If someone is knocked overboard, in order to get them back onboard you may want to consider a man overboard lifting device. Rachael Sprot looks at the options
After you’ve used a throwing line or a life-sling to bring a casualty alongside in a man overboard situation, you need to lift them out, ideally horizontally. A horizontal life reduces the risk of a potentially fatal reduction in blood supply to the brain and heart which can occur when casualties are removed from the water after prolonged immersion and for this you will likely need a man overboard lifting device.
We tried some of these more sophisticated devices to see whether they really work bearing in mind that the main priority is to get them out as quickly as possible.
Best man overboard lifting device
This is a mesh cradle that the casualty slides into. It deploys quickly from a guard wire bag – just clip a halyard on top and throw the whole unit over the side. There are battens in the base to give it rigidity and help it sink, lines attached to either end allow you to tether it into position and canvas sides hold the casualty in laterally. It’s easy to get into as a conscious casualty, though it does require a bit of set-up for the rescuer. However we found it very difficult to manoeuvre the dummy in short-handed.
- Feels safe and secure once inside
- A truly horizontal lift
- Folds flat – easy to stow
- Difficult to use short-handed with an unconscious casualty
- Tends to collapse as the vessel drifts down onto it
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At over twice the price of any other bit of kit the Jonbuoy is a hefty investment. But as a conscious casualty in the water you can’t ask for much better than your own personal flotation pod. To deploy just pull a tag on the rail mounted canister and the recovery module pops out, inflated from a gas cylinder with automatic light, flag and ballast pocket for stability. Once inside the casualty is well contained and, crucially, out of the water. There’s a throwing line ready-rigged and dedicated lifting point to attach a halyard to.
- Intuitive to use even for untrained crew members
- Permanently mounted where it’s needed
- Quick to deploy
- Injured and hypothermic casualties might not be able to get onto it
- Requires regular servicing
An ingenious pop-up net with an integral lifting system that can be deployed over an unconscious casualty to lift them out of the water. It has a tubular shape and once dropped over the casualty vertically, it rotates through 90° to bring them up horizontally. We didn’t actually test this device but thought it deserved a mention.
- Flat-pack system makes it easy to stow in a cockpit locker
- Should work on unconscious casualties
- Clear instructions on the outside of the case
- Might be awkward to handle in rough or windy weather
- Could get tangled up in things like boat hooks or the casualty’s tether
The Lifesaver is a simple and effective device installed in the casualty’s lifejacket which gives the rescuer something to grab. Although lifejackets have integral lifting strops, these are usually too short to be reached from the deck.
At 1.4m long, this floating dyneema loop extends the lifting strop. When the jacket inflates, the strop floats out. A rigid tube holds the strop open making it easy to grab with a boathook. Once you’ve got hold of the lifesaver you can secure the casualty by putting it over a midships cleat or clipping it directly to a halyard.
- Allows for a rapid retrieval of the casualty
- An unconscious casualty can be secured
- Pre-rigged where you need it
- Vertical, not horizontal lift
- Relies on a well-fitting lifejacket
MOB Lifesaver Rescue Sling
To get around the problems of a vertical lift, the inventors of the MOB Lifesaver have another clever bit of kit – a rescue sling which fits beneath the knees. Formed from a heavy chain which is covered in a close-fitting hose and attached to a it sinks under the casualty’s legs in order to lift them horizontally.
It has long dyneema strops which clips onto the same lifting point as the lifesaver. A very simple bit of kit which can be added into the rescue process if circumstances permit.
- Neat and easy to stow
- Simple with little extra rigging
- Suitable for an unconscious casualty
- Cannot be used on its own
- Slows down the retrieval process
Catch and Lift
The engineers at German company Catch and Lift have tried to eliminate the need for lifting equipment entirely. Their unique system consists of a parachute connected to a floating rescue sling and uses water resistance to lift the casualty to deck level.
After rigging up a block at the shrouds the rescuer throws in the buoyant sling. They then circle the casualty as for a standard rescue-sling manoeuvre. Eventually the casualty grabs hold of the sling and gets into it. The rescuer then launches the parachute drogue which is attached to the other end of the line and motors ahead.
As the vessel travels forwards the drogue fills with water and drags astern, pulling the casualty on the other end of the line towards the vessel and lifting them on board. It’s a clever idea, but like the any circling technique would be difficult in a sailing yacht in heavy weather.
- Doesn’t rely on the strength of the rescuer
- Comes ready to deploy in a rugged case
- Clear instructions inside
- Locking mechanism on block means you can’t release the casualty in an emergency
- Risk of dragging and drowning the casualty if you motor too fast
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