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Man overboard: Practice saves lives!


A holiday trip in calm waters, what could happen there? Many crews ignore the "man overboard" scenario and are completely taken by surprise in an emergency. The Pantaenius specialists explain how to secure yourself on board, which equipment will help you and which manoeuvres you should practice.

It can happen so quickly: As you walk to the foredeck, the skipper slips and falls overboard; An accidental gybe sweeps the genoa trimmer over the railing; Or the watch leader loses his balance whilst urinating off the backstay. In the reports of the Bundesstelle für Seeunfalluntersuchung (BSU) there are too many true horror stories of crews who could not save fellow sailors from drowning.
"Nevertheless, the topic of ‘man over board´ is ignored by many crew”, says Axel zu Putlitz-Lürmann, Director of the damage department at Pantaenius. When someone goes overboard, every second counts. Not only can the impact cause shock, but also the effects of hypothermia can quickly take effect, rendering the man over board unable to play an active role in their own rescue. Dirk Hilcken, Sales Operations Manager at Pantaenius, remembers a training regatta in which the crew of an X-332 all went overboard because of a broken railing wire; "Despite being young and trained sailors, they had no strength left after being in the cold April water after just a short time.” How helpless might "the normal trained sailor" be in full gear? 

When the skipper of a crew of two goes overboard, it is especially difficult for the remaining crew member to get them back on the boat - either due to lack of strength or because the casualty is already unconscious. "Modern yachts in which halyards and stretchers are redirected into the cockpit often convey deceptive safety," says Putlitz-Lürmann, "because something can always happen that makes it necessary to move forward, for example a jammed furling jib or a broken sheet.” According to the damage expert, he rarely sees stretch rope on the running deck of cruising yachts. It is important to additionally secure yourself with a life belt, especially when walking onto the foredeck. We recommend models with a trouser belt from which you cannot slip out. The life belt should also be adjustable in length - because if the line is too long, it does not protect you from going overboard.

Dry exercises give safety

Axel zu Putlitz-Lürmann recommends using a windless afternoon at anchor and jumping overboard in a complete oilskin with automatic life jacket for practice. "Even when the water is calm, it is difficult to pull yourself back onto the bathing platform on your own," says Putlitz-Lürmann. "Imagine how much more difficult it will be when the cold and waves are added to the equation!”

There are many theories about the man overboard manoeuvre itself. However, there is agreement that salvage via the stern is dangerous. On the one hand, the stern hits the water surface again and again during swell, and on the other hand, the victim is quite close to the screw. One recommendation is to approach the person from windward and pick them up over the side of the ship. This approach and manoeuvre can be practiced with a fender that is thrown outboard under sail or engine. In this way, the crew learns the manoeuvring characteristics of the yacht and is able to approach a person in leeward direction in a controlled manner even under stress.

“Unfortunately, spouses and children often receive little or no instruction in the yacht's functions and safety equipment,” Putlitz-Lürmann reports. If the skipper goes overboard, the remaining crewmember is completely helpless. It is important that all crewmembers know the procedures and have the necessary equipment at hand to assist them.


For the man-overboard (MOB) case, the specialized trade offers several different systems: From the rescue stall to mountain sails and mountain net to the "Pelikan" system, which looks like an oversized landing net. One system may be better suited to your vessel than another, and the comparison tests in specialized magazines can be extremely useful.

But the purchase of a MOB system is not enough: What, for example, if the large halyard is too short to be fished to the water surface? Try the MOB system thoroughly, attach markings on board to quickly attach everything in the correct position, and practice whenever the opportunity arises.  Equipment alone does not save a life.


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