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Date: 11 January 2016. Falling Overboard.

I participated in the rescue of a fellow who fell going from his inflatable into his sailboat. Bob never knew how he it happened. One moment he was in his dinghy and the next he was soaking wet. Fortunately this accident was in the daytime and there were people around to haul his soggy self out of the water. This is what occurred.
 

S/V Maverick has a low freeboard and theoretically should be easy to board from the water.

 

 

 

One moment all was well and the next all was wet.

 

Bob was stepping from his dinghy into Maverick. Somehow he ended up in the water. And no, after fishing him out there was a lot of discussion and no conclusion as to the Why nor what caused the accident.

Bob was smart in that his rubber dink was red. That makes it far more visible than the grey marshmallows that are so prevalent.

 

A red inflatable is distinctive and easily recognized. Grey ones are everywhere. I want a boat that is easy to spot and Maverick's red tender was exactly that. It was stable so why Bob ended up in the drink is still a question.

 

It happened to Bob with fifty plus years on the water.
The same thing could happen to me as well. I'm cautious.

 


It was daytime and I was sitting in my galley reading. I heard some bozo yelling "hello" a fair distance away. [Bob was actually yelling "help" however my hearing is bad.] Finally I got up and looked around. I spotted an extra white ball at the bow of the boat moored across the anchorage from me. Binocs* confirmed it was our Bob.

*Binocs: shortened form of binoculars.

First thing: I got on the VHF and said Maverick's Bob was in the water and where. I got immediate radio confirmation that the message was heard and understood. Excellent start for a rescue effort.

Side Note: We had a radio net and I cannot stress enough how TOTALLY GREAT that was. It gave me a sense of friends at hand and support one dinghy away. That is one thing I've missed on the Gulf coast. Thus far I've found no local nets.
 

 

Radio Net Primer

 

A radio net is a brief morning VHF show where weather, local events, requests for help, etc. occur. A local boater hosts it. The Radio Net is the "party line" for those interested. Participation is the problem. Lots listen and it gets frustrating for the host when people kibitz without contributing.

On the east coast each morning Sparrow got on the air (VHF Channel 69) and would give a synopsis of the weather forecast. He also offered tides for the day. Then he would ask for check-ins.
 

Boats would provide name and if we wanted a turn later we'd give a head's up.

Then if anyone was driving to town they might say "At eleven I'm going to Walmart and have room for two passengers"

I generally contributed $5 for the round trip. It was not a requirement. Should you not offer anything though your seat might be filled the next time by someone else.

During the show if you could ask for advice, request a tool, or even a cup of sugar in exchange for freshly baked brownies later in the day. That and more would be traded. Items might be offered for sale or free.

Legally you cannot do commerce on the VHF. So the final deals were done in person.

Just prior to the end of the broadcast Bob would give a one or two minute "on this date in history" lesson. Or there might be a trivia question about something nautical.

Finally, for a while we had a preacher boat and they'd close with a prayer.

 


What a Radio Net does primarily is offer a sense of camaraderie and friendship.
New boats to the anchorage were greeted and told the time and channel for the broadcast.

Of course something like that cannot be done on VHF Channel 16. That is the hailing and distress channel and is not for chitchat such as we would do.

But I digress...

After alerting Lynn to the Bob situation I immediately got into Algae. I headed for Maverick with a spare life jacket. He was without one. I knew I could not get him out of the water. The life preserver would buy him time until the fellows could come.

I could also offer moral support while we waited for testosterone. There are times when an encouraging word can make all the difference in the world. If everything seems to be going belly-up knowing that you've got a friend is enormously helpful.

Just less than half way Maverick another anchorage fellow whose boat was nearer started up and headed for Bob. I knew Saphira was in a far better place to help so returned to Seaweed.

When something bad is going on the last thing
the person in trouble needs is a useless kibitzer.

In the meantime In Anneoin was on the radio to Coast Guard JAX. She'd seen the Coasties launching a couple of gun boats for a submarine escort so we had young help at hand. When the VHF to JAX wasn't productive she signaled the kids (Coast Guard servicemen) at the launch ramp what the problem was and where.

JAX is the abbreviation for Jacksonville, FL, thus CG JAX would be Coast Guard station, Jacksonville.
 


In Anneoin is the blue sailboat on the right behind the white one. She's 40' and steel.


The Coasties alerted by Lynn on In Anneoin pushed the throttles full tilt and had Bob hoisted out of the water in less than a minute.
 

 

Lessons Learned:

 

Falling overboard happens in a split second. It can happen just as easily to a man with fifty years on the water as to a newbie. I suspect those of us with more experience might be less cautious than a boater with fewer years afloat. Being aware of the consequences is of course a given.

  • Having a boarding ladder safely stowed in the cockpit locker "for when I go cruising" was stupid. That same afternoon Bob's ladder went over the side and was firmly attached to the stanchions.

    If you're on the boat you need a way to get back aboard should you fall into the water.

    Later Katja made him a great little bag so the folding ladder stayed out of the water and was easily deployed.

  • Bob didn't realize he could not board his inflatable dinghy from the water. Physically it was not possible. Nor could he climb over the side of Maverick and into the cockpit.

  • It was cold. He was not wearing any floatation device and the outcome could have been far worse. Even if he made it to shore he'd have been chilled and wet. Brrr.

Of all the boats in the anchorage only two of us had boarding ladders accessible from the water. That was In Anneoin and Seaweed. Some planned on getting first into their dinghy then into their boat home.

 


Can you board your boat from the water without help? If not, make that a priority.

One fellow assured us he could climb into a boat when younger with no problem and he was certain he still could do so. I suspect the extra fifty pounds and twenty years would not make him more agile. Thankfully he never tested the theory because the result might have been ugly.

Bob had one of those collapsing rope ladders with the red plastic steps shown on Defender, West Marine, and other places. They slide very nicely under the boat and are a pain to climb even when all is well.

In my view they are a good idea in theory and better than nothing, barely.

Solid ladders that angle out make boarding much easier than my up and down ladder. Those are pricey when compared with my collapsing one.
 


The boarding ladder for Seaweed folds up on top of the swim platform. Extended down it makes getting on the boat at a boatyard relatively easy. You can see how high my transom is though. That's why I want a small (half height) tuna door. Climbing over the transom will not get easier as I age.

At this point the lack of a tuna door is not yet a Priority safety item. That will change in the next few years. I am well aware that a step or two on the transom can buy me time at a lower cost. The step(s) won't make getting into the cockpit easier. On the inside there is no room for matching steps so it's got to be a tuna door. Someday... just not quite yet.

Because Seaweed is my Last Boat much of what has been done is in anticipation of growing old aboard her. Safety, convenience, security, reliability and comfort are all important factors for my future afloat. I have no intention of swallowing the anchor (moving ashore) so am proceeding with The Plan.
 


Getting out of the water after an accidental swim is or should always be a priority for anyone on a boat. The above picture shows Algae when I have her on my swim platform. That is a great place for her because she won't get barnacles. That is an awful place for her when I'm on the water because the dink covers my swim ladder.

Being able to board your boat from the water without assistance is critical.

Aboard Seaweed I'm pondering a second ladder solution. If Algae is on the swim platform my telescoping ladder is inaccessible. That is unacceptable so I do a lot of dinghy bottom scraping. Ugh. There's got to be a better way.

I am considering a 12" by 24" piece of wood tied at the four corners similar to a swing.

Lowered it would snug up against the flat side of the hull before it turns for the bottom/bottom. From there (about 8" below the waterline) I could get up I think. Or at least almost totally out of the water. A fender tied next to the swing would be the final step up to the side deck. It would not be ideal. It might work though.

Slip knots could keep it out of the water until deployed so barnacles would not be an issue.

I'm still pondering while I look for a scrap of board.

The only other person I know personally who fell in also was like Bob. It happened so fast he has no idea what went wrong. A moment of inattention and then the splash followed by cell phone replacement.

I don't want that scenario to be me or you so Pay Attention. And always have one hand for the boat...

Have you ever slipped and fallen on, in or off your boat?
If you went into the water could you without assistance get back aboard your boat?

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