If you own, charter or crew on a boat, when was the last time you did a Man Overboard drill? And was that drill in calm water or out on the high seas?
The boaters among us will know the rudiments of a Man Overboard drill, but if you don’t practice it – especially in testing conditions – you can find yourself in a very stressful situation.
My husband Fergus, Skipper on Two Drifters, is a proficient RYA Yachtmaster and a experienced blue-water sailor. When he took his Yachtmaster Offshore qualification in 2010, it was for power as, at that time, we owned a motorboat; since we’ve lived on a catamaran for the last four years he wanted to convert his qualification into an RYA Yachtmaster Sail.
Blessed with a few weeks cruising in Antigua, Fergus found an RYA-approved school, Ondeck, who provided an examiner who would spend an afternoon on board to test his skills and knowledge of sailing.
A few hours before the exam, we went for a trial run. Leaving the calm anchorage at English Harbour under sail, we headed out into the Antigua Channel where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. With the wind gusting to 30 knots and a three-metre moderate sea running, the sailing conditions were exciting.
We are well-versed in the principles of Man Overboard, and it’s something we always run through with any guests or crew we have on board Two Drifters who are sailing with us. So when Skipper threw a large ball fender over the side and yelled “MAN OVERBOARD!” I jumped into action and immediately pointed at our man ‘Bob,’ not taking my eyes of him and completely ignoring all other distractions such as Skipper ‘heaving to’ to stop the boat and yelling for his crew i.e. me to come and assist.
Stopping the boat quickly in a Man Overboard situation is imperative. However, Skipper had forgotten to weight ‘Bob’ with a heavy rope so as soon as he hit the water, he was off; speeding away from us faster than an Olympic swimmer.
The race was now on to catch up with ‘Bob’, keeping my eye on him was near impossible and, as we turned the boat around, he was virtually lost in the distance among the waves and white horses.
After a far-too-long 20 minutes, we eventually reached ‘Bob’. Clipping my safety line on to the boat, my first pick up failed as in his eagerness to do the drill Skipper had also forgotten to tie a loop in the end of the fender line. It took several attempts and a pull of strength to retrieve ‘Bob’ and, while we got there in the end, it wasn’t without tempers being frayed and feeling sea sick in the conditions we were in.
After such a dismal rehearsal and with no time for further practicing, we collected the examiner from the dock and headed back out into the ocean with heavy hearts.
After the exam, in which we were put through our paces, we were commended on our perfectly-executed Man Overboard technique. Taken in the exact same weather conditions, this time it went without a hitch and ‘Bob’ was retrieved after being in the water just a few minutes.
Skipper passed his RYA Yachtmaster Power to Sail conversion with flying colours and it just goes to prove the importance of practice and learning from mistakes.
Here are Skipper’s tips for practicing a Man Overboard drill:
Practice your Man Overboard drill at least once per season and read up on the RYA suggested techniques
Warn your crew about the first practice drill so they can ensure they are wearing life-jackets, the boat hook is to hand, and they are fully briefed on what is expected of them in a Man Overboard situation. Subsequent drills can be a surprise
Practice in poor conditions – as this makes it the most realistic
Practice under sail and motor
Forget to weight the fender with a heavy rope and to have a loop for easy retrieval
Give your crew too many instructions; one person must always be looking and pointing at the Man Overboard, never taking their eyes of him
Forget that this a practice, if things go wrong do not get stressed just do it again
© Two Drifters Travel