MOB is such a big concern that many of us ignore it. In this series Noel Dilly shares some thought-provoking and controversial ideas about MOB recovery
MOB myths busted – Part 1
Would your man overboard, or MOB, recovery plan actually work if you had to enact it in difficult conditions? How have you tested and practiced it? I believe that many experienced sailors are deluding themselves about MOB, so my friend Mike Millis and I took the Yachting Monthly team sailing on a windy day to demonstrate, and to challenge some commonly held assumptions.
We tend to forget that MOB training is only intended to give us a starting point for developing strategies and solutions that work for us on our boats.
Rote answers to complex problems usually lead to disaster and, as in all sailing, when someone falls overboard, retaining flexibility under stress is a great asset. No two MOBs are the same, and it is highly unlikely that one technique will work in all situations. It is certain that the more crew you have on board, and the more skilled they are, the greater the chance of a successful outcome.
Only the RYA Sea Survival course teaches what to do if you do go overboard. Simple advice like wearing your sailing jacket’s hood to conserve heat will increase survival time. Heat and energy conservation by remaining curled up in the heat escape lessening position (HELP) should be advised. All crew should know how to get into a rescue sling with an inflated lifejacket. What to expect during a rescue should be discussed to avoid confusion causing panic, and carrying out MOB exercises will help the MOB to understand what’s happening on board, as well as honing the skills of the crew.
In this article, I highlight problems that I have encountered during my research and proffer some solutions that have worked for me. Embrace the familiar. Most of us are more comfortable using the engine in confined manoeuvres. To me, sails are a last resort when a life is at stake.
MOB: raising the alarm
The routine in an MOB situation is well known. However, some of the thinking behind the routine is open to question. The exercise starts with the cry ‘Man Overboard!’ and someone is delegated to keep the victim in sight, pointing at them if possible.
Myth 1: You can keep the MOB in sight for any significant time in a seaway
This is a waste of a pair of hands, unless you have them to spare. In any sort of sea the MOB’s head will disappear long before the boat is ready to turn. Try it with a weighted, floating football some time. One hundred metres or so and it’s gone. If someone falls overboard while you are sailing downwind, you’ll find looking to windward in any strong wind can be a painful experience. In a gale, I’ve found that goggles are the only solution.
The initial response should be to push the GPS MOB button, deploy the horseshoe and danbuoy, then send a Mayday. This establishes an initial search position and gives a reference for starting a search if the victim is not in sight. A danbuoy is very useful in suggesting the likely direction of drift of the casualty, bearing in mind that a current of just one knot will carry the MOB 150m in five minutes. It can save a futile search up-current. It’s crucial to know about search patterns, and how to calculate the distance an MOB has drifted (1 knot = 0.5m/s = 1.7ft/s). It really should be strongly emphasised that the MOB will drift with the water, not the wind.
Myth 2: It’s enough to practice MOB drill in daylight, in flat calm seas
This is how most of us practice it, and it is not helpful. What provisions have to be made for a night-time recovery? Once more the GPS position is essential for locating the most probable successful area for the search. Many so-called automatic lights don’t work because of poor design and maintenance, the dome containing the bulb is often full of water. The victim cannot be expected to hold a light for any length of time with an arm extended above their head. It is both exhausting and causes the MOB to sink deeper in the water. The same applies to an AIS beacon or a personal locator beacon, though these can now be clipped to lifejacket inflation tubes, as above, and fitted to some lifejackets.
Myth 3: Retro-reflective tapes on an MOB’s jacket will help you locate them at night
Often, the only source of reliable light is that from retro-reflective tape. Sadly, most of the tapes on sailing gear will be below the surface and obscured by the lifejacket when the wearer is in the sea. What is needed is a length of reflecting tape along the fore and aft seam of the jacket hood. A second length encircling the face aperture would be ideal.
This might encourage the person in the water to pull up the hood. This has the added advantage of conserving body heat. Lifejacket sprayhoods often have reflective tapes, which encourages the MOB to wear it, and innovations like Exposure Marine’s MOB torch and Spinlock’s Lume-on lights have welcome safety benefits for MOB at night.
Myth 4: Danbuoys are easy to locate
Many danbuoys have very small flags, more suitable for lobster pot floats. The bigger the flag, the easier it is to see. It helps to have retro-reflective tape on the flag. One solution is to fly your ensign from the danbuoy and to reinforce the attached edge with reflecting tape. A strobe light is also useful at night.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s Clipper Race yachts also attach an AIS beacon to the Danbuoy because, in the inevitable panic, some MOBs think they have turned on their own AIS beacons, whereas in fact they have only pressed ‘test’.