About six weeks ago, in my home marina, I heard some yelling and saw a head bobbing in the water near a boat. The boat was at least 150 feet from the nearest dock and 100 yards from where I was standing. I took off in the direction of the commotion as fast as my short, old legs would allow. As I got closer, I saw the person onboard the boat throw a flotation cushion to a woman in the water. So far, so good. Still, it was early in the season, the water in our harbor was less than 60o Fahrenheit, and she had no life jacket on. Getting her out of the water fast was imperative (look at the survival time chart in the article on Hypothermia).
At that point, however, things really started to go wrong. I looked for one of the life-rings and line that are normally placed at 150-foot intervals along the main dock.
There weren't any! Then, I watched as the man onboard (who turned out to be her husband) threw the boat hook to her. The boat hook promptly sank in over 40 feet of water! He then put the engines in reverse and started backing down on his wife's position in the water.
Just think about that. Two large propellers were heading straight for her! I began bellowing to him to put the engines in neutral to stop the rotation of the props. When he finally heard me and complied, I shouted for him to circle around with the boat and approach his wife from the downwind side of her position. At this same time, I was assuring the woman that we were going to get her out of the water quickly and safely! She managed to keep calm throughout the rescue, fortunately. Finally, after much maneuvering and several attempts, the woman was safely brought on board by the use of a dock line and a small boarding ladder.
Afterward, I realized that both the man on board and I had really made a mess of things. It was only by the grace of God and good fortune that his wife got out of the water safely and in time. My mistake? Not noticing in the preceding weeks that the life-rings were missing. The husband's mistake? He didn't know how to handle a man overboard situation. I began wondering just how many other Skippers don't know how to handle a man overboard situation. As a result, I'm going to list some basic steps to follow if you find yourself in a similar situation, where by chance someone does go overboard into the drink.
FYI: A point of interest. All ships in days gone by were made of wood. A sawn piece of wood is called a board. Therefore, when you were inside the ship, you were on the boards, or onboard. Conversely, when you went over the side, you were over the boards, or overboard. How's that for trivia?
To learn the basic steps for recovering a person in the water, please go to "Man Overboard Procedures". And remember, while you are boating, take care and don't let this happen to you!
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