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You may sail for 20 years and never have to recover a crew member who has fallen overboard. Or, it may happen the first day of your basic sailing classes. In this event, emotions can take the best of you and you can easily panic; that's why you should practice responding to a man overboard when you are learning to sail. The most likely cause of someone falling overboard is a strap breaking or coming undone so it's always wise to double check yours before you set sail. When a crew member falls overboard, keep in mind that--especially in a smaller boat--the sailboat may capsize due to an uneven distribution of weight. This is less likely in a bigger boat with a larger beginner sailing class.
Make sure your sailing instructor carefully goes over the man overboard procedures before you learn to sail. When a crew member goes overboard, you must first alert everyone else in the boat by yelling "crew overboard," or a similar command. Then, you should throw a personal flotation device to the crew member. All members of any sailing course should be wearing life vests so the crew member will be safe while you get control of the boat. This type of quick and non-panic response takes practice. Then, designate a spotter to watch as you sail away from the crew member far enough to give you room to maneuver the boat, but keep him or her in sight at all times. When the victim is abeam, turn quickly to come alongside them. Haul the crew member to the boat and come pull him or her aboard.
Learning to handle a man overboard situation is hard to learn from a book. That's why a certified sailing course with an experienced instructor is the best way to learn to sail.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|