cold and water collects where the person is.) There could also be a strongly colored canopy to protect against wind and spray and making it way easier to find the POB. This canopy could be supported by air tubes, perhaps inflatable by mouth.

This system would require the POB to do several tasks, but if he/she is able to swim to the MOM kit, the other tasks are no harder. It should be possible to make a kit that doesn’t drift much so the POB can get to it. For that reason, I don’t like the inflatable danbuoys. They have way more windage.

As I’m suggesting new types of equipment: JC mentions ejection seat. Since we’re in a tech world, and we do rely on an AIS beacon, and perhaps other tech in the POB situation. Maybe deploying the MOM kit could be automatic? If it has an ejector that is released by the POB alarm, and the POB alarm is released by the AIS beacon, or the W&P Crewsaver, which might be faster? That would mean the MOM kit will “always” be deployed fast enough to be reachable by the POB. The tech isn’t hard to make, and the items necessary are already in use.

I assume there are some troubles with these ideas, in addition to getting someone to make them, but that will no doubt be figured out. A specialized micro raft included in the MOM kit and an auto-ejecting MOM kit seem to give dramatic improvements in survival possibilities, so it should be worth some effort.

Chuck B

Do folks here typically have their chartplotter and AIS on 100% of the time? If not, turning those devices on needs to be part of the documented recovery procedure.

Klaus Bonde

Hello John

Excellent topic and so many good thoughts and ideas.
I strongly believe that there is inspiration to get from other branches. The aviation business has for decades improved safety during constantly learning from mistakes , training , SOP ( Standard Operation Procedures). Simplicity, structure and discipline is fundamental to the success.
Stein Varjord and you John mentioned the use of a checklist and I believe that would be an excellent reference for the crew.
Let me first give a little backgrund information from the world of aviation and then try to put it in a sailing context.

The generel experience from training pilots in simulators is that the actions performed within the first 10-60 seconds often is crucial to the outcome of the situation.
Our initial golden rules dictate:
Fly (the airplane)
Navigate ( Make sure you dont fly into terrain or other obstacle)
Communicate ( let somebody know)
Deal with what is going to kill you first ( For complex and dilemma based situations)

This is a very simple rule but very crucial. No reason to start talking or dealing with your failure if you in the progress loose control of aircraft. It is also a very simple structure.
We have very extensive checklist, and on top of that a range of situations initiated with a few memory items, because you wont always have time to consult checklist for the initial critical actions. We have extensive training in simulators at least 2 times a year and have regularly other activities that keeps you on your toes. But the checklist is always there for reference if you in the heat of the situation just can’t remember

In the world of sailing there will be crew with al sorts of background, resources and training. It would be safe to assume that POB would be an extremely stressed situation where panic and irrational actions could come in play, and also here could the first few seconds and actions be crucial to the safety af ship and crew
I strongly believe in checklists because I have experienced that they make a huge
difference. They provide a structure and reference when things heat up. If you dont regularly do training in life threatening situations, in a stress full realistic environment, you may very well over estimate your own abilities and find yourselv partly paralyzed.

I visualize a plastic coated checklist placed by the helm.
For this subject the content could be the following headlines in bold and large letters ( I can never find my glases ) and indented additional information, explanatory to different situations.

M-ark the position.( If no AIS alarm hit MOB button or deploy some kind of visible object )
S-tart engine, Idle. ( Is you maneuvering reserve, most modern engines starts within seconds)
R-educe sail ( Sub items could include securing boom, check lines in water…..)
R-eturn on track ( Sub items VHF…. bla bla bla)

And the memory technic could be:
M-y
S-afe
R-escue
R-ime
( Sorry could not make bold letters but I am sure you get the idea )

Just an example – and expect that the enormous combined brain trust in this blog can come up with better and more creative lists.
My point is it must be simple and provide a structure for an extremely stressed situation. Every item on the list should be carefully considered through a risk/ threat assessment including the safety of ship and other crew.
And this ready available checklist could be the object of timely rehearsals when on a long duty, or when new crew join the ship.

Cheers

Klaus Bonde
Denmark

Dick Stevenson

Hi Klaus sand John,
We sail almost solely as a couple, so we rarely have need of educating new crew. But we have a variation of your suggestions. Instead of a check list we have a “procedures outline”, which, in fact, has very list-like properties. It is basically a crib sheet for procedures/emergencies such as: flooding, fire, POB, abandoning ship, used of pyrotechnics etc. They also function as guides for our occasional practice drills.
These crib sheets are laminated and kept in our reading room (aka head) which is right next to the companionway, with the idea that they will be looked at every now and again to refresh memory as to actions to be taken in an emergency and are also handy to reference if the need arises in an actual emergency.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Ernest

I especially love the idea of the “reading room”. Besides the fact that it sounds funny somehow it makes sure that everyone who is on board for more than an hour will most certainly read it, and also take the time to read it.

Charles L Starke

Dear Dick
I also like the idea of a reading room with crib sheets for each emergency. John: maybe we need a post with the crib sheets? Or maybe we could get a special deal with laminated ones to hang on a hook?
Best wishes,
Charles
Charles L Starke MD
s/v Dawnpiper

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I agree that each vessel should customize their “procedures” crib sheet (or list) to their particular vessel. There might be some value in using another boat’s lists/crib sheet as a template.

My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

That’s a great document, Dick, and although I have something similar already, I like the way yours is laid out. The only changes I would make is to put the outline diagrams seen on Page 7 on Page 1, also, and to include a top view for optimum orientation. The person reading in may not be quite as familiar as you are with the boat’s internals if part of the emergency is that the skippers are out of action. Might move the location of the bag of bungs higher up, too!