MOB: Keep Your Men (and Women) On Board

It was every sailor’s worst nightmare when 22-year-old Sam Goodchild fell overboard during Leg 2 of this year’s Global Ocean Race. Luckily, both Goodchild and his co-skipper, Conrad Coleman, are sailing instructors, so they knew what to do. And with SAIL's detailed analysis, so do you.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

It was every sailor’s worst nightmare when 22-year-old Sam Goodchild fell overboard during Leg 2 of this year’s Global Ocean Race. Luckily, both Goodchild and his co-skipper, Conrad Colman, are sailing instructors, so they knew what to do.

When a 10-knot wind turned to 30, Goodchild went up to the foredeck to drop the jib. Both he and Colman, who was at the helm, saw the monstrous wave just before it broke over the bow of their Class40 Cessna Citation. Colman tried to bear away, but it was too late. Goodchild, in his haste, hadn’t clipped on or donned a life jacket, and was swept over the lifelines.

As soon as Goodchild went overboard, Colman tried to toss him a line, but Goodchild was unable to reach it and could only watch helplessly as the boat sailed away. Because Goodchild had been mid-sail change when the wave hit, it took Colman 10 minutes to tack the boat and several more to retrieve him.

During this time, Goodchild forced himself to calm down and then stripped off any unnecessary layers of clothing that were pulling him down. Luckily, he had a knife in his pocket, which he used to cut off his bright yellow hood, and when Colman came back, he waved it as a flag. Ultimately, due to Colman’s good sense to hit the MOB button on his GPS after Goodchild fell in, creating a waypoint, and his careful return to the scene where Goodchild had remained calm, the two young men were able to reunite in rough, low-visibility conditions before Goodchild was too cold or tired to hang on.

MOB Prevention

What would you do in this situation? No one thinks it’s going to happen to them, but knowing how to prevent an MOB situation is the best way to be prepared. Learning from Goodchild’s mistakes, the first essentials in heavy weather are to clip on when on the foredeck, and to wear a lifejacket. Never forget that a lifejacket alone may keep you afloat, but won’t keep you out of the water, so use that harness. (A combo harness-jacket is ideal.) In addition, while they won’t help in the case of a giant wave, skid resistant shoes will give you a foothold in slippery spray.

Crews are often comprised of one sailing enthusiast and their less-experienced friends and family members. Remember that the man overboard could be the captain, so the rest of the crew needs to know how to maneuver the boat in case of emergency. Do some practice man-overboard drills so the crew won’t be left trying to figure things out for the first time in an actual emergency. Perhaps even jump off the transom on a warm, calm day (with your lifejacket on) and leave it up to your crew to let you sink or swim, so to speak. For more tips, see 10 Best Ways to Prevent Man Overboard.

In an ideal world, your boat would be tidy and everyone would be safely in the cockpit. But when racing, preventable measures for a MOB are not always possible.

When Accidents Happen

The first thing to remember in the case of a man overboard situation is to stay calm. It’s also important to shout “Man Overboard!” as soon as you see someone in the water, keep sight of them and physically point to where they are. Ideally, a member of the crew should be given the job of doing this and this alone while the rest of the crew maneuvers the boat and prepares heaving lines and any other retrieval equipment you may have onboard.

Try to stay within 5-10 boatlengths of the MOB and, like Colman, throw a line that’s attached to the boat with some kind of flotation on the end to the MOB as quickly as possible. A light or anything bright is a plus for helping to relocate the victim. If you have a GPS with an MOB button, pushing it as soon as possible will help you to re-locate the victim if you float away or if the visibility is low. Most GPS devices will record your latitude and longitude and plot your return course.

For quick maneuverability, turn into the wind immediately before dropping the sails, then drop the sails and turn on the engine to get back to the victim. Don’t forget to put the engine into neutral as you get close. No need for a double-calamity. Calling for help is an option, but not the fastest one. If you need additional help, look for nearby boats and turn your VHS to channel 16 for a mayday.

A great piece of affordable gear to have on hand is the Man Overboard VHS, which floats and flashes a red LED when it hits water. A solo sailor might keep this on him or her, or a crew member can toss it to the MOB to call for help while the crew swings back around.

Hard to Find/Retrieve MOB

In the case that you do not know where your man overboard is located, you’ll need to start a search pattern. This is where boat handling will be imperative. For common search pattern diagrams and instructions, see our guide.

Getting your MOB out of the water can be another pickle. Check out our handy tips for retrieving a man-overboard without any special equipment.

In the end, SAIL contributor Kimball Livingston suggests that the most important thing is to know your boat and your crew, and have a plan.

Related

BoatTalk-2048

VIDEO: Sailing Not just for Millionaires

Sailing and boating can come with a hefty price tag, but there are plenty of ways to get on the water without breaking the bank. In this episode of Boat Talk, SAIL's managing editor Lydia Mullan and Power & Motor Yacht's executive editor Charlie Levine share tips on getting out ...read more

Cornell-2048x

Elcano Challenge Resurrected

In late 2020, sailing legend Jimmy Cornell set off on his Elcano Challenge, a green-powered circumnavigation aboard the custom Outremer Aventura Zero. Unfortunately, shortly after setting out, the boat encountered major power-generation issues. "I took the decision to turn ...read more

F8V-BOOK-for-SAIL---1

Book Review: The Figure 8 Voyage

“What is the color of the ocean that rolls beneath Pacific trades? How does a wave curl and crash at 47 degrees south? Can an albatross remain awing in the worst of weathers?” Randall Reeves has always found images to be the most compelling part of the stories we tell about the ...read more

AC210117cb_23806

VIDEO: Capsize in the Prada Cup

American Magic's Patriot capsized during day three of the Prada Cup. If you haven't yet watched the catastrophe unfold with your own eyes, check out the above video or any number of others that are circulating on social media. It's truly a tip that has to be seen to be believed. ...read more

210115-AC36

Prada Cup: Brits Take First Two Races

Who saw that coming? After getting skunked in December, INEOS Team UK has swept the first two races in the Prada Cup elimination series of the 36th America’s Cup  Racing took place on racecourse “C,” sheltered between Auckland’s North Head and Bastion Point to take advantage of ...read more

ac-2048x

Hutchinson: 36th America’s Cup will be a Close On

On the eve of the Prada Cup challenger series, the official start of the 36th America’s Cup, New York Yacht Club American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson says it’s anyone’s game. "As we've seen in the last week, everyone's gotten faster," said Hutchinson said at the event’s ...read more

Episode1_Thumbnail4_00000_00000_00000_00000

Sailing Docuseries Released Online

Endless Media's Reaching Reality is the story of three friends, a 24-foot sailboat and 1,200 miles. With candor and humor, this series proves that you don't need to be an expert or a millionaire to cast off on the journey of a lifetime. Produced by Emmy-award winner Barry ...read more

01-LEAD-nder-sail-3

Prepping for a Transatlantic

Growing up on the coast of northern England, I dreamed about crossing oceans on my own boat. Like most of us, though, education, a family and a career took precedence, and before I knew it, we had mortgages, young children and endless work obligations. We also became landlocked, ...read more