Man overboard recovery options
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1999 18:18:56 -0500 (EST)
From: Paul Kruse
Subject: Re: Man Overboard recovery options
I've been faced with the problem of getting back on board many times. Sometimes while SCUBA diving in not so nice conditions, and sometimes for other reasons. I've also had to recover folks who had fallen overboard, but they were all small children at the time. A full sized adult who is unable to help himself could be a serious problem.
With only two people on board, I've become convinced that you must simply accept the fact that one of you may fall overboard and be lost at sea. Once you accept that, then we can work to minimize that probability, but you will never eliminate it completely.
On one occasion, Cindy and I were both fortunate enough to come home on a boat we did not leave on. That taught me the importance of having a light with me. A strobe is nice, but it is even nicer to put a beam onto the bridge, right into the eyes that are looking for you.
This also reminds me of something I learned recently of John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace." He fell overboard from a whaling ship under sail. There would normally have been no way to save him, but his crew mate found a way: He lanced him through the thigh with a whaling harpoon and hauled him back on board. He recovered from his wounds and lived for a good while after that. I bring this up only to make a point that when worst comes to worst, a bridge gaff is a more desirable option than a lost MOB.
>At 09:33 AM 3/5/99 -0800, Joe Engel wrote in part:
>We've even run practice drills in calm water.
That is the important thing. If you don't give it a try, then you will never know what will work and what won't. We have practiced MOB drills in some rather unpleasant conditions. There really is no sense practicing in very good conditions, since anyone can get back on board then.
>What I am looking for is some kind of a one-way sliding rope clamp that I
>could snap on to the LifeSling line. Then, with the davit wire rope line
>attached to my theoretical 1-way slider, I would slide the clamp towards
>the MOB as the LifeSling line was manually retrieved. Upon reaching the
>side of the boat, the slider could be pushed (with a boat hook for example)
>hard against the Lifesaving horseshoe and the strain taken on the davit
>line, lifting the whole package. Anybody have any ideas on this?
Perhaps a much better idea would be to use a powered capstan with the nylon rope of your sling. Wire rope is very iffy, if you get into bad seas. I can easily see it ratting up on the drum, or doing other damage. The headache ball on your line can also become a lethal weapon under these conditions. The next time you see a commercial tuna boat, ask them to show you how they get a half ton dead weight tuna on deck. You will need something similar.
>Our research and questioning (as well as discussion here) regarding MOB
>retrieval on to a recreational powerboat, have pretty much concluded that
>retrieval over the swimstep is not desired and in fact could be fatal in
>moderate (or worse) seas. Our own observations off the Oregon Coast last
>autumn made it clear to us that the swimstep can easily be travelling
>through a 10 foot vertical arc at high speeds, even in moderate weather. I
>would not want to attempt that. And if I were overboard at 250 lbs. dead
>weight I cannot see how Debbie could do anything to help me on to the
>swimstep. She would be hanging on for her own life out there.
Actually, if the MOB is alive and well and healthy, the swim platform would be my first choice. I would want a platform designed to pick up SCUBA divers, however; and not one like on most recreational trawlers that are mostly for decoration.
I once found myself in the water in 15 foot seas and a 35 knot wind. A 65-foot trawler was trying to pick me up. Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances that I don't have time to type about right now, he ended up with no other choice than to run me over. (He had rigging in the water, and one other swimmer to recover besides me. He did an expert job of making the best of a bad situation.) I dove as deep and as fast as I could, and I'm pretty sure that the wheel cleared my head with a good 12 feet to spare. That was not really a problem, and I'm really glad that it worked out that way. It put me into the perfect position for an easy pick up. When the captain saw me pop up behind his boat, and this was a very seasoned commercial captain who had been operating the same boat for nearly three decades, he threw it in reverse and began backing down on me. At that point, his bow was pointed down wind and he stopped it dead nuts right on top of me. I watched the ladder for a while. One instant it was ten feet over my head, and the next the entire platform was submerged several feet below me as the entire boat pitched in the seas. The motion was really pretty wild. I watched it for a bit, while the captain expertly kept the platform just at arm's reach from me. I chose my time and stepped onto the platform when it was about three feet under water and on the way up. That catapulted me up and onto the deck as the aft end of the boat pitched up with the next wave.
That probably sounds a lot more scary than it was. In reality, it was much easier than it sounds. At no point in time did I ever feel as if I were in danger, and I had complete confidence that I would get home safely that night. The swim platform is my first choice over any sort of sling, as long as I am healthy and unhurt. The other man in the water came on board as easily as I did. The sling is really for the person who is not able to help himself much, but can at least help himself enough to climb into the sling. If you think about it, that is a very small percentage of the MOB situations.
In another case when I was a small child, my dad and I went far out into the Pacific on a friend's boat. His wife made the third adult, and I was the only child on board. She was huge. Perhaps my judgement of her size is distorted by both the time that has passed since, and by my small size at the time. Suffice it to say that however tall she was, her width was about the same. She wore a Hawaiian mu-mu that had enough material in it to make a tent for a small Boy Scout troop. Well, she fell overboard. All I can remember seeing is her little head floating in a sea of mu-mu flowers.
Try as they might, the two men could not even begin to pull her back on board, and they had no way of winching her back on board. They began to agree that their only option was to tow her a number of miles back to shore, and let her walk out. Then all of a sudden, her husband leaped to his feet in great alarm, pointed his finger at a spot in the water near his wife, and yelled at the top of his lungs, "SHARK!!!"
Well, in a heartbeat, several hundred pounds of wet woman and mu-mu flowers just rolled up over the gunwale and into the boat. After a bit, they all had a good laugh at how well the husband's joke had work out. This was not a trawler, but rather it was a sport fishing boat of about twenty feet LOA.
>So the only solution we can come up with seems to be a LifeSling type
>setup and retrieval from the lee side, amidships.
Not without a very powerful bow thruster, and probably a stern thruster, too. Otherwise, I would expect that the wind will blow the boat right over the top of the person in the water.
>We even bought the LifeSling company's video on how to retrieve for a
>power boat. It shows retrieval in a nice sunny, dead flat, calm day in a
>harbor with 3 or 4 other people to help. I suspect most folks are going to
>go overboard in less than calm conditions. It was not much use.
Anyone can get back on board unassisted in calm conditions, even with the poorest of all excuses for a swim platform. Everything I say assumes rough conditions. (Except the mu-mu lady. Seas were perfectly flat that day.)
>Until I realized that we really do have another option. We have our all
>rubber inflatable dinghy clipped to our swimstep with Weaver snap
>davits. All I had to do was unsnap the upper dinghy mounts and allow the
>inflatable to flop into the sea, still connected by the snap davits on the
Actually, that is not a half bad idea--so long as the conditions are not terribly nasty. In very rough seas, I would expect that the MOB would be pinned under both the soft dingy and the swim platform.
>Again on our trip off the Oregon Coast, we were in some pretty rough
>weather and even though it was full daylight, with the 10-foot waves and
>the spume and mist I cannot see how it would be possible to ever find a
>MOB. This is assuming a 2-person crew.
That brings to mind a situation that is really rather funny in retrospect. My buddy and I were once lost from a dive party. The current was nasty, and we were soon separated from the boat and the area where they were looking for us. I'm guessing that we began maybe 50-100 yards from the boats. They could not see us, nor hear us, even though they were looking for us. The current carried us away very quickly. Soon, we were hundreds of yards away, watching three boats run a search pattern for us. When they finally found us, we were about three miles from their original search area. It was a beautiful day with about a half meter swell at about a ten second period. In other words, you could not have asked for better search conditions, and broad daylight at that. We should have both had a whistle with us, and a bright light to shine at the folks who were looking for us.
>My scenario is this: I would be driving from the main cabin (bad
>weather). Debbie would go on deck to secure a lose something. She would
>go overboard and disappear astern. I have limited visibility astern from
>the lower helm. Assuming I even immediately know that she has gone
>overboard (which might not be the case if she went over anywhere aft of
>the main cabin)
In that case, she is probably dead; or at the very least she will have to survive in the water for quite some time. This is the worst-case situation.
>I immediately hit the MOB on the computer and come about 180. I then
>must rush up to the bridge deck which is the only reasonable place to
>conduct a single-handed retrieval. It is also where the LifeSling and
>Davits are. Even with a strobe, I cannot imagine how I could spot her out
>there. In ten-foot swells and 5 foot waves she could be just over the next
>swell and I would no see her.
If you are on the bridge, you should have pretty much a continuous line of sight to her.
>I have no experience with signaling devices in real weather conditions so
>I would love to hear that a strobe or whistle or ???
A whistle is great up to about 50 yards. Don't count on it beyond that in the wind. In heavy seas, you might not get the 50 yards. A strobe is very easy to see at night, and pretty easy to see in the day. I personally have difficulty judging the exact direction and range with a strobe, however; and much prefer a strong flashlight aimed directly at me. I've only been picked up at night once under emergency conditions. The captain told me that it was the light that made it so easy to find me. Cindy and I were on his boat before the boat that lost us knew we were missing.
>But it is really amazing how difficult it is to
>see or hear (it is very noisy in rough weather). So this scenario is very
>disturbing to me. Any Ideas??
Well, Joe; perhaps between you and I have at least started an interesting thread. I have lots of ideas, but really do not have so many solutions. I'm looking forward to seeing how this develops.
We should address another aspect of this, too: That of surviving the water for extended periods of time. All my examples were for warm tropical water. My longest time in the water was 12-14 hours, and I suffered no ill effects because of it. I would very much like to hear how cold water folks protect themselves against the possibility of being in much colder water than this. In that case, it would be very important for the MOB to keep warm enough so that he could help in his own rescue.
One more thing: When conditions are nasty, it is much easier to get back on board with a diver's mask on your face than bare faced. It is not such a bad idea to keep one nearby to hand to the MOB. This is especially true if the person needs glasses to see well enough to aid in his own rescue. In that case, the person should have his prescription installed into his dive mask. This also makes for a very excellent way to see better when you are out on deck in storm conditions. It is also possible to wear contacts inside of a dive mask.
I also remember one case in which I was having a bit of difficultly getting back on board. My brother tossed me my swim fins. With them on, it was much easier to get the job done.
Paul and Cindy Kruse
Merritt Island, FL 32952
KJV Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.