‘A man has gone over­board at night. What do we do?’

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS -

Ge­off has re­cently re­tired and is fi­nally off on a lon­gawaited cruise around Bri­tain. Wind­shift, his Sigma 38, is a fast, strong cruiser racer which Ge­off has sailed reg­u­larly from his home port of Fal­mouth. She’s well kit­ted out for this trip with all the usual off­shore gear – lif­er­aft, EPIRB, lifebelts, dan­buoy life­jack­ets, flares, hand­held and fixed VHF ra­dio – but no per­sonal AIS bea­cons.

He has three crew who all sounded ex­pe­ri­enced in the club bar but out here, in the dark in Cardi­gan Bay, Ge­off isn’t so sure. They’re head­ing to­wards the Llŷn Penin­sula on a broad reach in about 15 knots of ap­par­ent wind un­der main, with one reef and a genoa on a roller furler. Ge­off is down be­low rest­ing with one of his crew while the other two are on deck wear­ing life­jack­ets and have been told to clip on. John, the weak­est sailor of the four, is on the helm. Wind­shift is crack­ing on at 8-10 knots down the waves when there’s a huge bang as the boom gybes, a short pause and a call from above: ‘Man over­board!’ What would you do now?

AThis is re­ally se­ri­ous. First ac­tion is to stop the boat by tack­ing into a heave-to po­si­tion to stay as close as pos­si­ble to the man and si­mul­ta­ne­ously press the MOB but­ton on the GPS. Quickly check if the MOB is still teth­ered but over the rail. If not, send a May­day, prefer­ably by GMDSS. Start the en­gine, furl the jib, check for lines over the side and mo­tor back on a re­cip­ro­cal course. Hope­fully the MOB is con­scious and will have in­flated the man’s life­jacket and the light will be work­ing, but have a pow­er­ful torch on deck that can pick up the re­flec­tive tape. If the yacht was trav­el­ling at 10 knots for a minute, go­ing back to wind­ward at 2 knots will take about five minutes. If you’ve mo­tored back for 10 minutes and still not found him (remember to call out), you’ve prob­a­bly gone past him.

There are var­i­ous meth­ods of sec­tor search such as an ex­pand­ing box, but remember the MOB is drift­ing down tide and the GPS MOB po­si­tion doesn’t usu­ally ac­count for this. Re­spond to the Coast­guard but be aware that they will want a load of de­tails. If you’ve sent a GMDSS alert, the Coast­guard knows you’re a 38ft yacht, your po­si­tion and that there’s a man over­board.

As skip­per, you need to stay skip­per­ing and look­ing out, as well as talk­ing to the Coast­guard ei­ther by us­ing your crew or when you are ready. If you reach the man, you have to get him back on board– but that’s an­other ques­tion of seamanship.

At night, down­wind of the MOB with a new crew, Ge­off has his work cut out

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