The Captain fell overboard! Now What?

My wife and I were sitting in a Safety At Sea conference in the spring when the realization hit her.  “If you fall overboard, I don’t know what to do.”  Actually, I am pretty confident she would figure it out enough to get me onboard in reasonable conditions.  After all, the Navy did qualify her to drive an aircraft carrier.


However, there is a world of difference between driving a warship with a fully trained crew and being the last man or woman on the deck of a sailboat with the captain bobbing astern.  This got me thinking about the differences between our navy experiences and operating a pleasure boat and how to improve safety.  In a nutshell, I think it comes down to procedures and practice. In the navy we had procedures for everything from normal operation of equipment to complex emergencies.  More importantly, everyone had to learn the procedures and we practiced and practiced until the muscle memory was locked in.  This was especially true for emergencies or “casualties” in navy speak. 


Casualty response is broken down into three basic parts:  Immediate Actions, Supplementary Actions and Recovery Actions. Immediate actions are the ones that you need to memorize and can do without looking at the book or the procedures.  Immediate actions are the actions that save the ship from the immediate danger and put her in a stable or semi-stable state that allows the crew time to complete supplementary actions and work on the recovery. 


You might not be driving a warship in harms way but as a colleague is fond of saying “The boat is trying to hurt you and the ocean is trying to kill you”.  Do you have basic procedures written down and does your crew know what to do in emergencies?  Have you practiced? 


In a follow-up post I’ll share my thoughts on some of the more common emergencies we might encounter sailing around the bay.  If the captain does go over the side one day, let's make sure that recovery won’t be left to chance.

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