MOB! … Man Overboard are words you don’t want hear while cruising through the water. The best way to avoid this outcry is to take steps to prevent it from happening in the first place. It is every boater’s responsibility to protect themselves and their fellow passengers from falling overboard. Important areas that require close attention are: keeping decks clear of trip/slip hazards, making sure all handrails are in good condition, working as a team when leaving the dock, anchoring, cruising, skiing, tubing, fishing, and returning to the dock. Don’t allow anyone to sit on the gunnel, stand on the swim platform, or sit on the bow at any time while underway; if drinking alcohol, do it in moderation, or not at all if you are the Operator. Use a buddy system, making sure everyone is keeping an eye on one another. In bad weather or rough seas be sure that everyone onboard is wearing appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). These items keep victims afloat and face-up if unconscious, prolong survival time in the water, and can be equipped with electronic signaling devices and strobe lights to assist rescuers with locating stranded individuals.
Remember; however, that even after taking these pre-underway precautions, MOB situations do occur. When it happens decisive action is required. Falling off a boat at anchor or while underway is disorienting for all swimmers and creates panic for non-swimmers. When someone falls overboard everyone should assume the worst has happened. The person could be injured, unconscious, a non-swimmer without a PFD, or disoriented. That is why everyone onboard must be prepared to respond quickly to an MOB alarm.
The first person who sees another fall overboard immediately points at the victim while loudly spreading the alarm by repeatedly shouting “MAN OVERBOARD!” It is also very important to include the location of the MOB: port or starboard side, at the bow, off the stern. This spotter never takes eyes off nor stops pointing directly at the victim, and continuously informs the boat’s operator of the location of the victim relative to the boat and of the victim’s physical condition … is he or she conscious, injured, swimming, struggling, wearing a PFD, etc.
A second passenger should throw a life ring or cushion in the direction of the person in the water. This equipment provides added floatation to the victim while at the same time its visibility from the boat provides the operator with a more visible datum at the scene. This second passenger also makes the rescue line ready.
Once the alarm has been sounded, the operator has several tasks to complete. As a first step, slow down easily so you don’t cause any onboard passengers to be put off balance by a sudden change in speed. Sound the danger signal to alert surrounding boats to be on the lookout (5 short blasts of the whistle). Record your MOB’s location by using the ship’s GPS plotter; or get Lat/Long from your radio or cellphone. Then assess the situation. Keep appraised of the current condition of the victim. If that person is in distress call the Coast Guard for assistance using Channel 16. If needed the Coast Guard will dispatch its boat, or call in a Marine Enforcement response team.
Following completion of the tasks described above the operator will need to maneuver the boat to a position that will enable the onboard passengers to pick up the person in the water. In most cases, it starts by turning in the direction of the person who fell overboard with the intent of recovering this victim from a leeward direction. This provides the operator with better control of the approach while using the wind and current to help bring the MOB toward the boat. Once alongside, throw a rescue line, stop your engines, then help that person re-board the boat. Check that he or she is not in need of medical attention, then inform the Coast Guard of a successful recovery.
It is important to note a few words of caution. When a person falls in the water resist the temptation to immediately jump in to assist. This creates a new situation of two persons overboard that complicates the recovery evolution. Also, it is best if only trained rescue swimmers attempt to rescue adult non-swimmers in distress. This is because when in distress non-swimmers panic and can cause a situation where both persons drown. To avoid this dreadful predicament make sure adult non-swimmers stay away from danger and provide them with PFD’s, especially if sea conditions are rough. Also be certain that you have right-sized PFD’s for children and plus size individuals.