The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:

person overboard

  • A Nasty Danger of Twin Rudders

    As most of our regular readers know, we at AAC are not fans of twin rudders for a whole bunch of reasons, including complexity, vulnerability to damage and because they can’t be used in conjunction with prop wash to manoeuvre a boat, thereby making a bow thruster pretty much required for safe docking.

    But now another dangerous down side of twin rudders has been highlighted by a tragic fatality when a crew member fell overboard and was most likely immediately hit by one of the twin rudders, I’m guessing the windward one, which on the boat in question would have been positioned to be the scythe of the grim reaper when the boat was well heeled.

    And this may not be the first time a twin rudder has killed. A few years ago I was talking to a very experienced sailing pro who had skippered one of the Clipper boats in the round-the-world race, and he was convinced that one of the fatalities during another running of that race was the result of a rudder strike during the recovery attempt after a crew member fell overboard.

    Do we know for sure that twin rudders were the implement of death in these cases? No. But one look at the boats in question makes it seem possible, or even likely.

    So putting aside my opinion against twin-rudder boats, what’s the takeaway?

    I think if we have a twin-rudder boat:

    • We need to be doubly sure we have a good crew overboard (COB) prevention system.
    • Said system should use inboard jacklines and shorter tethers to make as sure as possible that a crew can’t be dragged, since that might result in being repeatedly smashed into the windward rudder.
    • The boats COB recovery procedures should take into account the dangers of a rudder strike.
      • I’m thinking that the plan should be to stop the boat well clear of the COB and then use a heaving line to make the connection and haul them in to a safe position.
      • The other, and perhaps even better alternative is the LifeSling pickup.
      • On no account should we try to come alongside the person in the water as often advocated for.
    • Some of the above probably applies to boats like those from Boréal that have twin dagger boards aft, although the good thing about that configuration is that it’s typically only the leeward board that’s down when heeled sailing to windward, and the boards could be retracted before a COB recovery attempt.

    And if we are considering buying a twin-rudder boat, this is another important issue to think about before pulling the trigger.

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  • 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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  • His and Hers Autopilot Controls

    Phyllis and I have done a couple of crew overboard recovery drills lately (with more planned) and one of the many things we learned was that a wrist remote autopilot control is extremely useful in a COB emergency.

    But what happens if the person wearing the only control is the one who went over the side? So now we have two. Highly recommended.

    More on COB prevention and recovery.

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  • The Most Dangerous Thing Offshore Cruisers Do

    Last week I linked to a well-done report and some associated testing over at Practical Boat Owner that made a convincing argument that sidedeck jacklines are worse, at least when used with a standard 6′ long tether, than not clipping on at all, because of the risk of being killed by dragging.

    And then a few days later I came across a Scuttlebutt article titled, “Nearly half die when falling overboard”, with statistics from the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch supporting the title.

    At first I was going to link to the latest piece in a tip with a scary title like “Why We Clip On” or some such.

    But that felt kinda wrong so close to the first tip—when does informing turn into scaremongering?

    So I decided, instead, to just remind us all that offshore sailing, at least when done with common sense and basic seamanship, is pretty safe.

    Sure, people die by falling overboard. But people also die by their furniture falling on them at home.

    So what’s the most dangerous thing most cruisers do? My guess is getting into an automobile…that is, unless they are wingsuit BASE jumpers, too.

    Oh yes, here’s a link to the Scuttlebutt article, worth reading…at least as long as we keep things in perspective.

    And if you are wondering about the photo, that’s Phyllis with our good friends and experienced offshore voyagers Wilson and Thelma, taken in Quebec during our drive of the Trans-Labrador Highway in 2019.

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  • Sidedeck Jacklines Worse Than Nothing?

    We at AAC have long argued that sidedeck jacklines (jackstays) are not safe because of drag risk.

    But PBO are taking that up a level by suggesting, based on some very sobering testing as well as even more sobering analysis of sailors falling overboard and being dragged by their tethers, that it might even be safer to not be clipped on at all than to use a standard-length tether clipped to a sidedeck jackline.

    We agree with the problem they identify, but feel we have a better and well-tested solution that reduces drag risk to near zero while still staying tethered.

    Read the Practical Boat Owner article, highly recommended.

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  • Neater Webbing Cow Hitches Hack

    If we are sewing a loop into a piece of webbing to cow hitch it to something, as is often the case with jacklines, the end result will seat better and be way neater if we sew the loop with a half turn in it as shown below.

    More on making your own jacklines and tethers in this Online Book.

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  • When Did Your Inflatable Lifejacket Last Feel The Love?

    I have to confess that unpacking, test inflating (24 hours), and repacking lifejackets is one of my least favourite chores—getting them back together all nice and smooth with no lumps is just one of the many tasks I’m not naturally gifted at.

    But even so I just did all five of ours—two Spinlock Deckvest 6D and one 5D for the J/109; and two Deckvest LITE we wear when rowing our turbocharged Whitehall.

    We go through this process once a year, at the beginning of the sailing season. Here’s a good instructional video for the 6D.

    One piece of good news, one of the many improvements Spinlock have made to the new Deckvest 6D is that it’s easier to repack neatly than the older 5D—I will be writing more about the 6D in a future full article.

    Further Reading

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  • Mental Liquidity

    I have quoted Morgan Housel, one of the smartest people in investing as well as one of the best writers, before.

    His thoughts about investing often make sense for life, and offshore voyaging.

    Here’s Morgan again:

    A question I love to ask people is, “What have you changed your mind about in the last decade?” I use “decade” because it pushes you into thinking about big things, not who you think will win the Super Bowl.

    I am always so suspicious of people who say, “nothing.” They act like it’s a sign of intelligence – that their beliefs are so accurate that they couldn’t possibly need to change. But I think it’s the surest sign of ignorance and stubbornness.

    Morgan Housal, read the whole article

    I struggle with staying open and flexible every day, but at least I can answer Morgan’s question in the positive:

    That’s all that comes to mind right now, at least around sailing. Maybe I need to work harder at this!

    What about you? Tell us what you have changed your mind about in the last 10 years, in a comment.

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  • 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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  • The Cockpit Is NOT As Safe As It Feels

    It’s well worth reading the excellent report from US Sailing on the tragic crew overboard (COB) death in the 2022 Bermuda race.

    Lots of good analysis and some great recommendations.

    That said, the biggest takeaway for me is that the cockpit of a sailboat at sea can provide an illusory sense of safety.

    The fact is that even with:

    …the wind in the low to mid 20s, with some higher gusts…

    US Sailing Report

    a wave can near-broach the boat and wash a person right out and over the lifelines, as happened in this case.

    …this wave washed Colin over the top of the leeward lifelines and into the water…

    US Sailing Report

    Phyllis and I have always tethered in the cockpit, even in much more benign conditions than that.

    In fact, our rule is to be tethered, even in the cockpit, any time we are sailing in swell, which is pretty much any time out of sheltered waters.

    Reading this report was a good reminder for us to stick with that policy.

    Much more on COB prevention.

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  • Spinlock 6D—One Size Does Fit All

    Our friend Margaret, who is of the petite persuasion, wearing the Spinlock 6D we are testing here at AAC.

    One of our concerns with the new model was that with only one size, instead of three as the 5D we have used for years was available in, was that fitting a smaller person might be a problem, particularly since we think that it’s vital that the chest strap be snug.

    Turns out we need not have worried. Thanks, Margaret, and Spinlock for providing the jacket free for evaluation.

    We will be publishing a full report once we have had more experience with the 6D, but so far we are liking it a lot.

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  • Slippery Deck Shoe Fix

    My Gill deck shoes were completely losing their grip. We are talking scary-slippery, to the point I nearly went on my ass, and overboard was a real possibility.

    We have seen this before. Seems like whatever material deck shoe soles are being made of these days, it develops a hard yellowy layer way before the shoe is worn out—shoe on right.

    We have tried sanding before, but with not a lot of success, so this time, in desperation, I took a grinder with an 80-grade disk to them—shoe on left.

    That fixed it, as grippy as new.

    Keep at it until the yellow is gone and wear a respirator, I can’t imagine the dust is good for us.

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  • Safer Transom Ladder

    Our new-to-us J/109 has a robust transom swim ladder that could definitely enable someone who fell overboard get back into the boat, at least in smooth water.

    But check out the photo above: There’s no way for someone in the water, particularly wearing a lifejacket, to deploy the ladder unassisted. The angle is just wrong for that.

    So I made the modification in the photo below. Works a treat.

    I will be writing more over the next year about changes we are making to the boat to reduce crew overboard risk, in our Online Book on the subject.

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