Man overboard – Part 2

In part 1 we looked at immediate actions after a man overboard; alerting crew, MOB button and Mayday etc.

Now the crew is briefed, comes the tricky bit: actually pulling off the manoeuvre. A good method of practicing is by throwing a fender overboard weighted down with a bucket or a coil of rope. Just make sure the crew don’t lose sight of the fender!
Man Overboard Manoeuvres
Under Power

If you’ve got a motor, and it works, you’re going to want to use it in an emergency, so let’s deal with that scenario first:

  • Sheet in the mainsail and heave to in order to take the way off your boat pass buoyancy to the casualty and mark with a dan buoy. Instruct a crewmember to point at the MOB. Retrieve any warps from the water and start the engine.
  • Furl or drop the headsail.
  • Make ready the throwing line.
  • Manoeuvre the boat downwind of the MOB, keeping the MOB in sight.
  • Approach the MOB into the wind, so that the mainsail is de-powered. Pick up the MOB on the leeward side, aft of the mast.

Under Sail

Now comes the really tricky bit! There’s a definite art to coaxing your boat gently into the breeze and coming to a standstill alongside your target. Getting it right is a great feeling.

Even if you weren’t concerned about safety, it’s a trick that’s well worth mastering and the fact is that a man overboard situation is EXACTLY the time when your motor will decide not to start, so it’s in your interests to get this one nailed down.

On a close reach you can spill and fill your mainsail to control your speed

  • As before, sheet in the mainsail and heave to, passing buoyancy to the casualty and marking with a dan buoy. Instruct a crewmember to check for warps.
  • Turn away onto a beam/broad reach and sail away.
  • Sail away for about five or six boat lengths, ensuring that you do not lose sight of the MOB.
  • Tack, aiming the leeward side of the yacht at the MOB. Let out the headsail and mainsail sheets. The mainsail should flap; if not, bear off downwind to change the angle of approach. Point the boat back at the MOB until the mainsail flaps.
  • The angle of approach should be a close reach so that the sails can be powered and depowered. Drop the headsail if there from the mainsail alone.
  • Fill and spill the mainsail and slowly approach the MOB. Pick up the MOB to leeward, aft of the mast.

In either scenario and if you are in a motor boat or sailing yacht, there are 2 main approaches:

1. where you approach into wind (or tide whichever is the stronger) and use these forces to slow you down and control your approach.

2. where your approach finishes to windward of the casualty and allows you to drift down onto them. In high seas this can make the approach dangerous for the casualty so caution is advised subject to prevailing conditions.

Part 3 will follow and look at recovery methods.