The second scariest moment on a boat is to hear the dreaded words, “Man Overboard!” Fortunately, trained sailors can execute maneuvers to turn the boat and go back for the rescue. It can take as little as 90 seconds. Don’t panic. Think.
One precaution is to make sure everyone is wearing a life preserver. That way, they stand a much better chance of bobbing about in the water and avoid drowning. We can’t find you if we can’t see you. That’s why PFDs are bright orange.
The quickest way to stop a boat under sail is to Hove-To. Tack into the wind like normal but don’t release the jib sheets. The boat will quickly stop, giving everyone a moment to collect their thoughts and form a plan of action.
The American Sailing Association teaches the Figure 8 maneuver (see video). Immediately go from close reach to beam reach and then broad reach. Tack and proceed to an imaginary spot three boat lengths downwind of the MOB. At the appropriate moment, turn upwind and coast gently to the victim. It’s important to approach at dead slow speed so as not to bonk him on the head. It doesn’t matter which side you approach.
Then the big trick is pulling the victim aboard. It’s great if you have a swing arm to deploy, but most sailboats don’t have that. Or do they? On Let’s Go Sail, the boom blocks are detachable to swing out over the water and pull someone in. A detachable outhaul serves the same purpose but lacks and three-to-one purchase, requiring a lot of heaving by the crew.
God forbid a young child falls overboard, because Mom will instinctively jump in the water to rescue him. Be prepared to grab Mom around the waist before she can react. We don’t need but one MOB to challenge the crew.
Wait. If Man Overboard is the second scariest moment on a boat, what’s first? Sinking.
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Fortunately, trained sailors can execute maneuvers to turn the boat and go back for the rescue. It can take as little as 90 seconds. Don't panic. Think.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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