GETTING YOUR CREW BACK ABOARD
Depending on where you cruise, rescuing a crew member that has fallen overboard needs to happen within minutes,
not hours, according to Chuck Hawley, a safety expert and vice president of product information for West Marine.
Hawley says the colder the water, the greater the urgency.
“People die in three minutes. They don’t die in 30 minutes from hypothermia,” Hawley says. “They die because of
the gasp reflex, and they can’t control their breathing. They die very quickly, so having some means of getting back to
the person and getting flotation to them is critical.”
This means that waiting for help from the Coast Guard or other vessels may not be an option. “You are not going to
survive long enough for the other guy to get to you unless you are in really warm water,” he says.
That’s where the various beacons discussed on these pages come into play. It’s important to note that beacons that
transmit a 121.5MHz homing signal are of no use to you in your vessel unless you have a radio direction finder (RDF)
that can direct you to the source of the signal. You can either purchase the RDF or choose a different technology if you
believe that your typical cruising grounds are more than a few minutes from a Coast Guard responder.
As Hawley and others are quick to point out, finding the person who has fallen into the water is just the first step.
Getting that person back on board can be very difficult, particularly if the person is overweight, unconscious, or both.
An excellent man-overboard resource may be found on the West Marine website ( www.westmarine.com) in its “West
Advisor” section (click on “Crew Overboard Rescues” under “Safety”). West Marine published a report by John
Rousmaniere, editor of The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, based on a 2005 crew-overboard symposium. Although the
section on electronic beacons is understandably a bit dated, many topics covered in the report, such as the use of crew
lights, recovery gear, and approach tactics, are every bit as relevant today. —Peter Swanson
technical advice to the U.S. State Department, Federal
Communications Commission, and Coast Guard on
matters concerning maritime communications
and electronic navigation. The RTCM is now an
independent membership organization, but it still
performs its original function. It prepares technical
standards that are incorporated by reference into
various FCC and Coast Guard regulations.
At this writing, the RTCM was scheduled to take
a second look at Mobilarm’s V100 to see whether it
would recommend it as an “open-loop” system in U.S.
waters. The device has recently undergone extensive
trials—including a U.S. Navy trial off Clearwater,
Florida—to see whether its performance justifies a
“The concern is with false or unnecessary alerts,” says
RTCM President Robert Markle. “A man-overboard device
is intended to enable rescue of a person in the water by
their own vessel or group of vessels. For this reason, and
with the urging of the Coast Guard, we did not want an
all-ships distress alert to be broadcast, either as a DSC alert
or an automated voice alert on Channel 16. Channel 16 is
considered overcrowded in many areas. Imagine adding an
automated voice distress call to this periodically...In any
event, I expect our committee to take another look at this
in cooperation with the Coast Guard in the near future.”
Chuck Hawley, vice president of product information
for West Marine stores, has done extensive research into
crew overboard recovery, liferaft design, and storm tactics.
He often gives talks on marine safety and serves as a
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