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