MAN (OR WOMAN) OVERBOARD by Paul Copestake, YM

‘Man Overboard’ Drill one person recovering another

(This was written for a friend’s wife who is 5 foot and slight, my friend is 6 foot and heavy!)

Take this seriously – Cold water kills.  In Scotland, you have 10 minutes to recover the MOB safely and after 1 hour medical attention on recovery is essential. 
Unless you cannot guarantee to pick the MOB in 10 minutes ALWAYS CALL MADAY as soon as someone falls overboard.  A helicopter scrambled from Stornoway can be anywhere in the Minch in 15 minutes.


1.     Write down instructions as to how to start engine.
2.    Learn how to heave to and crash sails.
3.    Write down procedures for using radio including DSC and calling MAYDAY
4.    Know how to find your position using GPS and how to mark the MOB
5.    Know how to deploy Dan Bouy and Life Bouy.  This must always be untied and ideally have a torch and whistle attached.
6.    Know where to find ropes, and basic tools
7.    Know how to tie knots to secure person to boat
8.    In good weather or in a swimming pool, jump into the water fully clothed with oilskins and wellies both trap a lot of air should will keep you warm and afloat (even without a lifejacket) for quite a while.

When sailing

1.     Know where the wind is coming from at all times
2.    Know where you are!
3.    Wear lifejackets and safety harnesses as appropriate. 

Man overboard Drill

1.     Person falls overboard
2.    Throw over the Dan Bouy and Life Bouy and any floatation and any floating object at hand (to locate area).
3.    Stop boat by heaving to. 
4.    Press the MOB on GPS and set to ‘go to’.
5.    Write down your position lat-long our position from object (I am 1 mile north…)
6.    Pres DSC on radio and issue a MAYDAY and say that you will attempt a recovery.
7.    Turn on engine
8.    Crash the mainsail and secure (jib can be dropped or left to flap).
9.    Prepare rope lasso and secure loose end to mast.
10.  Motor back to victim approach from down wind with MOB in sector from Bow to beam on lea side. 
11.   Stop boat short of MOB and nudge forward slowly to bring boat beside MOB.
12.  Put engine in Neutral.
13.  Using boat hook and rope lasso secure MOB to boat (practice this), do this even if the MOB is conscious and able to help.
14.  If the MOB is conscious help them aboard using ladders or ‘steps’ made from fenders.  If the MOB is too week follow steps for unconscious MOB.
15.  If the MOB is unconscious, Clip mast head halyard to MOB, Tighten as hard as possible
16.  In lifting the victim onto the boat ideally they must be kept horizontal, especially if they have been in the water any length of time.
17.  Secure separate rope to MOB and run to cleat as far astern as possible and round job winch.
18.  Pull MOB back using jib winch until victim as far back as possible, the victim supported by the mast head halyard should now be at gunnel height. Secure sheet.
19.  Secure boom to leeward cleat with separate rope
20. Undo bottom end of main sheet and secure to MOB, use boom and main sheet as crane to lift MOB over guardrail (if necessary use spare sheet winch to pull in main sheet.
21.  Radio coastguard to notify them that MOB is recovered.  Depending on how MOB has been in the water, they may still helicopter the MOB to the nearest hospital (see secondary drowning in annex). Be honest about your ability to take the boat into Harbour, a lifeboat may be needed to take you in tow.


1.     In calm seas with light winds may not need to issue a mayday or drop the sails: In this case sheet in the main, let the jib fly, engage motor and collect MOB.
2.    If as is likely the MOB is conscious, make ready with rope to secure them to the boat and then tow them with the boat hook to steps or the amidships. 
3.    If MOB is unable to pull themselves up then using masthead halyard may be able to assist them.

MOB Recovery under sail

These procedures need to be practiced.  If short handed this should only be attempted if you can guarantee to pick up the MOB in 10 minutes, if not you have to radio for immediate assistance.  If this can be delegated then by all means in parallel attempt recovery under sail it can be very quick.


1.     Immediately heave to,  (if running sheet in the main)
2.    Continue to hold the tiller over and carry on circling.  Boat will spin, gibe and then round up into wind hopefully alongside the MOB.

Reach Tack Reach

1.     Go onto a beam reach, when all ready tack
2.    Return towards MOB to approach with MOB between the Beam and close-hauled sector.
3.    Let the jib fly (to de power)
4.    Let out the main until it flaps
5.    Approach by pulling the mainsheet in to power releasing to stop.

Extra People

With a third person, the extra person should be employed watching the MOB At all times, with recovery they can help secure the MOB by rope while the other works the boat.  Only when there are three on deck can two people share the duties in the main procedure.

Cold Shock, Hypothermia and Secondary Drowning

Scotland’s sea Temperature: The coldest time of year is March at around 6-7 degrees rising slowly to reach 13-14 degrees by end of May and 14-15 degrees by the end of July. The sea temperature stabilizes and doesn’t start to drop again until November and it falls slowly to about 10 degrees by January. Cooling is more rapid after that until it reaches its low in March.

The Four Stages of Cold-Water Immersion

Stage One: Cold Shock

·         Begins immediately upon cooling of the skin, peaks within 30 seconds, and lasts two to three minutes.
·         Characterized by instantaneous gasping, followed by rapid and deep breathing. If the victim’s head is beneath the water at this time, drowning can occur immediately. Additionally, rapid breathing leads to decreases in the normal levels of CO2 in the bloodstream, which leads in turn to confusion, dizziness, or even unconsciousness.
·         Heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiac workload increase. Such changes can precipitate fatal arrhythmias or heart attacks in susceptible individuals.
·         Breath holding ability decreases dramatically. This may complicate one’s ability to escape from a capsized boat or submerged vehicle.

Stage Two: Functional Disability

  • Sets in after initial cold shock; lasts approximately 30 minutes.
  • Muscles and nerves in the extremities cool significantly.
  • Swimming efforts become increasingly difficult and ineffective.
  • Manual dexterity and grip strength are markedly decreased. Victims lose the ability to grasp lifelines or floatation devices, climb ladders, or otherwise assist in their own rescue.

Stage Three: Hypothermia (Core temperature <35ºC)

  • Usually begins after 30 minutes of immersion (the body’s core cools relatively slowly, even in cold water).
  • Violent, painful shivering occurs (this may begin in stage two).
  • Confusion and lethargy become problematic. Efforts to remain afloat become feeble.
  • As core temperature drops further, victims assume “instinctive drowning response” (loss of voluntary control of arms; arms extend laterally in an effort to press downward on water; little or no supporting kick; unconsciousness and/or submersion and drowning are only 20 to 60 seconds away).

Stage Four: Post-Rescue Collapse

  • Those who survive immersion are still at risk. Core temperature may continue to drop, even after rescue; if heart temperature falls to around 25ºC, cardiac arrest can occur.
  • Hypothermia slows normal adaptive responses to changes in posture or skin surface warming. If rescued victims are left upright, sudden, uncompensated drops in blood pressure may cause unconsciousness or cardiac arrest. Metabolic changes (e.g., acidosis) caused by hypothermia can also contribute to fatal cardiovascular events.
  • If a tiny amount of water enters the lungs, this can cause irritation, and the fluid produced in the lungs as a result can accumulate to cause drowning up to 72 hours after immersion in water. Casualties who have suffered near drowning must always be seen by a doctor as soon as possible, even if they appear to be fine.

Surviving Cold-Water Immersion

  • Personal floatation devices (PFDs) are probably the most important factor in cold-water immersion survival. They will keep the victim’s face above water in the initial cold shock phase, when gasping could lead to immediate drowning. PFDs also allow individuals to assume heat-conserving postures (hands crossed over chest, arms pressed closely to sides, knees drawn toward chest, ankles crossed).
  • In the absence of a PFD, victims should NOT remove clothing; it actually provides buoyancy and helps conserve body heat.
  • Avoid swimming. Even strong swimmers only have a 50/50 chance of successfully swimming a half mile in 10ºC water (Penguin sailing in Scotland at Easter). If swimming is absolutely necessary, a conservative stroke that keeps the head above water is recommended (i.e., breaststroke). Use small movements when treading water.
  • If floating wreckage is very close, get out of the water and stay out. The rate of body heat loss is 25 times greater in water than in air of the same temperature, even when the body is wet.

Based on the timeframe seen in the three initial stages of hypothermia, there is a lifesaving message that can be expressed as the 1-10-1 Principle. A person has:

  • 1 minute to get breathing under control
  • 10 minutes of meaningful movement that can be used for self-rescue
  • 1 hour before unconsciousness occurs due to hypothermia