Sailing Safety: Run a Man Overboard Drill

What You'll Need
Heaving Line
Boarding ladder
Life Jackets

Sailing involves numerous precise tasks that must be performed diligently and on a moment’s notice. On a sailboat, the crew tests their skill and knowledge of the boat against the sometimes unpredictable nature of the sea. Rescuing a crewmember who has fallen overboard is one such task that requires calm heads and quick decision making. The best way to prepare for this eventuality is to run a man overboard drill so that everyone knows what to do in this situation. The drill involves several steps that must be followed in the right sequence. After a few practice runs, your crew will know what to do should someone fall overboard.

Step 1: Man Overboard!

When a person falls overboard, the first step is to notify the rest of the crew by shouting loudly ‘man overboard’. The person nearest to the scene throws a life vest or life ring or buoy as close as possible to the person in the water so they have something to stay afloat on. Another person is the spotter. It is this person’s job to keep their eyes on the person overboard at all times, giving verbal cues to the helmsman.

Step 2: The Figure Eight

The maneuver to pick up a man overboard is called the figure eight because of the shape of the course. The first point of sail after a man goes overboard is a beam reach–that is, with the wind coming over the side at about 90 degrees. At this point, the rest of the crew prepares the necessary rescue items: heaving line, boarding ladder, blankets and jackets.

Step 3: Come About

The next point of sail is a tack or coming about. Normally when you bring the bow of the boat through the wind you let the wind take the jib sail to the other side of the bow and then trim it. When rescuing a man overboard, do not trim the jib sail. Only trim the mainsail to keep some momentum, but letting the jib stay as is will slow the boat. The loose sheet will also drag in the water, allowing for the man overboard to grab onto.

Step 4: Sail a Close Reach

After coming about and heading back towards the man overboard, the helmsman will head up to a close reach. A close reach brings the mainsail tightly into the boat and catches less wind.

Step 5: Rescue the Person Overboard

After the close reach, luff the mainsail (the jib sail is already luffing). The boat should come to a stop on the windward side of the man overboard. At this point, throw out a line to the person and haul them to the boat. If they are weak or unconscious, assist them aboard.

The figure eight is the easiest way to rescue a man overboard. It is called the figure eight because of the shape the boat makes as it turns and comes back to retrieve the victim. From a beam reach, the boat comes about, bears away from the wind with the jib luffing, heads up to a close reach and luffs the mainsail to pick the man up. It will take some practice, but it’s imperative that your crew knows what to do in case a person goes overboard.