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Crew Overboard Techniques

Crew Overboard Techniques

Below, Wesley Freeburg presents two methods which he encourages all members to study and learn.

While we stress the importance of having good command of at least one of the two COB recovery maneuvers described below, it is equally important to know how to minimize and prevent a crew member from falling (or being knocked) overboard. A short briefing for anyone who sails on your boat (you should request one if it's not offered) covering crew positions, hand-holds, and avoidance of the danger zone (the "batting zone") between the shrouds and the swing of the boom as well as the location of safety equipment and method of COB recovery can go a great distance toward avoiding such situations.

However, when a sailor goes over, a recovery method must be close at hand...

The first step in rescuing a crew overboard is PREPARATION. You should have a well thought out and PRACTICED plan of approaching a COB and a method of hauling the individual on board. The "Figure-8" method is the rescue maneuver recommended by the American Sailing Association, and the one taught at the Manhattan Sailing School. The "Quick Stop" method is taught at the United States Naval Academy, and is the maneuver recommended by US Sailing. Master at least one, and ensure that your crew knows what is expected of them prior to setting sail. KNOW before you GO.

Both methods require practice - enough that the maneuver used (whether the Figure 8 point-of-sail method or the Quick Stop turning method) becomes instinctive - to all members of one's crew. Let the training take over, put your boat on the prescribed points of sail and alongside (generally, to windward) of the COB (or at least close enough to throw a line). Both methods require returning to the COB with maximum dispatch.

Getting the COB back into the boat: Regardless of the maneuver employed, and especially on shorthanded crews, one of the easiest and most effective methods for getting someone (who may be injured) back aboard is called the "elevator" method: Cleat a line to the stern cleat (on the side of the boat nearest the victim) and run it forward (outboard the lifelines) to the spinnaker turning block and then to the primary winch. Drape enough of the line below the waterline so that the victim can sit or stand in the belly of the line, and then slowly winch the victim up to deck level where the COB can be maneuvered aboard.

Other methods of onboard COB recovery entail the use of a line (a spare halyard, spinnaker or jib sheets), into the end of which is fashioned a bowline (or, preferably a bowline on the bight). The bowline on the bight may be made into the doubled end of a halyard as a boatswain's chair. The COB can sit in the larger outer loop, while the shorter inside loop passes round his back. Minimally, each of you should learn and know how to make a "one handed" bowline around yourself while suspended in the water wearing a floatation device - this permits the COB to be "attached" to the boat prior to onboard recovery. Use the mechanical advantages of the boat's own blocks/tackle/winches/boom/mast to assist in onboard COB recovery. Self-sufficiency is the hallmark of good seamanship and sailing in general.

Take into account the presence of a spinnaker, a poled-out headsail, or a preventer: Sailing under spinnaker presents another complication with COB maneuvering. (Follow all of the preliminary steps involved with the two methods described here - shouting "crew overboard", spotting, and getting flotation to the victim). In light air, treat the spinnaker as if at a mark rounding - head up and douse immediately. Proceed to employ one of the methods described herein.

More likely, however, in any kind of a breeze (or while shorthanded), necessity will dictate getting the spinnaker down while continuing downwind. Follow all of the preliminary steps involved with the two methods described here (shouting "crew overboard", spotting, and getting flotation to the victim), de-power, douse and return to the victim as quickly as possible using the preferred method. Keep in mind your boat speed must be quickly moderated to accommodate a safe onboard COB recovery.

Unconscious or impaired COB: It is generally agreed, even with the presence of specialized equipment (which we do not keep in our fleet), that it is nearly impossible to recover an unconscious or impaired COB without sending another crew over the side. When combined with the knowledge that being knocked overboard (hit by the boom, snagged by a sheet, etc.) may have inflicted serious trauma to the victim in the water, one may assume that the COB may not be in full possession of his/her faculties and mobility. In the case of a shorthanded crew to begin with, this presents a great peril indeed, and will likely require the assistance of trained professionals. Use your VHF radio, and broadcast a "pan-pan" (situation urgent) or "may-day" (situation life-threatening) on Ch. 16 to request assistance. (Do you have a handheld marine VHF radio? Do you know how to employ the aforementioned radio protocols? Have you thought about these possibilities?). Only you can make a determination as to the correct course of action based on the conditions present.

If you have questions about these methods and procedures, please do not hesitate to consult with a Fleet Captain/Mentoring Skipper or other qualified individual and resolve them to your satisfaction. The life you save may be your own.

1. Quick Stop Method:



Advantages of this technique include:
  • Fast technique when performed properly.
  • The sailboat does not venture far from the COB.
  • Easiest to keep sight of the COB. Thus, this technique may be the best to use if only one crew member is left onboard who must try to maneuver the boat and spot the COB at the same time.
Disadvantages of the technique include:
  • Must perform a gybe which is a harder maneuver to perform especially in high winds ( common COB conditions ) and when one is short on a crew member.
  • Cannot be performed when one is on a run.
Steps in this technique:
  1. Crewman falls overboard. Minimization of recovery time is of the essence. The hallmark of the Quick Stop method is the immediate reduction of boat speed and thereafter maneuvering at modest speed, with a final approach on a close-reach at bare steerageway, remaining near the victim. In most instances this is superior to the conventional procedure of reaching off, tacking and returning on a reciprocal course from a position to leeward of the COB.
  2. Shout "man overboard" and, if available, designate a crew member to spot the victim's position in the water (Good seamanship would dictate that the spotter is already pre-assigned, and by default, should be the first to observe the COB event). The spotter should not take his eyes off the victim.
  3. Provide immediate flotation in the form of the Type IV PFDs now available on each J-24. These objects may not only come the aid of the victim, but will "litter" the water where he/she went overboard and help your spotter to keep him in view, as well as to signify to other vessels to keep clear.
  4. IMMEDIATELY bring the boat through a hove-to position and continue turning through to a broad-reach, cleating and allowing the jib to be "backed" and further slowing the boat.
  5. Continue to turn with headsail backed until wind is abaft the beam. Course is stabilized on this beam-to-broad reach for two or three lengths and then altered to permit a close reach final approach (but sails not trimmed for such to moderate speed).
  6. Keep the mainsail centered (or nearly so), thus stalling the boat. After the gybe is performed, the jib should be luffed (Unless wind speeds flailing the jib sheets would cause a potential additional hazard, the jib sheets can provide a handhold for the COB)
  7. Hold the downwind course until victim is abaft the beam and pass through a gybe. The jib will now be on the "normal" side of the boat.
  8. Approach the victim on a course of approximately 60 degrees off the wind, fish-tailing the boat, if necessary to further slow boat speed.
  9. Establish contact with the victim on the leeward side of the boat, using a crew member at midships, the jib sheet(s), the now luffing mainsheet, and/or the shipboard blue spring line.
  10. Evaluate and treat COB for hypothermia, if necessary.
The first step in rescuing a crew overboard is preparation. You should have a well thought out AND PRACTICED plan of approaching a man overboard and a method of hauling the individual on board. If hypothermia sets in, the rescued individual may not be able to assist in getting himself into the boat.

2. Figure 8 (or Quick Turn) Method:



Advantages of this technique include:
  • Can be performed from any point of sail.
  • A gybe is not required.
Disadvantages of the technique include:
  • Must sail away from the COB.
  • Harder to keep sight of the COB.
Steps in this technique:
  1. Shout "man overboard" and, if available, designate a crew member to spot the victim's position in the water (Good seamanship would dictate that the spotter is already pre-assigned, and by default, should be the first to observe the COB event). The spotter should not take his eyes off the victim.
  2. Provide immediate flotation in the form of the Type IV PFDs now available on each J-24. These objects may not only come the aid of the victim, but will "litter" the water where he/she went overboard and help your spotter to keep him in view, as well as to signify to other vessels to keep clear.
  3. Immediately sail on a beam reach heading away from the COB for the minimum distance required to execute the technique, within the capabilities of the remaining crew.
  4. Head up to a close hauled point of sail and prepare to tack.
  5. Perform a tacking maneuver.
  6. Continue bearing away and head down to a deep broad reach.
  7. Cross your beam reach wake line until you are down wind from the COB. As soon as the COB is aft of your beam head up to a close reach. Approach the victim on a course of approximately 60 degrees off the wind, fish-tailing the boat, if necessary to further slow boat speed.
  8. Luff your sails and approach the COB at the minimum speed necessary to maintain steerage. If you need more power, trim the mainsail appropriately.
  9. Establish contact with the victim on the leeward side of the boat, using a crew member at midships, the jib sheet(s), the now luffing mainsheet, and/or the shipboard blue spring line.
  10. Evaluate and treat COB for hypothermia, if necessary.