POB (person over board) manoeuvres

A person overboard (POB)-incident is one of the worst situations to experience. To quickly and safely rescue your missing crew member, we have put together a list of the most respected manoeuvres.

Don’t forget the most important rule: stay calm!

Additional steps you should consider:

1. shout “person overboard”
2. have a crew member maintain visual contact with the person over board
3. save a GPS position
4. 
position your crew aboard
5. call for help

“Classical” turn

1. Regardless of which point of sail you are on when a crew member falls overboard, the figure eight method starts with yelling “person overboard,” throwing flotation devices and appointing a spotter.
2. The helmsman should immediately either head up or bear away (depending on which point of sail the boat is on) to a beam reach.
3. Sail six to eight boatlengths on a beam reach.
4. Tack and immediately bear away from the wind to a broad reach, but only briefly until you cross your wake.
5. Head up to a close reach, ease the sheets and pick the victim up on the leeward side with speed between 1 and 2 knots and sails luffing.

Pros

The figure eight method is a classic approach often taught to beginning sailors on smaller vessels. Since it does not require a jibe, this method eliminates the potential danger of an uncontrolled boom flying across the cockpit and banging somebody in the head or damaging the rigging.

Cons

The biggest concern is the requirement of heading six to eight boatlengths away from the victim before returning. Considering the only thing the spotter might see is the victim’s head in the water, unless the victim is waving, it would be easy to lose sight of them at such distances, especially in rougher conditions or when sailing offshore.

There are other things that can go wrong with the execution of the figure eight method. Often the helmsperson will not immediately head up or bear away to a beam reach or won’t remain on the beam reach long enough, either of which will throw the whole thing off. They might otherwise stay on a broad reach for too long, wind up too far downwind of the victim, and then have to tack once or more to get back. Even when accomplished flawlessly, retrieving the victim from the water at the prescribed speed of between one and two knots is a challenge. Practicing with a buoy is one thing; a real person is quite another. If the victim in the water is unconscious, this drawback alone could be fatal.

Jibe upwind/downwind

Sailing upwind
1. If sailing to windward, when a crew member falls overboard, first shout “person over board,” throw flotation devices and appoint a spotter.
2. Simultaneously bear away from the wind and begin to jibe. The mainsail will likely be trimmed in enough already, but if not, either a crew member or the helmsman should center the mainsail before completing the jibe.
3. Jibe the boat.
4. Resist the urge to head straight back to the person overboard and instead head for a point directly downwind of them. Stopping distances will vary among different vessels and in different conditions, but between one and two boatlengths downwind is about right.
5. Head directly into the wind, sails luffing and come coasting to a complete stop next to the person in the water.

Sailing downwind
1. If sailing downwind, when a crew member falls overboard, first shout “person overboard,” throw flotation devices and appoint a spotter.
2. Have a crew member center the mainsail by pulling the mainsheet in hand-over-hand as quickly as possible. Do not use a winch handle as doing so will take too long.
3. Jibe the boat.
4. Release the jib or genoa sheet completely as you reach a point directly downwind of the victim.
5. Return to the victim from directly downwind with sails luffing and come coasting to a complete stop next to them and pull the person onboard.

Pros

On the water trials have shown the jibe stop method is approximately twice as fast as the quick stop approach and six to eight times faster than the figure eight method. The boat will not drift sideways as it does with the heave-to method.

Cons

Without practice, it is common for the boat to stop too far downwind of the victim. The engine can be used if it is safe to do so. The engine will be needed whenever there is a delay completing the jibe and quite likely whenever attempting this with a catamaran, which will usually stop faster head to wind than a monohull. Should you decide to use the engine, it is absolutely vital to ensure the transmission is in neutral on final approach and always remember to avoid overexposing anyone to the engine’s exhaust fumes. Of course it is imperative that you make sure no lines are overboard before putting the engine in gear.

The jibe stop manoeuver can be dangerous if crew members cannot center the boom (for whatever reason) before jibing and it requires a bit more in the way of boat-handling skills than some other methods, making it more difficult on some boats or with less experienced crews.

Under motor

1. Shout “person overboard”.
2. Throw a PFD (personal floating device) or other buoyant objects.
3. Assign a spotter.
4. Bring the boat upwind of the victim and broad side to the wind.
5. Then allow the wind to gently push the boat towards the victim while adjusting position with the engine.
6. Have crew throw lines to the victim and be sure to cut the engine once close.

Pros

This is the fastest and most direct way of getting to your missing crew member.

Cons

There is one absolute rule: be sure to cut the engine. Especially with the stress situation aboard this might be realised too late. So we repeat, there is one absolute rule: be sure to cut the engine.

Quickstop

1. Shout “person overboard,” throw flotation devices overboard and appoint a spotter.
2. The helmsman points the boat directly into the wind and comes to a stop or near stop.
3. Leaving the sheets alone, backwind the jib or genoa and tack.
4. Sail downwind in a circle around the person in the water.
5. Release the jib or genoa sheet and jibe the boat.
6. Head back toward the victim on a close reach with sails luffing and pick them up on the leeward side. Variations of this method include furling or dropping the forward sail when heading downwind or approaching the victim close hauled or head to wind rather than on a close reach.

Pros

The quick stop method is faster than the figure eight method, as studies from United States Yacht Racing Union (USYRU) have shown.

Cons

Heading straight into the wind and coming to a stop or near stop right away doesn’t make any sense unless the skipper plans to stay there and the person in the water can swim quickly enough back to the boat. Otherwise, doing so is only wasting time and slowing down the tack. Tacking, sailing around and downwind of the victim before jibing is also wasting time.

Why not skip the first two steps and jibe right away?

Explanations of the quick stop method almost always assume the vessel is sailing to windward when somebody goes overboard. What if the vessel is sailing downwind? It would prove difficult and time consuming to head up and tack back around the person who went over the side. Jibing straight back to them would be faster. The quick stop final approach is a close reach and may not allow the vessel to slow down enough to retrieve somebody from the water.