You may not have spent much time thinking about it but a person falling over the side of a boat can be one of a boaties worst scenarios to deal with. There are numerous reasons for falling over including inappropriate enthusiasm on the throttle and a rough sea state. Most MoB’s (Man Overboard’s) belong in two categories. The inconvenient mildly entertaining, or the sheer terrifying type. When a person falls in the water from a boat the first reaction should be to assess the situation and decide if a Mayday is warranted. A Mayday call should be made early and readily as it can always be cancelled if the situation is resolved. Times when a Mayday call are required include a person out of sight (night-time), a person in the water who was injured on the way out of the boat and an MoB in rough conditions.
A Mayday call should also be made as has happened in the past, when the only person competent to drive the boat in an MoB situation is the MoB themselves. This is where a good skipper would have conducted a safety brief to inexperienced crew, which included the use of the communication equipment and how to read a position off the GPS. All family members and regular boat users should be trained in MoB procedures.
The incident location should be immediately recorded by depressing the MoB button on the GPS and throwing a life-ring. If there are any remaining crew, someone needs to point and keep their eyes on the MoB at all times as choppy seas can disorient and obscure. A decision then needs to be made regarding the method of recovery. Only in extreme circumstances such as an unconscious casualty, should an attempt be made to bring the boat alongside. The preferred approach is to get the boat about 5 metres away and throw a rescue rope to the unhappy wet crewmember. Ensure the engine is in neutral AND switched off before pulling anyone towards the boat. I believe a dedicated rescue rope in the form of a throw bag is an invaluable piece of equipment to always have close to hand. It’s pretty frustrating trying to untangle a coiled rope in a hurry. If you have a throw bag on your boat but never used it, I would strongly urge you to do so as it is important to understand it’s operation prior to requiring it. If your throw bag is under a load of kit in some locker, you may as well return it to the shop as it needs to be hung somewhere easily accessible within 5 seconds. Also part filling a throw-bag with water greatly increases the range and accuracy in windy conditions.
For the worst case scenario such as an unconscious casualty and a sole remaining boat occupant, a lot more thought and preparation needs to be undertaken. You will possibly need to bring the boat to within boat-hook range to make contact with the unfortunate. Wind direction plays a large factor here, and for smaller powerboats the best approach is into the wind, to minimize the potential of the boat being pushed on top of the MoB.
The key is to make the slowest possible approach to maintain steerage and carefully work your way towards the MoB. When you feel confident that you will make contact it’s time to engage neutral and switch the engine off. This is where the kill-cord proves invaluable, it will turn the engine off for you in case you forget as you hurry to the back of the boat. *Note, a kill cord only works if you wear it.
Getting an unconscious person into a boat can be an impossible task depending on boat design. In such scenarios, the best thing may be to secure the MoB to the boat appropriately (triple check that the engine is not running) and deploy a flare. It is an unfortunate fact that lots of recreational boaties don’t listen to VHF channel 16 so in addition to your Mayday call a flare may summon the assistance of a boat nearby.
Colliding with a person or slicing them with our propeller are the biggest risks for MoB recovery. I was always taught when I was being trained as a rescue skipper, that we will always do the best we can, but as long as we don’t make a situation worse than when we arrived, you should sleep well.