It will never happen to me…

We never plan to fall in and end up in the cold water of the Northwest and British Columbia. But it happens and in most cases everything ends up OK. Every once in a while we hear about someone ending up in the water and an accidental drowning.

Some of us have equipment on board just in case someone ends up in the water. You may have a Lifesling Overboard Rescue System ready to deploy. Some of us keep a rule that whenever someone is on deck, maybe to prepare fenders and dock lines, they wear a life preserver – just in case. Have you thought of how you will get a person out of the water on your boat? You have only about 15 minutes or less until the situation becomes critical and life threatening. That’s 15 minutes to spot and find the individual, bring the boat to a place where you can deploy a Lifesaving ring with a line and pull them to the boat. Next, you may need to have a means of assisting them or pulling them out of the water like a 5:1 block and tackle. Then a means to get them to a safe spot on the boat and a means of warming them up. This could be in rough conditions and you may be doing all of steps alone. Or, you are the one in the water and hope that your spouse, partner, best friend or grandchild knows the procedures to save someone using the equipment on board.

Let’s first breakdown the steps to a hypothetical man/woman overboard situation and the steps to take. Think it through before a situation happens. We recommend you create a checklist for you or for someone who may be rescuing you if you are the one in the water. Every moment counts.

Steps for a Man Overboard Situation

  1. Recognize that someone has fallen overboard.
  2. Take the engines out of great and stop the engine(s).
  3. Instruct crew to keep eyes on the person overboard.
  4. Push the “Man Overboard” button on your Chartplotter or GPS.
  5. Raise the RED safety cover on the Distress button on the VHF radio. Press the button for 3-4 seconds and make a Mayday Call on VHF 16 with the name of your vessel and that you have a Man Overboard situation with a person in the water. If you can say an approximate location say it.
  6. Access the Man Overboard ring and line, or a Lifesling or other device, and deploy once you can see the victim. Circle them to pull the float and line to them. Pull them to the side of the boat.
  7. Deploy the swim ladder and assist climbing out of the water. They may not have the strength and a line may have to be rigged to pull then out of the water. Most likely a 5:1 block and tackle will have to be rigged to a high position on the boat, or use the boom and winch on a sailboat, to pull the victim out of the water and onto the boat.
  8. Once on the boat begin warming the victim with blankets. Communicate the situation on VHF 16 and determine if additional help is needed.

This is a lot of steps. They also require some specialized equipment and the knowledge of how to use the equipment – and the clock is constantly ticking down.

Often valuable time is consumed locating the victim in the water. Next it takes more time to maneuver the boat to the victim deploying a life ring and line to the victim. If the captain is the victim, all of the equipment must be successfully located and deployed by someone not familiar with the boat.

At Waggoner, when singlehanding, we do not go out on deck with the engine in gear and without a PFD. We keep a VHF handheld with DSC in a pocket of our PFD and flares in another pocked. The crew wears the Crew Watcher system where our location can be displayed on a smartphone. Most importantly we have the Man Overboard procedure listed in our Emergency binder at the helm, so others know. It is life or death.