Safety Nets

Man Overboard

Man Overboard Stories

Man Overboard is one of those things we never really expect to happen. After all it’s for stupid people – how can you possibly fall off a boat?

Well if that’s the case, then I have to put it out there that I’m one of the more stupid! Not that I’ve ever fallen overboard yet but as Captain, I’ve had my fair share.

In this post I just want to tell a few stories about how easy it is and to try to alert you to the fact that MOB is going to happen to you – and when you least expect it.

MOB Story 1 – The Classic Blunder:
 We were about 10 miles out from the coast of Corsica, I was downstairs navigating whilst few others where asleep when two crew members who were playing magnetic chess on the foredeck yelled down the hatch “Mexican Over Board”. “Inconceivable” I replied . Our friend David Gonzales had been steering the Beneteau 50 ft Charter Boat in about 12 knots. He was the only one in the cockpit. He set the autopilot and stepped onto the swim deck for a wee wee (that’s the classic blunder part). The swim ladder was not tied on properly and voila – he’s in the drink. He was so scared out of his wits that his voice box did not work and he was left floating behind with no flotation device 10 miles out. We were  incredibly fortunate that the couple playing chess on the foredeck heard a splash and looked up. When they could not see David, they looked around then sounded the alarm.

We immediately turned on engines, spun the boat around, dowsed sails and went back to get him. (More on techniques later on)

MOB story 2- The distraction:
We were sailing on a fast broad reach between Bequia Island and Mayreau Island in the West Indies. My friend Michael was playing peekaboo (the distraction part) with his girl friend on the aft platform of our 45 ft charter catamaran. One peekaboo obviously got him a little excited and he stepped back into the nothingness beyond the outer planetoid reaches of the boat.  As he fell he called “Maaaaaannnn oooooverrrrrr Booooaaaaarrrrddd”.

What’s funny about this story now, is that Michael had the wherewithal to not only call his own official sounding man overboard alarm but then quickly reached up with his arm and grabbed the dinghy being towed behind us and was able to pull himself into the dinghy. Wait – it gets funnier – we had made another first time classic blunder of which you need to learn this – never store your boat trash in the dinghy. We’d done this thinking what a great place to store trash – not! The constant banging around and sloshing around in the dinghy can undo the ties and you end up with salt water trash all inside your dinghy. Plus micro holes in the bags can leak out nasty fatty oooozzz all inside the dinghy as well – don’t do it – yuk!

Michael now had to climb into a trash and fat grease filled nasty dinghy and as punishment for peekaboo (and part jealousy) we refused to pull the dinghy upto the boat. We did toss a beer back to him however. Eventually we tied a dockline to the painter on the dinghy and winched him in fearing sunburn was too much of a punishment. :)

MOB Story 3 – Priorities:
We were motoring out of the Marina on a beautiful day on Lake Travis, Austin Texas. A friend is standing on the aft swim platform sipping a cool glass of Pinot Gris. She grabs the ladder for stability and she and the glass and the ladder (again untied) go in the drink. Her first priority was to hold the wine glass high so as not to water it down with lake water. Well done!

MOB Story 4 – It’s not me it’s the equipment:
We were running through some drills 10 minutes before a race start,  a crew member leans lightly on the lifeline. The station breaks and he is in the drink . The helmsman being an expert at sailing maneuvering steered back to the MOB. He was in full weather gear and the water was cold. Fortunately the boat owner keeps a dry set of clothing on the boat for such mishaps – hint tip. The interesting hindsight failure in this was that we were all so dumbfounded  that even as we approached back to the MOB no one had thought to organise a throwline. The skipper obviously should have been calling the blow by blow shots but as with all of us we’re so not used to MOB that we’re out of practice. Fortunately at the last minute we grabbed a spinnaker sheet and threw to him. Lucky however as the boat was still under sail albeit in a stalled condition of sail set but still drifting away.

The greatest points in this story is that lack of practice around MOB retrieval can lead to an unnecessary disaster. It’s not hard and actually fun to practice an MOB drill – and if you don’t have a swim platform make sure you have onboard a winching system or plan to bring the MOB up over the freeboard. The second point is controversial amongst sailors. But there is a growing number of us who advocate turning on the engines immediately to get back to the MOB. This is especially if you are in experienced. The major thing you have to watch out for with engines are lines in the water.

Here embedded is a video of this particular MOB situation.

MOB story 5 – The garage sale:
A friend is out sailing on his boats. His friend is  leaning over the side to scoop up a dropped floating winch handle. He leans out too far and in the drink he goes. He has a known heart condition and the water is very cold. It takes the crew 3 attempts to sail back to the MOB. They toss him a line but it’s not connected to the boat. They toss every lifejacket and thing that floats overboard. Several drunk crew members jump in to save him with out floatation devices themselves. The skipper now has got a regular garage sale going on in the water.

He was not experienced, thus if he was desperate to get the winch handle he should have dowsed the sails and motored in a controlled maner back to it. Beyond that, he should have definitely turned engines on to retrieve the MOB. He also needed to establish command of the crew and calmed them to ensure they follow his orders and plan.

 In Summary

Review and practice your man overboard  techniques at least every few months. Practice commanding the situation and practice the maneuvers.

Embedded into our Day Skipper Sailing Course are the techniques in detail of how to do the maneuvers and command the situation.


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My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.
Grant Headifen
Last updated on March 29th, 2023