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Quick Stop Upwind

Filmed with midshipmen at the US Merchant Marine Academy.

There are many ways to do a Quick Stop man overboard recovery. The common theme is to turn the boat immediately to slow down and stay near the victim. Once the boat gets more than a handful of boatlengths away from the victim, it is hard to see him or her.

The first crewmember to see the person fall in yells “MAN OVERBOARD” and then points at the victim with an outstretched arm. This person becomes the spotter who will do nothing but point at the victim while calling out the bearing and distance to the MOB.

As soon as “Man Overboard” is shouted, several things happen simultaneously: the helmsman tacks the boat, another person hits the man overboard button on the GPS, while a third person throws flotation into the water. Don’t bother uncleating the genoa during the tack and take down because backwinding the genoa helps turn the boat sharper and ensures that the foot of the jib will fall on the deck when dropped. In the video the crew wastes time by tacking the jib. Notice the Life Sling being deployed as the boat tacks. The boat turns a little too wide, getting further away from the victim than necessary. The farther away you sail, the longer the person will be in the water. I know of two different instances when jib trimmers slipped overboard during races and fast acting helmsmen spun their boats to pick up their soggy sail trimmers in less than a minute.

Once the boat can turn and approach the victim on a beam reach, jibe and make the final approach. On a beam reach a boat’s speed can be controlled by luffing or sheeting the main. If the boat stops short, just sheet in to get going again. There won’t be a need to make another approach. When using the Life Sling it is not critical to be stopped right next to the person in the water. As the boat sails by the victim, tack again so that the tow line comes toward the person. Don’t make the person in water swim as the video shows. Water-logged clothes prevent the victim from swimming very far or very fast. Once the MOB gets a hold of the floating line, someone can pull the victim in.

Boat’s with swim platforms offer an easy place to recover a victim, but the transom is only a viable option in flat water. Using the transom to recover someone can be lethal in waves since the boat can come crashing down on the person in the water.

The second recovery video shows the quick stop using a figure-eight recovery. While this method can take longer than a tight circle, it avoids having to jibe. Just as in the circle method, the boat tacks as soon as the person falls overboard. Then the boat sails to leeward as the crew prepares to take the jib down. For the take-down the boat heads up into the wind to slow down and to insure that the sail comes down on the deck. Once the jib is down, the boat tacks and bears off almost dead downwind. The boat does not turn toward the person in the water until it can approach on a beam reach. Just as in the first video scene, coming in on a beam reach allows the best control of the boat at slow speeds. To slow down, the main is let out to the shrouds and speed up a little, trim the main slightly. If you stop short, you can trim in to get going again. 

Getting the victim back on deck can be the most difficult part of the process. Pulling someone out of the water over the topsides is not easy without a ladder or employing some sort of lifting contraption like a halyard or block and tackle. Racing crews have the advantage of plenty of strong arms to help lift. Yet, even this a crew of strong midshipmen from the US Merchant Marine Academy, strain to pull the victim aboard. Making things easier for them is the fact that the swimmer is wearing a survival suit, which means his clothing hasn’t gained a lot of water weight. Notice how there are loops of line draped over the side of the boat so that the victim has many chances to grab hold of the boat. This is very important. Future video clips will show different methods to help shorthanded crews bring back aboard man overboard victims. Also remember that studies show that it is best to make the rescue over the leeward side so that the boat will not drift away from the victim.

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