Planning for Crew Safety in 2022

Happy New Year!!

Although the winter sailing season in Charleston is still fantastic (most days), this is also the season of taking stock and getting ready for the upcoming sailing season. Last year we did some systems work and spent a little time cleaning up the to-do list from the fall survey.  This year I’m looking forward to working more on processes for crew safety and boat performance.

Refining the Crew Overboard Procedure

One of the crew processes that is often overlooked is the crew overboard drill. I just scheduled the first of several Man Overboard (MOB) practice days for the season.  Typically, how far we go depends on who shows up for practice. In the next sections I’ll highlight some considerations based on what I’ve seen in my classes.

Layer 1

The first layer of the onion focuses on tracking the target, the upwind/current approach, and managing boat speed. These fundamentals are critical regardless of the recovery technique you are using and regardless of whether you are executing under sail or under power.

Layer 2

The next element is selecting the correct technique for the situation. If we’re motoring a powered pickup is in order, if sailing our first (and hopefully only) approach will be under sail. Is the person in the water conscious and alert? If so the Lifesling is a great recovery tool with its associated approach. The other common options are the Quick Stop and Figure-8. I will typically use the Quick-Stop if the mainsail is up because it keeps the boat a little closer to the MOB than the Figure-8. In my opinion, it is also a little more automatic requiring less decision making. If we’re sailing under genoa alone, we use the Figure-8, because we’ve found that we can’t execute a quick-stop technique without the mainsail up.

Layer 3

The third element is getting the person connected to, and then back on the boat. Once you have successfully approached the MOB and they are alongside, get a line attached to the MOB. Don’t rely on the tenuous connection of the boat hook to keep the MOB from drifting away and forcing another recovery attempt. Even if you didn’t do a Lifesling recovery, this is still a great tool for connecting a person to the boat.

Don’t wait until you have a person in the water to think about AND PRACTICE getting a person out of the water. We have several options for getting a person out of the water.  1) The Lifesling hoist. 2) A spare spinnaker halyard. 3) The stern ladder. Consider your boat and make sure you have a plan and the necessary equipment to execute it.

Layer 4

The final element is providing post recovery care to the recovered person.  If your MOB happens in Charleston in the summer and your crew isn’t injured in their ordeal, the aftercare may be a towel and water bottle. In almost every other situation you will have more to do. Start by assessing your patient and then beginning treatment for injuries, shock, hypothermia, etc.

As the captain you are also responsible for crew safety and the safety of the vessel. Make sure you don’t get hyper focused, remember to remain situationally aware and to check in with each of your crew.


I hope you have a safe and fun 2022. You can improve the odds by doing a little planning and getting out and practicing! If you would like a jump start, I’d be happy to help you get your program going.