Man Overboard!!! (PFDs, Crotch Straps, and Spray Hoods)

From Tradewinds Member Al Z.

Gear: Spinlock's Deckvest Vito Inflatable Lifejacket - Sail Magazine

Hope all is well with you all at Tradewinds. I just had a detailed and extremely informative chat with Nick by phone who very kindly suggested I write you, Matt, in case you wish to post this in a Newsletter to members. I’ve taken your wonderful 101, 103 and 104 courses and enjoyed them immensely.

In short, I wanna relay a strong recommendation to all sailors on the Bay to get a life jacket that has both crotch straps and a spray hood – the latter of which doesn’t come standard on any PFD sold at West Marine but one can be purchased from spinlock. Here’s why:

On Saturday I was sailing on a boat I’ve been racing on several times, a J125 out of Brickyard Cove Richmond, in high winds, reaching 25 knots. We were heading downwind when we raised the spinnaker and all seemed well (despite  other boats in the race calling it quits due to the gusts). Then there was a super sudden bluster that came so fast there was no time to let out a sheet. I was on the main sheet and only had time to kick free the traveler before I was flying. And the skipper has said in hindsight, even if we had let the main out and made  other adjustment in a non-second, it wouldn’t have offset the force of wind that pitched us on our side. It came like a fire cracker.

The racing boat pitched sideways, bodies were air-born and I was MOB. After being under the boat, I surfaced with my Mustang 70 inflated and thought all would be fine. Surprisingly, I wasn’t feeling very cold at all and was floating on the water. But I was taking in a stomach full of sea water every 10 seconds from the swells and spray, so by just ten minutes I had probably 60 stomach-fulls and was starting to weaken. No matter which way I turned or covered my mouth with my hand, I was getting hit. It took the crew over 28 minutes to get me after failed passes in the rough conditions and I didn’t think I was gonna make it in part because I didn’t have a splash hood attached to my Mustang PFD to stop the swells from hitting me. With that hood, I could’ve been fine and waiting, I think, for hours.

My PFD did an okay job keeping me afloat but it couldn’t block the heavy spray even with my hand covering my mouth. Once my crew finally got me, three sets of hands holding me sideways off the side of the boat, they couldn’t hoist me up initially due to my weight while wet and the force of water tugging at the submerged half of me. So, I was taking in white water in the face, starting to drown in a horizontal position. Eventually, of course, they pulled me aboard. But there were many lessons here. 

First, you gotta get a life jacket with a spray hood and crotch straps that keep your PFD from rising so your head can stay high. Second, your crew needs to practice how to slow a boat in windy conditions to pull a MOB back on deck because it’s incredibly hard to do this quickly and it’s a critical element in the rescue procedure. Happy sailing and be safe!

Best regards,

Al Z.

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3 Responses to Man Overboard!!! (PFDs, Crotch Straps, and Spray Hoods)

  1. Chuck B says:

    Yikes! Glad this story has a happy ending. 28 minutes is extremely sobering. (And this wasn’t even the open ocean!) Thank you for sharing the lessons learned.

  2. tony johnson says:

    Yes, congrats for the good seamanship by you and the crew, resulting in a happy outcome.
    I took a look at the Spinlock page and found the hood but didn’t find a lot other than the listing. Is there a video on how it is deployed? Is it manual or automatic? Any links that provide further info would be appreciated.

  3. katie singletary says:

    Wow! You write the experience with a calmness that impresses me. What type of MOB did they use to get you onboard? I am a female sailor and have pondered how to get crew or passengers out of the water for MOB. I bought a system that works and have practiced using it on the dock with men as my practice students. It is a 4:1 block system and a waist hoisting apparatus used by helicopter crews. I would use the main halyard or an extra halyard used for the spinnaker to hoist the MOB. The line on the 4:1 block is over 150 feet long. I sail with 1 crew member much of the time and feel much better having this system. I carry it in my sailing bag which rolls on wheels. A system like this could have gotten you out of the water much quicker. I would hoist the individual using the winch. It would require the main sail to be brought down quickly if no other halyard was available. I make sure the long line on the 4:1 block stays neatly in the bag and untangled. I use the gasket method. I would pull it quickly out of the bag and attach it to the halyard then attach the helicopter waist belt to the 4:1 block. I would then place it around the MOB. The helicopter waist belt has a crotch belt as well. MOB becomes very difficult if the MOB becomes unconscious and each skipper or captain should have multiple plans for this possibility. I would quickly call “Mayday” in this scenario. A backup plan could be to attach someone to the 4:1 block with the helicopter strap belt and lower them to the side of the boat to reach the unconscious victim. It is a grave situation that requires planning and practice with the equipment. Enough from me!! I’m glad you are ok!!! Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts about the PFD.

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