‘What I learned falling overboard’ – Jonty Pearce

When Jonty Pearce practiced going overboard from his yacht, he and his wife realised how hard it is to get back on board. But how many of us actually practice the whole scenario? Jonty Pearce: I suspect that those who regularly practice genuine man overboard recovery are in the minority. My own sailing habits split […]

When Jonty Pearce practiced going overboard from his yacht, he and his wife realised how hard it is to get back on board. But how many of us actually practice the whole scenario?

Jonty Pearce: I suspect that those who regularly practice genuine man overboard recovery are in the minority. My own sailing habits split into chartering with our club and cruising on our own boat with my wife. The club is keen – nay, obsessional – at ensuring a proper briefing is delivered at the start of each charter cruise, followed within 24 hours by a formal MOB exercise to bring that poor Glenda the Fender back on board.

Does it happen? Yes. As, intrusive and delaying as it is to give a full briefing at the start of a charter when everybody is keen to depart, it is always given. I have known the briefing to be delayed until the night’s anchorage has been reached, if there are tidal or weather constraints, but that is rare. Retrieval of the accident prone Glenda usually happens on that first evening’s cruise, and if not, the next day. Or later in the week. Or, sometimes, not at all if the crew is experienced, cohesive, and lazy. And therein lies the problem; we are all far too excited to be aboard and sailing to remember to perform an essential lifesaving drill as a priority activity right at the start of our holiday. We must try to be consistent.

When sailing as a couple, largely at weekends, I do admit that we do not do MOB drill every time we go out. In fact, once a year is more truthful, and this is not enough even taking into account how little we actually use our floating caravan for actual sailing. And while I am confident at turning round to pick up Carol (I once succeeded first time for Carol’s ‘Cap Overboard’ recovery), neither of us is sure that Carol would swiftly be able to remember how to return to collect me.

This brings us on to the next issue. It is all very well scooping Glenda the Fender out of the water at the shrouds using the boathook; would we succeed if it was for real? In 2014 Carol and I collaborated with Yachting Monthly by investigating seven methods of getting a person in the water back topsides (Expert on Board: How a 8 stone woman can recover a 20 stone man). Of the seven methods, only climbing the stern ladder succeeded without making adaptations and development to the techniques, but we did succeed in quiet waters at anchor. This practical session was a real eye opener, and we presented our experiences to the Cruising Association MOB Seminar, followed by several lectures to yachting clubs. In fact, after we highlighted the difficulty of MOB retrieval several other yachting magazines also featured articles on the subject, and I hope a lot was learnt by all.

Last week Carol and I delivered our presentation to the Bromsgrove Boaters. It had been some time since our last talk, and the amount we had forgotten was frightening. It emphasised to us how essential it is to remind ourselves (and practice) our techniques for man overboard recovery as well as returning a real heavy body to the deck. Several large males in the audience blanched at the problems we encountered in sheltered waters; at sea we felt that the most important aspect was to keep our life insurance up to date.

At the end of the day Carol and I accepted that it was likely that the strongest (both technically and physically) sailor might end up in the water. It goes without saying that we wear lifejackets and we clip on when out sailing – prevention is better than the cure. But if I did go overboard we have developed two main techniques; if I was undamaged, we would use our aluminium ladder (with a webbing ladder attached to the bottom rung) deployed at the shrouds so I could climb back aboard. If I was unable to help myself we have a MobMat recovery device which, used with a 6:1 handybilly led back to the Genoa winch, can be used by Carol to recover me.

The lessons learnt are practice, practice, practice. Make sure that you regularly perform MOB drill, and try actually bringing an incapacitated crew member back on board. But best of all, tie on with a short tether and don’t fall off the boat!

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