Thursday, July 27, 2017

Man Overboard!

May 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

man overboard 1

One of the most frightening cries heard on a boat is “Man overboard.” Falling into the drink can be brutally unpredictable and sudden; the lack of a quick rescue response can result in death.

Grim U.S. Coast Guard statistics over the years reveal that the majority of Man Overboard (MOB) incidents happen to people of both genders on open motorboats in calm seas with clear skies and no wind. It can even happen on a craft tied up at a dock. The unexpected movement of a boat, like a too-sharp turn or a jibe in a sailboat, or encountering a wet deck are major causes of falling overboard.

Some MOB incidents are out of a skipper’s control, yet the captain is legally responsible for those aboard. So if a crew member or guest does fall overboard, a successful rescue depends upon knowing exactly how to respond — and doing it fast.

Are you prepared? At the beginning of the new boating season practice MOB drills until it’s second nature. Throw a life jacket overboard and time how long it takes you to retrieve it. As you gain confidence step up to a dinghy or even a live person (always in a life jacket).

When boating, instruct your crew before you leave the dock that the first person to see someone fall overboard should yell loudly, “Man overboard!” Be clear that the individual who yells is automatically tasked with maintaining continuous visual contact with the person in the water (victim).

Every watercraft, no matter how small, should have a portable GPS with a MOB button within easy reach of the helmsperson. This feature instantly locks in coordinates, which is key because a boat speeding at 20 miles per hour will be 90 feet away from the scene of the accident within one minute.

As soon as the MOB alarm has been shouted, other crew members should toss life jackets, life rings, cushions or anything else that floats in the vicinity of the victim. Make sure everyone knows where this equipment is ahead of time. (Note: Dockside is the time to ask if anyone is a non-swimmer; make that individual wear a life jacket at all times.)

The captain’s role now is to stop the boat as quickly as possible, turn it around and head back (it’s hard to do if you’re learning for the first time, so make this maneuver part of your MOB drills). Reversing course on a sailboat involves jibing. On a powerboat it is a combination of slowing down and turning around. For both vessels, the approach to the person in the water is the same, although the sailboat skipper stops his or her craft by heading up into the wind and the powerboat pilot puts the engine in neutral. If seas and wind are moderate, stop upwind of the victim and drift down with the power off. In rougher conditions the approach is slightly downwind but as close to the person as possible. Your boat should be broadside with the victim amidships. No lines should be thrown over until the engine is cut to avoid fouling the prop.

Retrieving the victim can be tricky because an individual in the water fully clothed can be a heavy load indeed. Any rescue should be from the boat, but as many hands as possible should help in the lifting. A rope with a loop can quickly be attached under the arms and a block and tackle, if available, can assist with its mechanical advantage. A mainsheet or halyard serves the same purpose on a sailboat. If the victim seems conscious and able to cooperate, a rigid portable ladder can also assist.

An additional level of caution must be practiced when the victim has fallen into chilly waters. Hypothermia can set in within 10 minutes with its attendant danger of unconsciousness. If that happens, the person should not be lifted out of the water vertically but horizontally so as not to draw heat away from vital organs.

Once your crew member is safely aboard, you want to restore body temperature to normal (no matter the water temperature or season). Remove all wet clothing, wrap the victim in a blanket, and supply warm fluids other than caffeine or alcohol. And either call the authorities to attend to the victim or head to shore ASAP to ascertain whether medical attention is necessary.

By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit http://cgaux.org/ to join the Auxiliary or for class information.

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