Man Overboard Rescue For Powerboats

From the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water

By Tom Neale
Illustrations by Paul Mirto

Few of us plan for a crew member to fall overboard. Getting that person back aboard is harder than you think.

Unless you do the right things, fast, when someone falls overboard, that person could be lost. Man-overboard (MOB) fatalities make up 24 percent of all boating deaths. Our BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water has studied these incidents over a five year period and created a picture of the typical accident. The majority of cases do not involve bad weather, rough seas, or other extenuating circumstances. "Most happen on relatively calm waters, on a small boat that's not going very fast," said Chris Edmonston, president of the BoatUS Foundation. "Victims tend to be men. Fishing is a prime activity, and in many cases, alcohol is involved."

Quickstop Method
Chart: Quickstop Approach to a Man Overboard
©2012 Mirto Art Studio

Numerous articles have been written about recovering a lost crew member from a sailboat, but MOB procedures for powerboaters have seldom been addressed. In light of the profile above, we present a general overview of MOB scenarios and procedures for the benefit of all boaters, no matter the size of your boat. We include an accompanying sidebar, "Brother, Save Thyself," about how to get back aboard a small boat. We also present and illustrate the Quick-Stop method, favored by many sailboaters:

Know Your Boat's Characteristics

When someone falls overboard, it's critical to get to the victim quickly. Think about how you'll do this on your boat without endangering the victim with your prop. Consider the freeboard of your boat. If it's high, this makes it difficult to get a victim back aboard. If your boat has a squared chine (bottom), waves may cause the boat to crash down on a victim who's alongside, while a rounded chine may push the victim away from the boat and out of reach. Look at your stern platform. Will it help, or plunge down on a victim, pushing him underwater and perhaps into the props? Before there's an emergency, consider how these factors affect your boat's maneuverability, and fit your boat out with gear that might mitigate some of these challenges (see MOB equipment sidebar).

Chart: Three Alternatives For Returning To A Man Overboard Victim
©2012 Mirto Art Studio

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Sobering MOB Facts

Our BoatUS Foundation has created a snapshot of boating fatalities that occurred between 2003 and 2007, a five-year span that gives good insight on MOB accidents and how they happen, so that we can work to help lower those numbers. In that time-frame, 749 of the 3,133 total U.S. boating fatalities were MOB:

  • 24% were characterized as "falls overboard."
  • 24% died at night, and 76% died during the day.
  • 82% were on a boat under 22 feet in length.
  • 63% didn't know how to swim.
  • Only 8% of the non-swimmers were wearing a life jacket.
  • 90% of accidents occurred when water conditions were calm or had less than 1-foot chop.
  • Just 4% of the boats had two engines.
  • 85% of fatalities were men.
  • Average age was 47.
  • During the day, alcohol played a part in 27% of the deaths.
  • At night, alcohol played a part in 50% of the deaths.
  • Falling overboard while fishing accounted for 41% of the deaths.



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