The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Learning From A COB Tragedy

I have just finished reading the above report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada about the death of a crew member on the St John’s, Newfoundland pilot boat who fell overboard just two miles outside the harbour during a pilot transfer.

At first glance we yachties might think that the lessons learned from this tragedy don’t apply to us because the vessel and tasks are so different.

That would be a mistake. I learned a bunch, but the big takeaways for me were:

  • Having to be un-clipped from a jackstay, even for a moment, because of its configuration, is potentially fatal.
  • Inflatable PFD’s can fail even in a commercial environment.
  • Getting tired can make us much more vulnerable to an accident.
  • It is very difficult for a single crew member left on the boat to recover someone in the water.
  • POB recovery crew training in smooth water and daylight does not prepare us for an event offshore in the dark.
    • Probably nothing does. The key is to stay on the boat.
  • Motor boats have large blind spots from the steering position that makes recovery even more difficult.

The report is well worth your time to read.

Thanks to my friend Wilson for the heads up.

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Your chapters on MOB and Jacklines are comprehensive. All of the contributing factors to this occurrence have been addressed in AAC research. If we follow your designs there is low risk of MOB. Thanks for making sailing safer and therefor more fun.

Mathieu Fortin

He was in 14 degrees water from 23:55 to 00:17. Hardly a worst case scenario, and yet…

We do fantastic things but still are so fragile. Take care everyone, stay in the boat.

Terence Thatcher

A sobering and sad report. The discussion of the auto inflation failure (which also meant that the manual pull tab would also have failed) is particularly concerning. A timely reminder, as well, to detach one’s tether only once down below. The crew had to detach in order to re-enter the pilot house, evidently. A final somewhat relevant Nova Scotia comment: If any in the AAC group have not read GREY SEA UNDER by Mowat, I recommend it highly. It reveals the grit of seafarers from the Atlantic provinces.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Terence,
Agree completely about Farley Mowat’s Grey Seas Under. One of my favorite all time reads. Quite amazing true descriptions of what the crew of salvage vessels out of Halifax endured to rescue crew ships in distress during and around WWII.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy