Man overboard is always a life-threatening emergency
by Karen Hermanson
Boating deaths & injuries on recreational vessels increased 11% between 2015 & 2016 in the US. 80% of the deaths were from drowning and 83% of drowning victims were not wearing a life vest (PFD).
The vast majority of deaths & injuries (90+%) are in inland waters or rivers, in calm conditions and in the daytime -- identical to conditions in which we sail the St. Lucie River and Intracoastal waterway. Offshore statistics show fewer deaths, but only 40% of those who go overboard are ever located!
What can happen when the victim falls overboard? 1) disorientation, 2) panic, 3) impact injury, 4) shock, 5) drowning, 6) cardiac/respiratory arrest, 7) hypothermia /exposure 8) disappear, 9) run over, ETC…. Getting the victim out of the water in a hurry is a priority.
- A. PREVENTION & CREW PREPARATION— You must take personal responsibility for your own safety.
When you get on board, obtain a proper orientation to the boat and walk around the deck to get acquainted with its stability, layout and any potential hazards. The skipper should provide an orientation to the basic operation of the helm including engine stop/start/throttle and gear controls. If you don’t see proper safety equipment aboard or if the skipper will not properly orient you, leave the boat.
- B. PROPER SAFETY EQUIPMENT—Identify and orient yourself to available boat equipment (including VHF radio, binoculars, number & location of PFD’s & throwable devices, lifting harness, etc.). Appropriate clothing & footwear (non-slipping, well fitting) should be worn by all. Skipper should orient crew to MOB Procedures/roles based on their boat & equipment.
- C. CONDITIONS-- # crew needed for conditions, proper safety gear for conditions, proper emergency orientation for special conditions.
- D. RESPONSE--TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE—SIMULTANEOUS ACTIONS NEEDED
- 1. Crew member seeing the MOB—Immediately Yell “Man Overboard” to alert crew & captain. That crewmember’s only job is to keep sight of & point to MOB & periodically report on location of victim using clock orientation to bow ( e.g., victim at 6 o’clock, 75 yards)
- 2. Crew--Throw out flotation device (safety ring, cushion). LifeSling only when close to victim. Continue trail of floatables as needed (time/distance). Six knots equals 10 feet per second so it only takes 7 seconds to be separated from victim by 70 ft.
- 3. Captain--Hit MOB button or mark location on GPS or other device (crew member can assist)
- 4. Captain--Starts engine, performs quick stop/turn boat to return to victim
- 5. Captain (or assigned crew member to give update & maintain contact if needed) Report Mayday (assistance needed)/PanPan (no assistance needed) on CH 16—Give name & type of vessel, We have a man overboard, description of victim, latitude/longitude of MOB & Time, Type of assistance needed, or status of situation (“we have the victim in sight and are in the process of pickup-will advise when they have been recovered”, ask vessels in the area to be aware of victim in water.
- 6. Captain—Approach victim. Engine in neutral, stay initially 8-10 ft. from victim (windward in light conditions, leeward in heavy weather).
- When victim is approached
- 7. Crew--Prep harness & lifting tackle, 1 line to throw, 1 line to secure victim to boat
- 8. Crew -- Secure victim to boat. NEVER go in the water to fetch victim.
- 9. Captain & Crew-- Assess status of victim to develop appropriate onboarding plan.
- 10. Captain & Crew – Execute onboarding procedure according to plan & conditions. Skillful selection of strategies per plan (lifting device, stepladder or stairs, swim platform, dinghy, halyard lines to cockpit winch, sling & tackle, jib cocoon).
- 11. Notify Coast Guard CH 16 of (All Clear) or of need for Medical or Recovery Assistance
Consider taking boating safety course—US Coast Guard Auxiliary. Have a Vessel Check—Power Squadron. Practice prevention, have proper equipment, orientation of crew, and practice your MOB response often.