The shout of “man overboard” is perhaps one of the most chilling cries any sailor will ever hear. It heralds the most immediately threatening of all maritime emergencies, the loss of a crewmember. In the blink of an eye a crewman can be washed overboard and disappear from view, and with each passing moment (consider that a boat moving along at 6 knots travels 10 feet per second), the victim’s chances of survival can diminish exponentially, especially in darkness.
If the victim is lucky enough to be found by his mates the recovery effort in itself presents a whole new set of problems for those aboard, such as how to safely retrieve him or her, especially if the victim is injured or unconscious. How to effect the retrieval while minimizing risk to the vessel and those still aboard is also of paramount importance.
One look around any well-stocked marine supply store will assure you that safety and the importance of staying on the boat or being rescued are on the minds of sailors everywhere. There are racks of shock-loaded tethers, suspender-style PFD-equipped harnesses, personal EPIRBs, lights, whistles, coils of webbing for jack lines and cases of knives. While these devices may help you stay aboard or be seen should you go overboard the key components of the man overboard (MOB) recovery system must not be overlooked.
First and foremost in MOB recovery is sound procedure. Crews must instinctively know what to do and be trained in the use of retrieval gear. For many years it was commonplace to have an MOB pole with flag and strobe lashed to the backstay or shroud for quick deployment. On larger boats they were often stowed in a tube through the transom. But unfortunately, MOB poles can be cumbersome (especially on small boats). Slow deployment and tangled lines can lead to a tragic outcome.
Man overboard module: Thirty years ago Survival Technologies Group – STG, a division of Switlik Parachute Company of Trenton, N.J. – introduced an alternative to the MOB pole. Their Man Overboard Module (MOM)-8A offered a self-contained system consisting of a rail-mountable, low-profile canister that is instantly deployable by pulling a handle. The module contains a CO2-inflatable, horseshoe-shaped buoyant device capable of supporting a 250-pound person, a 6-foot-long inflatable locator pylon with an eight-hour, lithium-powered steady light on top and a self-deploying, 16-inch sea anchor. Both inflatable devices are fully deployed and inflated seven to 10 seconds after deployment. A floating poly line attaches all of the components. The unit also has an integral harness built into the horseshoe for recovering the victim from the water.
Since the introduction of the MOM-8A the company has added a MOM-9. Like the MOM-8A, this unit is instantly deployable with the pull of a handle. The MOM-9 contains a one-man ballasted rescue raft, ballasted lighted pylon and two sea anchors. The advantage of the MOM-9 is that it gives the victim the opportunity to get out of the water, thereby reducing the likelihood of hypothermia. The MOM-9 is designed to be rail mounted on the transom or on either the port or starboard stern quarters. The life raft is fitted with lifting straps so that it can be hauled back aboard with a halyard. The sea anchors help reduce downward drift, provide bow quartering in heavy seas and help prevent the raft from being lifted out of the water.
Techfloat: Another innovative product from STG is Techfloat. Techfloat is a throwable horseshoe that automatically inflates and provides 25 pounds of buoyancy. It is designed primarily for powerboats, where the installation of MOM devices is impractical. The unit is contained in a small lightweight pouch and is thrown toward the victim like a conventional heaving line bag.
Jonbuoy Recovery Module: Isle of Wight-based SeaSafe Systems, Ltd., also offers a number of rescue gear solutions. The Jonbuoy Recovery Module is similar to the MOM-style device and designed for maximum visibility. A unique feature of this device is that it can be released from a remote location on the vessel. It is designed for automatic inflation and has an integral lifting ring built in. Unlike the MOM units the Jonbuoy is simple to repack and does not require repacking by a factory service center. SeaSafe also offers repackable heaving lines, helicopter lifting strops, Matesaver, a rescue pole with a retractable lasso for small vessels, and traditional MOB buoys.
The company’s newest offering is the HypoHoist. A young British engineer at Waingels College, Berkshire, U.K., Tanya Budd designed the HypoHoist system as part of her studies. According to the designer, the HypoHoist is specifically designed to retrieve a conscious or unconscious victim from the water while minimizing risk and injury to the casualty. It is designed to lift the victim and maintain them in a horizontal posture, thereby minimizing a rapid drop in blood pressure – quick loss of BP can increase the chances of cardiac failure or neurological damage and increase the effects of hypothermia. The main component of the system is a cradle, which has two functions – to hoist the victim up to deck level, putting them in position for medical attention, or to operate as a boarding ladder for easy access back to the vessel.
The device can be deployed by one person and involves clipping one edge of the cradle to a toe rail, stanchions, car track, etc., and the lifting end to a free halyard.
MOB i-lert: Another product worthy of mention in the MOB gear lineup is MOB i-lert from Ocean Safety Systems in Southampton, U.K. MOB i-lert is a crew monitoring system for commercial operators and larger vessels. The heart of the system is a rechargeable pendant worn by crewmembers. Each pendant is individually coded and maintains a continuous contact via an exclusive electronic signature transmitted to the base station. As soon as the communication between the pendant and the receiver is interrupted for any reason, the alarm sounds, triggering a call to action. The system may be integrated to include EPIRB activation, release of a Jonbuoy Recovery Module, disengagement of the autopilot, engine shutdown, and GPS/plotter position taking.
Whatever equipment or system you choose to protect your crew, the success or failure of an MOB accident depends on quick response. The equipment is useless if the crew has not been properly drilled in rescue procedures. From maneuvering the vessel to getting the victim back aboard, it’s critical that everyone knows their station and how to properly operate the given rescue gear. The procedures may sound simple, but in the frenzied moments following the cry of “man overboard,ï¿½VbCrLf without proper training and teamwork, the likelihood of a successful rescue are seriously diminished.
Contributing editor John Snyder is a freelance writer and photographer.