Fishing alone on the boat, sleepy, and maybe a little careless, the wrong roll of the deck while climbing into the pit with a cup of coffee in hand: suddenly, the whole world is all wrong. You are wide awake and fighting for your life.
One fisherman found himself in a version of this situation watching his boat troll away without him. He grabbed the trolling wire but it slipped through his grasp until he caught the floatbag. No boats were nearby, and nobody would notice him for a long time. His only choice was to make his way back to his troller. Slowly, laboriously, he grabbed the wire and hauled himself forward. Hand over hand, clinging tight to that minuscule wire, he fought his way back to the boat. Finally, he grabbed the bulwark and as he felt the cold numbing him, he managed to heave himself onto the boat and collapse in a heap. Others have managed to get back to the boat but did not have the energy to climb onboard. Would you?
In marine safety classes, we talk about the various roles in an emergency situation and how working together can drastically improve your odds of surviving a disaster. While assigning jobs to crew members and practicing drills have improved survival rates, what happens when you are the only person on board or the rest of the crew is down below? Man-overboard situations are scary even with several crew members on deck who know what they are doing, but those situations can be a thousand times worse when you are alone on the water. On average, you have one minute to get your breathing under control, ten minutes before you lose muscle functionality, and one hour before you lose consciousness.
We hear the success stories about people climbing out of the water using their stabilizer haul-up lines or pulling themselves in on troll wire, however, there are many more unsuccessful stories of man-overboard scenarios resulting in a loss of life.
Swimming in rough seas in full raingear is not the moment to realize that your boat is too high to reach.
Take ten minutes to think about your vessel and build a plan for a man-overboard scenario for a solo trip or a crew of 2-3. Make a rule about wearing a PFD while on the back deck, and require crew members to inform someone if they are outside alone. Avoid hanging out in the blind spots on the boat, and wear a personal locator beacon on your person while outside. If you are soloing the boat consider wearing a man overboard alarm with an engine kill switch so that your boat will stop if you hit the water. Purchase and install a ladder near the back of your vessel, and pay attention to the lowest points on the rail where it would be easiest to climb back on the deck or haul someone onboard. Do you have a pulley system or a hydraulic hauler? Is it possible and safe to install a line on both sides of your vessel that someone could grab onto and possibly get a leg on to climb back onboard?
Once you have a plan, take some time to familiarize your crew with the order of operations, locations, and jobs. Practice your man-overboard drills monthly. Practice climbing back onboard your vessel from the water in a controlled setting with friends and a ladder nearby to help if needed. Take a drill conductor class to review the standard procedures and remember to adjust the systems to your vessel and your crew. It may be your life or the life of someone you care about that gets saved in the process.
Watch AMSEA's video on Man-overboard prevention and recovery to learn more, and sign up for a drill conductor class near you. You can sign up here for the Drill Conductor class waitlist. Let us know the month and location where you would prefer to take a Drill Conductor class. AMSEA is currently offering a refund of up to $95 on the purchase of your next PFD for anyone who completes an AMSEA-led Drill Conductor course after October 1st, 2022.