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 5


Retired anatomy professor Noel Dilly has been cruising for over 70 years. He now sails Whisper, a Rustler 36, with his wife Sandie

MOB: recovering the casualty

Practice MOB drills are unrealistic if an insignificant load such as a fender is used. Not only can it reinforce the delusion that the rescue is possible with the boat moving, but also there is no appreciation by the rescuer of the pull that is generated by the rescue gear in real conditions.

Myth 12: The MOB can be lifted aboard using a boathook

Recall some of the struggles you’ve had with a boathook when trying to pick up a mooring buoy. Recovering a person from the water is a battle and training is required to deal with the significant weight involved. A good substitute MOB is to use four of five 20-litre water containers roped together, each three-quarters full of fresh water.


Noel’s lifejacket has a line tied to the back of the harness with a loop at the end

Lifejackets need to be fitted with an easily accessible lifting loop. There are accessories like the MOB Lifesaver and OscarLine, but a simple loop of strong line tied around the lifejacket’s harness behind the neck would suffice. Then it is possible to hold the loop taut with the boathook and use a pole-mounted snap hook to clip onto the loop, much like those used to pick up rings on moorings.

Myth 13: A water-soaked adult can be lifted without mechanical assistance


The windlass is the most powerful winch on the boat but you must rehearse your method to make it work

On most yachts, the anchor windlass is the only winch powerful enough to lift an MOB. All other standard winches are not man enough for most crew. Recall the struggle of trying to hoist someone up the mast with a winch. An MOB will be sodden and heavier, and may be unable to assist.


With the hoist attached to the shrouds, Noel was able to haul a soggy Kieran out of the water

The winch is a poor substitute for a block and tackle. The greater the mechanical advantage, the better. The block and tackle engine-lifting gear sold by car maintenance shops is ideal. The line is long enough to reach the water from all but the highest freeboards. If needed, the lifting line can be pulled in via a winch.

Myth 14: The MOB has to be lifted in the horizontal position


Is there any medical reason to recover an MOB horizontally? Noel, a retired professor of anatomy, says no

There is no increased risk of heart attack if the MOB is lifted vertically. In most waters of the world, death from hypothermia occurs long before any dangerous peripheral vascular bed failure develops. The whole concept of peripheral vascular failure being caused by surface-type immersion is a myth. At the surface, it would take days to develop.

Myth 15: Always wear a lifejacket


An inflated lifejacket will severely restrict both your movement and your vision

This advice should be rewritten as follows: always wear a lifejacket in which you can swim. I favour a buoyancy aid, or PFD. An inflated lifejacket may keep you afloat if you can’t swim, but it renders the MOB less capable of meaningful self-help or cooperation with the rescuers. If you must wear an automatic lifejacket, learn how to operate the dump valve on the manual inflation tube. This way, the lifejacket can be deflated sufficiently to allow you to help your rescuers to rescue you.

Myth 16: Crew on deck can get a line or sling around an unconscious MOB


A sprung sling deployed attached to a boathook. Pulling on the pole side string decreases the size of the loop

Most rescue devices won’t help you recover an unconscious casualty, so what to do? A strong crew can deploy a powerful swimmer in a wetsuit, attached to the boat at all times and wearing personal lifting gear. The swimmer needs a climbing harness and a good buoyancy aid to support the MOB. A long line through a block on the spinnaker halyard allows a good range for the swimmer and easy recovery. This line should be attached to the back of the swimmer’s safety harness. The swimmer can support the MOB during the tow to the boat. Unless you have a powerful crew, recover the swimmer first. You will need their help to lift the dead weight.
Otherwise there is the forlorn hope of a recovery sling. The sling needs to be held open to get it under the arms and around the body of the unconscious MOB and their lifejacket, but it should be able to collapse to hold onto the MOB once it is in position. I have designed a collapsible recovery loop that might just work.

Myth 17: A standard boarding ladder is useful in MOB recovery


Kieran was able to board but it’s safest to use the ladder with the hoist or a halyard as a safety line, to take some of the sodden weight of the MOB

The rigid ladders fitted as standard to many boats are far too short. It is difficult or impossible, wearing sodden clothing, to get a foot onto the bottom rung. These ladders need at least two more rungs.


The bottom step of Noel’s ladder is weighted, and hangs 5ft below sea level when tied to the toerail

The sight of a rigid ladder descending as the boat rolls is frightening. This terror is only exceeded by the thwack of a crashing sugar scoop. Far better a long, flexible ladder with weighted lower rungs. Mine has a lead-loaded lower rung, good handholds in each rung, and extends at least five feet below the surface.