Man over board and recovery

Top tips on what do in case of a man over board.

Top tips on what do in case of a man over board.

Man over board

Top tips

  • Keep everyone aboard in the first place by briefing the crew when you are turning or powering up
  • Avoid sharp throttle or wheel movements that could catch crew off balance.

Initial Actions

  • Shout ‘Man Over Board’ (MOB)
  • Spot the MOB
  • Consider throwing a danbuoy or buoyant object to give a visual reference point
  • Press MOB ‘Enter’ button on the GPS
  • Call a Mayday or DSC alert

Secondary actions

  • Prepare a lasso or line to throw around the MOB
  • Put a crew in a harness to aid retrieval of the MOB
  • If the MOB has no buoyancy, it may be necessary to drop them a life ring, fender or cushion to help them stay afloat before starting your approach.


Method One
Method Two - Williamson Turn

If the person is well insight keep the manoeuvre simple.

  • Slow down or stop and establish wind direction.
  • Turn around and drive upwind of the MOB.
  • Stop and drift downwind onto the MOB – beam-on.

On a twin engine boat, use the engine furthest away from the MOB to keep position.

The Williamson turn is an initial action after a person has fallen overboard. It turns the boat back towards its wake where the MOB should be found. It is designed for motorboats travelling at speed but works with all vessels and is a useful strategy at night.

  • Man overboard. Compass course noted and reciprocal course worked out. The easiest way of doing this on standard compasses is to place your hand along the compass card and read off the reciprocal heading. Do not adjust speed.
  • Boat steers 50 degrees to starboard. This turn to starboard opens up a turning circle to allow the boat to come back on its wake.
  • Helm hard over to bring the boat to port.
  • Continue with helm hard over until the boat nears its reciprocal heading, then straighten up and steer the reciprocal heading. This should bring the boat back on its wake. SLOW DOWN and look for the MOB.

The 50 degree offset to starboard will vary as boats turning circles differ depending on their hull configuration. Sea conditions and weather also play their part, what you are looking for is an allowance to get back to your wake.

The Pick up

Once sighted, establish the wind direction and aim a few metres to windward of the casualty. Once up wind, stop and allow the wind to blow the boat onto the casualty. Use the engine furthest away from the casualty for final positioning.

Engines on or off

A decision has to be made whether or not to switch off your engine when alongside the casualty. If there is a chance of accidently knocking the boat in gear then the engine is best switched off. Twin engine boats often switch off the engine closest to the casualty.


Once you’ve got back to the person in the water the hard work really starts – getting them out.

Man over board

A person in the water will quickly lose strength and increase in weight as their clothing becomes waterlogged. Often the crews’ only option is to use an aid to help recover the casualty. Time is of the essence and if a recovery system is not already in place there is a good chance that the person in the water will deteriorate rapidly.

Top tips for quick and safe man overboard recovery

1. Assistance
Whilst you may be able to get back to a person, it is quite possible that you may fail to get them out of the water. By promptly sending a MAYDAY and DSC Distress alert the rescue services can come to your assistance to help recover the person overboard and give any necessary medical help.

2. Retrieval
A horizontal lift, or a lift that put the legs slightly higher than the head, helps keeps an even blood pressure and reduces the chance of a heart attack when the person is lifted from the water. However, if this is impossible to achieve or the person is drowning, get them out any way you can then sort out any other problems afterwards.

3. Rescuer safety
A rescuer leaning out over the guardrail or swim platform can put themselves on danger and the rescue in jeopardy. During the rescue ensure they are harnessed or tied to the boat to prevent them going over the side.

4. Attach a line
A lifting strop with attached line will make hoisting the casualty easier. Alternatively, lasso a line around the casualty and tie them to the boat.

5. Purchase systems
A block and tackle or purchase system will hoist someone from the water. A 4:1 system is usually the minimum purchase that could be used but consideration should be given to find somewhere high and strong enough to attach it. A line might be led to the rope drum of the windlass (if fitted) or a powered winch to give assistance.

6. Swim platform
A swim platform is an ideal place to retrieve a casualty if conditions permit. If you drag an unconscious person up swim platform it may not be possible to get them further onboard so tie them to the platform.

7. Liferaft
Launching the liferaft offers a floating platform close to the sea into which the casualty can enter or a crew can assist the casualty aboard. Ensure the raft is tied to the boat before launching. The casualty can be warmed and treated in the raft or lifted back aboard the boat.

8. Ladder
Ladders allow the casualty to assist in their rescue by utilising their stronger leg muscles alongside their arms and legs.

A ladder or scrambling net should ideally extend 2 foot (600mm) below the yachts waterline so the casualty can place their foot on the bottom rung.

There are many ways to make a ladder or foothold. A line from the aft cleat draped in the water to an amidships cleat or windlass can provide a step.

9. Dinghy
If the dinghy is accessible and weather conditions allow, it offers a platform for either the person in the water to help themselves back aboard or for a crew to assist the casualty. Tubes on an inflatable dinghy can be partially deflated to help retrieval.

Man over board

10. Davit
Davits and cranes may be capable of lifting a person clear of the water but their use will require practice from crew beforehand.

11. Purchased aids
There are many retrieval aids on the market but the big question on a motorboat is still how to get them out, consider what hoists, block and tackles, winches etc. you have or need to effect recovery


Finally… test it

How you retrieve someone from the sea will depend on whether they are conscious, what retrieval aids the boat carries, the crew strength and sea conditions. So make sure you practise or have a plan.

To gauge how good your retrieval method is lie down on the pontoon and see if your crew can start to hoist you.

Image credit Jeremy Evans