The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Crew Overboard Lessons Learned

Here’s an interesting article about a triple crew overboard emergency from the point of view of the crew of the rescuing boat.

I learned from all the lessons shared, but the two that really jumped out at me were:

  • If we have a COB, be very careful and methodical while responding, lest we go overboard ourselves. In this case three people ended up in the water, but two of them fell in when trying to recover the first COB.
  • On a sailboat, don’t mess with those block and tackles that are often sold with a LifeSling, use a halyard.
    • Phyllis and I carried one of these tackles for years, but some years ago decided that it was a distraction and not useful.
    • I’m not even sure these tackles are useful on a motorboat. After all, what are you going to hook it to? And what about a winch? Three-to-one is not going to cut it. Better a hoist.

Anyway, thankfully it ended well.

Thanks to my friend Wilson for the heads-up.

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Edward Scharf

As a pass USCG BM3, participant at many safety at sea semanars and crew on a J105 I have a few comment’s. First it was a great article about what worked and didn’t work so well. And from both prospectives. We don’t get enough of them. I highly agree with using a halyard if they can’t climb a ladder. One thing nice about the J105 is it is close to the water compared to other 34 or larger boats. And even they had problems with reaching people. I highly recommend having a throw bag on the boat. When I was a raft guide I could hit a person at 50′ and any one can throw one. Even if you miss you can quickly coil the line and throw a second time. And the bag and line floats. Not as well as a life sling but someone could see it on the water. Most dock lines as recommended in the article don’t.

Drew Frye

There were no significant waves. I wonder–and feel free to throw stones–if this would not have been trivially easy if they had a stern ladder, with 2 rungs in the water, as required by ABYC.

By the time the later responders got there the swimmers were hypothermic, and I am sure the task was difficult, but if the COB had been brought to the ladder quickly, within a few minutes of falling in, it would likely have been nothing more than a quick climb, perhaps lightly assisted with a rope or crew. It must be a solid ladder, with handholds up to the deck, good treads, and not unduly flexible. Not a portable or rope ladder.

I am NOT sayin’ that a ladder will always work or that it is a substitute for other means of recovery, but NOT having a ladder because it doesn’t look right on the transom is lame and negligent … IMO. Very often it will help and there is no excuse not to have one.

Drew Frye

Something missing from the takeaway list is that racing with a chute in broach conditions, in cold water, is inherent, intentional risk seeking behavior. Anything that happens is on you.

As for the ladders, ISO and ABYC says all new builds need them, so I don’t think impracticality is a valid explanation. Weld something up.

Drew Frye

I’m pretty absolute on ladders, and so are ISO and ABYC. I feel it is a safety basic and I am not alone. I’m sure I’ve ever seen a boat that could not fit one, either on the transom or beam. People just don’t like how they look, which is no reason at all.

We all have a few pet topics.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
For just the reasons cited, I purchased my main halyard and spare headsail halyard able to reach the water level plus a couple of feet. Each can reach a winch and we have an EWincher. Our lifelines are attached with lashings rather than turnbuckles and ā€œDā€ shackles. This allows the lashings to be quickly cut and the lifelines dropped so the COB only needs to be raised to deck level (and anything being dragged past lifelines gets hung up while coming up the hull is smooth).
And agree completely about the danger to crew in an emergency: any emergency. Counter-intuitively, I believe the head-set for the swiftest response is to move slowly. That and having practiced ahead of time so there is a bit of muscle and head memory.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Garryck Osborne

I’m a little surprised that nobody has mentioned the extremely risky method by which the hypothermic woman was recovered from the water.

Yes, I fully understand that they needed to act quickly, using only whatever was to hand. However, the fact remains that the simple act of hoisting her out of the water by her life jacket could have easily killed her. Given the waters they were sailing in, the captain and crew should have been aware of this danger, although it is apparent by how ill-prepared they were, they were not aware.

It is (or at least should be) well known that hypothermic people can die of cardiovascular collapse, if not lifted from the water in a horizontal position. (Full details here)

For this reason, I dislike using a harness or lifesling for recovering a POB. There are far better recovery devices available, that keep the POB horizontal whilst out of the water, and as a bonus, they are generally easier for a shorthanded crew to use.

For instance, there is the Sea Scoopa, the Kim Pick Up Sail, the CQC Fibrelight Recovery Cradle,or (my personal preference) the SOS Recovery Ladder, which combines a horizontal lift system with a semi-rigid rescue ladder.

Alastair Currie

Great rescues and lessons. For the casualty that could not help themselves, once again for me, the issue is getting hold of the person. Getting them out the water with a halyard or tackly is the easy part, securing the casualty to the lifting device is the hard part.
All my lifejackets are fitted with MOB Lifesavers, (Google Duncan Wells MOB Lifesaver) strong, thin, long, floating line with an open eye at the end, fitted to the lifejacket lifting strop and flaked under the stole (other LJ storage options are available). They deploy when the lifejacket inflates, and are easily hooked with a boat hook to be attached to the lifting device.
I have made this observation on the MOB Lifesaver before and it was criticised. It works, it is an aid to securing a person quickly and it is strong enough to lift them out.
Glad to see drifting down on leeward was mentioned, this has been a staple for a long time in a seaway, yet since the invention of the sugar scoop stern, it has fallen by the way side. A stern recovery has significant risk of skull damage to the casualty in a big seaway.
A tip if sailing upwind and you have a person overboard. A quick tack, don’t touch the jib, dump the main, heave too, engage engine, then using bursts of reverse and maybe forward, to keep the boat directly upwind, will allow for a fast drift down onto the casualty, and recovery under the boom, if set up for that. Switch off engine for final drift down and recovery.

Alastair Currie

John I contacted the product developer and asked but he is not aware of any actual POBs at sea.

Alastair Currie

The trial with a mannequin or similar dead weight to see how it performs at sea, in real conditions, is something I am planning, but time et cetera is something I don’t have a lot of currently, but it is on the cards an hopefully this season. Your concern is shared, as there is a lot of scope for a trailing, floating line, not to deploy perfectly. The risk of fouling around LJ, POB is also very significant, in my view, maybe making recovery impossible e.g. strangulation risk. If I do a practical test, I’ll let you know.