Acting as a Man Overboard is Not a Competency

If you were to look at the narratives of past Auxiliary mishaps across the nation, you’d see a lot of them involve crew falling into the water.  Not a good thing, especially in cold weather or at night.  At a minimum you’ll have a wet and exhausted crewmember and some paperwork to complete.  The worst case could be tragic. The following is an excerpt from an actual MOB mishap report:

During a PATON patrol, an Auxiliary OPFAC was maintaining position in order to photograph the aid for a report.  The coxswain notified the crew that he was going to reposition the vessel and pushed the throttle forward.  The Auxiliarist taking the photo was not able to react in time and was thrown from the vessel.  The PIW came to the surface and was disoriented and had difficulty maneuvering.  A PWC facility came alongside the PIW with a rescue device and assisted them back to the vessel.  With help from the coxswain and crew, the PIW was able to climb the ladder and onto the swim platform.  Time in the water was ten to fifteen minutes…

The reality is that nearly all MOB events are totally preventable, and there are things the crew should do together to prevent them.  It all starts even before the patrol with a self-assessment of your physical capabilities and the particulars of that facility.  Can you adequately work on that facility or would a larger boat be more appropriate for you?  Be honest with yourself. 

On the patrol day, a pre-underway briefing should highlight location of handholds, rules about going forward, and any other particulars.  On my facility, there are two cutout areas on either side where the railing is lower and only at knee height.  I highlight these to the crew before EVERY patrol.

We’ve all heard “one hand for yourself, one hand for the boat” – you should always maintain three points of contact, particularly when outside of the cabin.  Use your hands and get low when moving about the cockpit.  If you are reaching over the side while working you should have another crewmember hold your PFD from behind as an added safety precaution.

The coxswain’s management and boathandling skills play a major part in mitigating the possibility of mishaps.  Communication is key, and the helmsperson should always be announcing COMING UP, COMING DOWN, COMING ABOUT TO PORT, etc. to let the crew know of the upcoming maneuver.  And announce it before you execute the change to give folks time to reach for a handhold if necessary.  Good situational awareness of the surroundings means there would be less chance of being surprised by a hazard that would require a rapid evasive action.

When underway in forward gear, the pivot point of a boat is roughly one third of the boat’s length back from the bow.  That means that when you turn to starboard the stern swings to port quite rapidly, and anyone standing at the aft end of the cockpit could easily be ejected if not ready and holding something.  When maneuvering to evade an object in the water it is generally safer to slow down quickly rather than throw the helm over.  Sure, the crew might bump in to things on board but that’s better than going over the side.  Besides, remember the importance of the throttle in safety management – you should not be carrying more speed than necessary for the situation at hand to minimize surprises.

And finally – no jumping when approaching a dock!  Even the smallest jump could turn out badly.  I make sure crewmembers STEP off the boat while holding the rail in one hand and a dockline in the other – this should be mentioned in the pre-docking briefing you conduct just like for any other evolution.