The YM team get wet to see how well the MOB process works for shorthanded sailing. Here are our findings...

Finding yourself in a man overboard (MOB) situation probably ranks near the top of every sailor’s list of biggest fears.

Even close to shore this can be a potentially fatal situation, which is why MOB manoeuvres are included in many training courses and exam situations.

Though many examiners for Yachtmaster have their own areas they like to focus on in an exam – the syllabus being too wide-ranging to cover everything in a single exam setting – MOB always features.

It’s also a good demonstration of boat-handling ability as well as a key safety manoeuvre.

Many of the suggested steps to get back to an MOB, however, assume more than one crew left aboard, which is of little use to the vast majority of us who spend our time sailing two-up.

A sailor wearing a lifejacket in the water

We decided to test the MOB process on a relatively calm day in the Solent. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

The question is, what happens when there is just one person left on board?

Is it possible to carry out the whole procedure to the letter, or are there non-essential or even dangerously distracting elements that should be omitted from your man overboard procedure if it’s just you on the boat?

We decided to spend a day on the water interrogating the MOB process from incident to having the casualty safely alongside.

Of course once an MOB is alongside there is still work to be done to recover them fully back onboard, which we will address in another article, but for the purposes of this article we are going to examine the boathandling procedure and techniques that are often overlooked by shorthanded crews.

A sailor with an inflated lifejacket in the water

AIS/MOB options: It is worth considering an AIS MOB beacon on your lifejacket if you are sailing shorthanded. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

Ahead of the day, the key areas we were interested in were: the speed in which we were able to return to the casualty; distance between the casualty and the boat at any given time; and suggested actions that might hinder returning to the casualty if needing to return to them singlehanded.

Most of us will be familiar with the basic steps suggested to get back to a MOB, to sail away on a beam reach and return to the casualty on a close reach, controlling the sails and raising the alarm at the same time.

However, as each step of the process is laid out in so much detail, we wondered if this level of detail is in itself a hindrance, being overcomplicated for a situation that is, by its nature, fluid and stressful for a single sailor left on board.

When in the midst of a manuoeuvre to return to a casualty, there is a lot of information that needs to be remembered in a time of high stress.

We wondered if there were any steps that could be dropped or simplified to make things more intuitive for a lone crew member.

Starting point

To ensure we were using a robust man overboard procedure that most sailors will find familiar, we turned to the RYA recommended method for Yachtmaster candidates.

A sailor points to a man in the water aboard a yacht in the Solent

Pointing at the MOB is one of the key processes of MOB recovery. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

This broadly breaks down into two sets of instructions; one for the skipper of the yacht and one for the remaining crew, as follows:

MOB process – Skipper

  • Sheet in the mainsail and heave-to in order to take the way off your boat.
  • Pass buoyancy to the casualty and mark with a dan buoy.
  • Instruct a crewmember to point at MOB.
  • Retrieve any warps from the water and start the engine.
  • Furl or drop the headsail.
  • Make ready the throwing line.
  • Manoeuvre the boat downwind of the MOB, keeping the MOB in sight.
  • Approach the MOB into the wind, so that the mainsail is de-powered.
  • Pick up the MOB on the leeward side, aft of the mast.

MOB process – Crew

  • Shout ‘man overboard’ to alert crew.
  • Press the MOB button on the GPS.
  • Throw a life buoy and dan buoy to the MOB. Mark the MOB with a buoyant smoke flare.
  • Allocate a crewmember to point at the MOB in the water.
  • Send a DSC distress alert and a Mayday.
  • Keep pointing; don’t lose sight of the MOB.
  • If the motor has been started,
  • Prepare a throwing line.
  • The skipper will bring the boat alongside the MOB, with the boat pointing into the wind and the propeller stopped.
  • Get a line around the MOB and get them aboard.

Even a cursory glance at this list of processes reveals it would be nigh-on impossible for a single person to perform them all.

  1. 1. Starting point
  2. 2. Finding a process that works
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