Man Overboard Procedures

The Statistics

  • Approximately 67% of Emergency Services launches for Man Overboard incidents are to 'pleasure craft', powered craft account for 17% of the total.
  • Learn the basics - Your life may depend on it! The RYA run courses which include Man Overboard procedures.

Sailing Safety


  • Guard-rails should be continuous around the upper deck. the ends should be secured with lashings or quick release slips so that you can cut or release them to recover a person from the water.
  • Treat any slippery surfaces with either non-skid paint or stick-on strips. Pay particular attention to the tops of hatches and sloping coachroof sides with become walkways when the boat is heeled.
  • Use harness in rough weather and at night. make sure they are adjusted to a tight fit or you can fall out of them.
  • Remember that if you go over the side, at night or in bad weather, there is a high probability that you will not be recovered.
  • Have the necessary equipment to hand so that it is ready for immediate use:
  • An automatic light - a continuous beam is considered most effective
  • A buoyant heaving line may be necessary in heavy seas if it is difficult to come alongside the person in the water.
  • Remember Practise Makes Perfect!


  • When you first discover that someone has fallen overboard, the most important thing to remember is Don't panic!
  • If the person overboard is on a lifeline, stop the boat immediately and then recover them using the lifeline/harness as necessary.
  • If you are well prepared and have practised the drill regularly, you will automatically know how to react.

Check List

  • Immediately throw a lifebuoy and attachments overboard.
  • If there are others on board, instruct a crew member to watch the person in the water and point continuously.
  • Start your recovery manoeuvre. You may have to lower your sails and start your engine - Beware of loose sheets fouling the propeller.
  • If possible note your position - most navaids have a MOB function - it may prove vital if contact is lost with the person in the water. Remember the MOB function records where the person fell overboard - he/she will drift away with the tide.
  • During the hours of darkness, a white parachute flare, which will pick up the reflective tape on clothing/lifejacket, can be used to illuminate the area.


Without an engine.
A simple way to make recovery is to :
  • Tack and sail on the opposite beam reach (person in the water now on weather bow).
  • Approach on a close reach easing the sheets in the final stages. Leeway will increase as you slow down - allow for this.
  • In a dinghy, come alongside to leeward of the person in the water and make the recovery by the weather shroud.

With an engine

  • To stay as close to the person in the water as possible:
  • Throw a heaving line to the person in the water, if in range and haul alongside.
  • Ensure there are no lines or sheets lying loose on deck or over side that could foul the propeller.

In the water

  • Look for the lifebuoy which may be close by. Remain calm, keep your legs together and restrict movements to stop flushing cold water under your clothing.
  • What ever your situation conserve your body heat - the greatest threat to your survival is from the cold. Remember in UK waters during winter your ability to assist in your rescue will be greatly diminished after ten to fifteen minutes.
  • In rough conditions, turn your back to the waves to keep your mouth an d nose clear of spray.
  • Tighten up wrist, ankle and neck fastenings of protective clothing to reduce heat loss and the onset of hypothermia. Do not attempt to swim back to the boat for the same reasons.

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