It’s a blustery afternoon off the coast and you are near the end of your watch. You set the autopilot and step below to wake your friend for the next watch. He comes out on deck and goes forward to check the headsail furling gear.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a gust heels your boat hard over to starboard, burying the rail in blue water. You hear a cry from the bow and see your friend fall backwards over the lifelines. You quickly toss a life jacket and life ring over the side.
You push the small diesel engine start button. Nothing happens! Not sound; not a click; not a whimper. You’ve already lost precious seconds and it will soon be dark. What now, skipper?
Use these five easy steps to approach a person in the water under sail. Remember this memory key to help you throughout the maneuver: “reach–tack–reach”.
1. Fall off to a broad reach
Turn your small cruising boat onto a broad reach. Sail until you are about three to five boat lengths from the person. Keep an eye on the person in the water at all times. If you cannot see him or her, toss over more items like boat fenders, jerry jugs, or life jackets. These provide a trail back to the person in the water.
2. Perform a quick tack
Make a fast tack. Release the headsail sheet and let it fly. Do not sheet in on the opposite headsail sheet. It will not be necessary to perform the rest of the maneuver and it only complicates things. Do not be alarmed by the noise of the flapping, flailing Genoa or jib and sheet. These are normal in high wind conditions.
3. Fall off to a broad reach again.
Fall off to a broad reach. Sail until you are a bit downwind of the person in the water. Do not be tempted to turn toward him or her earlier. This could cause you to end up too far upwind on the next leg. Be patient and you will make the recovery on the first attempt.
4. Turn onto a close reach.
Head up to a close reach as soon as you are downwind of the person. Only the close reach allows you to control boat speed or luff the mainsail all the way to stop the boat. Sheet in on the mainsheet to speed up. Ease off on the mainsheet to slow down. Slack the mainsheet all the way to stop the boat. Keep the person in sight at all times.
5. Stop and heave a line
Slow the boat as you approach the person (ease the mainsheet). Slack the mainsheet all the way and luff the mainsail to stop the boat nearby. Tie a long line off to a boat cleat. Make a large bowline in one end and heave it to the person. Have them pass the line around their chest. Pull them to the boat for recovery.
As a sailing skipper, you must practice for overboard emergencies and approaches under sail. Your sailing crew will look to you to know what to do to keep them safe and sound when the unexpected happens. Are you ready, skipper?
Captain John Jamieson shows small boat cruising skippers how to reach their sailing dreams today! Get his popular free report “Ten Top Safety Checks for Cruising Boat Skippers” at http://www.skippertips.com/public/242.cfm
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