As this is one of the most difficult and potentially hazardous situations that can occur when sailing, it is a sensible precaution for all members of the crew to have a clear idea of the action to be taken in the event of such an emergency.
Many articles have been written and many recommendations made on the subject, often advocating widely different drills for dealing with the situation, but the Quickstop€¯ method given below has proved itself in many cases. It can also be easily learnt by a novice (and it could be the skipper who is overboard!). The Reach-Tack-Reach€¯ method also works well in certain cases. This method is also described below.
Whichever method is chosen, it must be practiced until all members of the crew are familiar with it, and action becomes instinctive if an actual emergency arises.
MAN OVERBOARD Quickstop
a. Shout MAN OVERBOARD€¯ push the tiller well to leeward and throw a lifebuoy to the man in the water.
b. On hearing the shout, all hands turn out on deck and the first one is detailed to watch and keep pointing at the man overboard.
c. With the tiller to leeward the boat tacks through the wind; the headsail is left aback, as soon as the main boom comes across to the new leeward side the tiller is again pushed to leeward and held there. The boat is effectively hove-to and stopped, possibly within talking distance of the man in the water. Adjust sheets if necessary.
d. Clear any trailing sheets or lines, start engine and motor to the man in the water, lowering or freeing sails as necessary.
e. If there is no engine, let go the headsail halyard (the sail will fall onto the foredeck); gybe or tack and sail to the man in the water.
MAN OVERBOARD Reach-Tack-Reach
a. Shout MAN OVERBOARD€¯ and throw a lifebuoy to the man in the water.
b. On hearing the shout all hands turn out on deck, the first one being detailed to watch and keep pointing at the man overboard.
c At the same time the helmsman immediately turns the yacht onto the nearest beam reach, notes the compass course and starts counting steadily. As soon as the yacht is settled on the reach, the hand pointing at the casualty takes over the count.
d. As soon as all hands are an deck and ready for action, the helmsman tacks the yacht through the wind, at the same time noting the count that has been reached. The yacht then sails back on a reciprocal course, with the count starting again as the tack is completed.
e. When the count comes to the same figure that was reached before tacking, the yacht should be in the same position as when the man went overboard, and the casualty spotted in the proximity of the yacht. As soon as this happens, the yacht should be manoeuvered to a position just downwind of the casualty, who is then approached in exactly the same way as coming alongside a mooring.
During the hours of darkness the problem of keeping the man in the water under observation becomes more difficult or even impossible, and in these circumstances it is essential that a lifebuoy fitted with an efficient light is used. For this reason, regular checks on this equipment should be made.
Recovering the Man in the Water
When the yacht has been manoeuvered alongside the casualty, he must be made fast to the yacht immediately. Even with a strong crew he will be extremely difficult to lift out of the water without some extra purchase, and this can be provided by passing a rope under his armpits and securing it with a bowline; a bowline on a long bight, with one bight under the armpits and one under the backs of the knees will lift even an unconscious man safely. If he is wearing a harness, a line or a snap shackle on a line can be attached to it.
If the casualty is unconscious or completely exhausted the problem of getting him back aboard becomes more difficult. In these circumstances it may be necessary to put another man into the water to help to attach the lines or lifting tackle, but if this is done he must be wearing a lifejacket and safety harness and be attached to the yacht with a strong line.
One trialed method of lifting a man from the water is to drop the mainsail, and use the main halyard. This has the advantage of running from the back of the mast, and can be easily brought aft of the shrouds. Using the main halyard a man can be winched from the water and safely lowered, even through the companionway and into the saloon