Falling overboard is something that some of us have experienced, but everyone takes care to avoid. The danger of being in the water for all but the shortest time greatly increases the risks of fatality or at least hypothermia and water ingestion.
Being able to retrieve a person from the water as quickly as possible is absolutely paramount. An inshore racing yacht whose crew member slips overboard during a busy manoeuvre might have plenty of manpower with a team of strong sailors to swiftly haul them back on board in relatively calm waters and in daylight, but consider a cruising boat out of sight of land with just two people on board, which is quite the norm. Worse still, it could be the stronger, heavier and more experienced of the two that has fallen overboard.
There are ways to make retrieving a person from the water as easy as possible; boat owners should make sure they keep essential equipment on board.
One of the most recognisable MOB recovery systems is the Ocean Safety Jonbuoy Recovery Module, which most people recognise as a neat slim – and unused – canister mounted on the transom. Once launched, however, the Jonbuoy inside deploys into a high visibility float which the casualty can rest on, and which can be winched via a halyard back on board. This is particularly helpful if the casualty is injured.
Other floatation aids which can be thrown to a person in the water include a horseshoe lifebuoy or automatically inflating Jonbuoy version. These will not necessarily have a means of getting the crew back on the boat so it is vital to carry a boarding ladder – these can be stowed away when not in use.
It goes without saying that you should be wearing a lifejacket in all but the calmest weather and especially if you are voyaging short-handed. It only takes a small slip to land in the water and your chances of survival are far greater if you are wearing a lifejacket.
Bulky lifejackets are a thing of the past, so there is no excuse not to wear one most of the time. Slimline designs with low sculpted necks are easy to put on and forget about as they are hardly noticeable. Do not forget to store them somewhere dry and get them checked and serviced regularly to make sure they are always ready to auto-inflate when needed. Having jackstays and tether lines – again regularly checked – are also important for offshore boats.
Personal safety is becoming ever more manageable with the growth of PLB and AIS personal beacons. These can be tucked in an oilskin pocket or fitted into lifejackets that are designed to be ‘AIS ready’. Like the larger EPIRBs, which can stay on board and be activated if the boat gets into difficulty, the personal Ocean Signal PLB1 transmits via satellite to search and rescue centres. Similarly, using AIS data the casualty’s position is transmitted back to nearby on board AIS receivers. Yachts which are on long offshore overnight voyages and likely to encounter rough conditions need to carefully ensure that each crew member is well protected.