James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship. This issue - Geoff is sailing at night with an inexperienced crew when he hears the call 'man overboard'


Geoff has recently retired and  is finally on a long awaited cruise around Britain.

Windshift, his Sigma 38, is a fast, strong cruiser racer which Geoff has sailed regularly from his home port of Falmouth.

She’s well kitted out for this trip with all the usual offshore gear – liferaft, EPIRB, lifebelts, danbuoy lifejackets, flares and hand held and fixed VHF radio –  but no personal AIS.

He has three crew who all sounded experienced in the club bar but out here, in the dark in Cardigan Bay, Geoff isn’t so sure.

They’re heading towards the Lleyn Peninsula on a broad reach in about 15 knots of apparent wind under main, with one reef and a genoa on a roller furler.

Continues below…

Geoff is down below resting with one of his crew while the other two are on deck wearing lifejackets and have been told to clip on.

John, the weakest sailor of the four, is on the helm.

Windshift is cracking on at 8-10 knots down the waves when there’s a huge bang as the boom gybes, a short pause and a call from above: ‘Man Overboard!’

What would you do now?


This is really serious. First action is to stop the boat by tacking into a heave-to position to stay as close as possible to the man and simultaneously press the MOB button on the GPS.

Quickly check if the MOB is still tethered but over the rail. If not, send a mayday preferably by GMDSS. Start the engine, furl the jib, check for lines over the side and motor back on a reciprocal course.

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

Hopefully the MOB is conscious and will have inflated his lifejacket and the light will be working, but have a powerful torch on deck that can pick up the reflective tape.

If the yacht was travelling at 10 knots for a minute, going back to windward at 2 knots will take about five minutes.

If you’ve motored back for 10 minutes and not found him (remember to call out), you’ve probably gone past.

There are various methods of sector search such as an expanding box, but remember the MOB is drifting down tide and the GPS MOB position doesn’t usually account for this.

Respond to the Coastguard but they will want a load of details. If you’ve sent a GMDSS alert, the Coastguard  knows you’re 38ft yacht, your position and there’s a man overboard.

As skipper, you need to stay skippering and looking out, as well as talking to the Coastguard either by using your crew or when you are ready.

If you reach the man,  you have to get him back on board– but that’s another question of seamanship.