Personal Safety - Preventing and managing falls overboard

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We saw in MW167 how to avoid injuries by wearing the right gear. Today we are talking about preventing the risk of falling overboard. It's not a subject that should be taken lightly: statistics show that falling overboard is a dangerous phenomenon since a good third of those who fall overboard don’t make it out alive. It should be pointed out that skippers supervising inexperienced crews are undoubtedly the most exposed to a fatal outcome. A more powerful wave, a delicate maneuver at the foot of the mast or on the headsails, an uncontrolled gybe, a slip on a wet deck... there are so many potential causes of falling overboard. It doesn't just happen to others. I know what I'm talking about because I've been over the side twice. Although I was able to get back to shore quickly and without much difficulty, that's far from always being the case. What are the techniques and behavior to adopt to avoid going overboard? What is the necessary equipment that you will need to avoid drowning or hypothermia? What sort of equipment will allow the person in the water to be spotted by the crew who are still on board?

We will not be talking here about man-overboard procedures, but rather the equipment that you will need to prevent or manage this type of emergency so that it ends well.

Above all, avoid falling overboard...

The first course of action is to wear non-slip footwear and to hold on to a handrail, a line or the rail when moving around the deck. If the sea is flat and the wind is light during the day, it is not essential to attach yourself. But at night, or if the wind is picking up and the sea is rough, as soon as you want to maneuver outside of the cockpit, it will be necessary to secure your movements as well as the workstation, where you will need both hands to maneuver. Pad-eyes and webbing are ideal for installing a lifeline that will allow you to reach the mast foot or the forward beam. Once you are there, hook onto a fixed pad-eye. The lanyard that you are going to fix between your harness and the boat should ideally consist of two strands, each ending with a double safety carabiner. One of two meters (6 feet) in length for travelling and one of one meter (3 feet) or less so you’re tied short. Ideally, this short lanyard should prevent you from falling over and keep you on board if a wave carries you away. Some sailing jackets are equipped with a harness; most often the lanyard is attached to the harness of your inflatable lifejacket. It can be useful to secure it with a quick release carabiner that can be opened under load, because if you fall or if you are tossed along the hull at the end of your lanyard, it can be useful to be able to release yourself so that you are not knocked unconscious.

Float and survive in the water

From the moment you are in the water, you are in great danger. That's why dressing not just for the weather but for the water temperature can save your life. Hypothermia happens two to four times faster ...

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