Man over­board: rais­ing the alarm

Yachting Monthly - - EXPERT ON BOARD -

T he rou­tine in an MOB sit­u­a­tion is well known. How­ever, some of the think­ing be­hind the rou­tine is open to ques­tion. The ex­er­cise starts with the cry ‘Man Over­board!’ and some­one is del­e­gated to keep the vic­tim in sight, point­ing at them if pos­si­ble.

MYTH 1: You can keep the MOB in sight for any sig­nif­i­cant time in a se­away

This is a waste of a pair of hands, un­less you have them to spare. In any sort of sea the MOB’s head will dis­ap­pear long be­fore the boat is ready to turn. Try it with a weighted, float­ing foot­ball some time. One hun­dred me­tres or so and it’s gone. If some­one falls over­board while you are sail­ing down­wind, you’ll find look­ing to wind­ward in any strong wind can be a painful ex­pe­ri­ence. In a gale, I've found that gog­gles are the only so­lu­tion.

The ini­tial re­sponse should be to push the GPS MOB but­ton, de­ploy the horse­shoe and dan­buoy, then send a May­day. This es­tab­lishes an ini­tial search po­si­tion and gives a ref­er­ence for start­ing a search if the vic­tim is not in sight. A dan­buoy is very use­ful in sug­gest­ing the likely di­rec­tion of drift of the ca­su­alty, bear­ing in mind that a cur­rent of just one knot will carry the MOB 150m in five min­utes. It can save a fu­tile search up-cur­rent. It's cru­cial to know about search pat­terns, and how to cal­cu­late the dis­tance an MOB has drifted (1 knot = 0.5m/s = 1.7ft/s). It re­ally should be strongly em­pha­sised that the MOB will drift with the wa­ter, not the wind.

MYTH 2: It's enough to prac­tice MOB drill in day­light, in flat calm seas

This is how most of us prac­tice it, and it is not help­ful. What pro­vi­sions have to be made for a night-time re­cov­ery? Once more the GPS po­si­tion is es­sen­tial for lo­cat­ing the most prob­a­ble suc­cess­ful area for the search. Many so-called au­to­matic lights don’t work be­cause of poor de­sign and main­te­nance, the dome con­tain­ing the bulb is often full of wa­ter. The vic­tim can­not be ex­pected to hold a light for any length of time with an arm ex­tended above their head. It is both ex­haust­ing and causes the MOB to sink deeper in the wa­ter. The same ap­plies to an AIS bea­con or a per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­con, though these can now be clipped to life­jacket in­fla­tion tubes, as above, and fit­ted to some life­jack­ets.

Myth 3: Retro-re­flec­tive tapes on an MOB's jacket will help you lo­cate them at night

Often, the only source of re­li­able light is that from retro-re­flec­tive tape. Sadly, most of the tapes on sail­ing gear will be be­low the sur­face and ob­scured by the life­jacket when the wearer is in the sea. What is needed is a length of re­flect­ing tape along the fore and aft seam of the jacket hood. A sec­ond length en­cir­cling the face aper­ture would be ideal. This might en­cour­age the per­son in the wa­ter to pull up the hood. This has the added ad­van­tage of con­serv­ing body heat.

Life­jacket spray­hoods often have re­flec­tive tapes, which en­cour­ages the MOB to wear it, and in­no­va­tions like Ex­po­sure Marine’s MOB torch and Spin­lock’s Lume-on lights have wel­come safety ben­e­fits for MOB at night.

Myth 4: Dan­buoys are easy to lo­cate

Many dan­buoys have very small flags, more suit­able for lob­ster pot floats. The big­ger the flag, the eas­ier it is to see. It helps to have retro-re­flec­tive tape on the flag. One so­lu­tion is to fly your en­sign from the dan­buoy and to re­in­force the at­tached edge with re­flect­ing tape. A strobe light is also use­ful at night.

Sir Robin Knox-John­ston's Clip­per Race yachts also at­tach an AIS bea­con to the Dan­buoy be­cause, in the in­evitable panic, some MOBs think they have turned on their own AIS bea­cons, whereas in fact they have only pressed ‘test’.

The first re­sponse is al­ways to hit the MOB but­ton

A light that you don’t have to hold up, and a PLB that stays out of the wa­ter with its an­tenna ver­ti­cal, are big ad­van­tages

Next, get the horse­shoe and Dan­buoy into the wa­ter. How quickly can you do it?

With­out a crotch strap you’ll float so low that the retro-re­flec­tive strips on the blad­der may be un­der wa­ter

In the dark, the retro-re­flec­tive strips need to be on your head. Ev­ery­thing else is be­low wa­ter

Spin­lock’s Lume-On lights up the en­tire blad­der, mas­sively in­creas­ing your vis­i­bil­ity at night

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