Person Overboard

Good skipper’s are judged by how they react in emergencies, not when things are going well. On the water quick decisions are required, with options often being limited and time being critical. The potential for someone to go overboard is an inherent risk of boating and it can be a terrifying experience for all involved; the person in the water, skipper, crew and passengers.

Is your vessel equipped for an overboard situation?

Equip your vessel with the necessary aids – life ring, rescue quoit with line attached , lifejackets and boat hook. Make sure this equipment is stowed in a position where it can be easily accessed and deployed quickly.

What to do when someone goes overboard

In the event of someone falling overboard the following actions should be taken simultaneously:

  1. SHOUT ‘PERSON OVERBOARD’ together with the side of the vessel the person fell…. ‘PERSON OVERBOARD PORT or STARBOARD SIDE’.
  2. Throw a buoyancy device (life ring, lifejacket  or rescue quoit ) overboard for the person to grab onto.
  3.  Station a crew or passenger member to keep visual sight on the person in the water by pointing continuously with an outstretched arm at the person in the water.
  4. Mark the person’s position on your GPS if you have one aboard or, check the current course on your compass.

Executing the Williamson Turn

  1. Observe your current compass course steered or take a bearing on a shoreline transit. Example: Refer illustration 90° East.  Slow to a maximum speed of 4 knots and maintain steering. Alter course 60° to PORT  or STARBOARD. (depending on which side  the person went over)  This will move the propeller away from the POB. Travel for 2 boat lengths. This action will move the propeller away from the POB.
  2. After 2 boat lengths immediately alter your course full rudder to STARBOARD.
  3. This manouver is designed to return your vessel on its reciprocal (opposite) course so you can retrieve the POB. Example: 270° W. Refer to the illustration.
  4. As you approach the person in the water maintain your vessel downwind, (to approach with the wind), not upwind (to approach into the wind) to avoid your vessel blowing onto the person overboard.


NOTE: In this illustration the POB has fallen overboard from the port side. If the POB went over on the starboard side then step 2 would be to alter course 60° to starboard. Wind is indicated as coming from the North to South, therefore the safest downwind side to approach the person in the water is on the starboard side. If the wind was blowing from the South to North you’d approach on the port side.

Finding wind direction
Standing on your vessel look for the wind, when you feel it directly on your face then note the direction using your compass. Observe the swing direction of vessels at anchor, on moorings and the lay of vessel flags and ties.

Transit Bearing
A line of position determined by lining up two features such as a lead, power poles, shoreline trees, or two features on a chart.

All emergency drills, including this manouvre require ongoing practice and training.

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