Crew Overboard Rescue Plan –
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If you plan to get  involved in sailing and sail racing, this week’s tip, provided by the Rescue Chiefs of Cork (Canadian Olympic Sail Training Regatta, Kingston), makes a good outline for a rescue plan for your yacht or sailing club.

Rescue Considerations

  • Physical Condition of the sailors(s) – Strength, type of injury or illness, the first aid request, etc.- especially after a long or a heavy weather day
  • Water Temperature – Even if the air is warm, the water temperature can be very cold and the sailor will require assistance sooner. The major concern for sailors in cold water is Hypothermia.
  • Wind Velocity – Strong winds make it difficult for the sailor to right the craft and keep it from re-capsizing, especially novice competitors. In such cases, sailors will require aid to prevent repeated roll overs and physical exhaustion.
  • Large Waves – larger waves increase the difficulty and danger of Rescue , as large waves cause both the disabled craft and the Rescue Boat to move up and down in the water quickly and often unpredictably.
  • Condition of Capsized / Disabled Boat – Is the crew all right? Even though the boat is disabled or overturned, ensure the crew needs assistance. In a most cases, the crew is able to repair or right the capsized vessel. If the crew waves you off, indicating no assistance is required, and you proceed to give aid, the boat, if touched, will be disqualified for that race. Use your best judgement. If the crewÂ’s condition demonstrates the need for assistance, do not hesitate to help .

After you have aided any boat, inform your Course Rescue Chief immediately as to the condition of the crew and the vessel, giving the Rescue Chief the sail number of the competitor, the time of the occurrence and description of the assistance given. This information is necessary for the Course PRO and Land Rescue personnel .

Additional points to consider are:

  1. Is there serious injury which demands immediate attention or resources to get sailor to shore?
  2. Is the boat going to sink or wash up on shore?
  3. Can it be towed?
  4. Can you get to it in a safe manner?
  5. Are you able to execute the rescue or do you need additional assistance or equipment?
  6. How critical are the injuries (if any)?
  7. How fast must you get the sailor(s) to further medical aid?
  8. Are you trained and equipped to administer medical aid or must you make a transfer to another vessel?
  9. How many other boats require assistance?
  10. How busy is the Rescue Fleet?
  11. Have you contacted your Course Rescue Chief to see if he or she can spare you to leave the course area and tow disabled boats(s) or to give additional assistance? Your Course Rescue Chief will decide if your vessel can leave the course.

Essentials of Rescue

In any rescue it is essential to:

  • Be prepared to execute a rescue. This includes taking into consideration the physical conditions and training/ briefing of the rescue crew (who does what, why, where, when and how)? The serviceability, location and readiness of your rescue and first aid equipment/supplies etc.
  • Additional personnel on board larger vessels should, in Rescue situations, be moved well out of the way. Smaller vessels should not be carrying additional personnel that are not prepared to Rescue, regardless of their concerns. All Rescue personnel must wear approved life saving jackets or PFD. REMEMBER SAFETY FIRST!
  • Keep focused on the disabled craftÂ’s crew. People come first, boats and equipment later.
  • Pay attention to distances between the rescue boat and other obstacles. Be conscious of the speed the disabled craft is drifting away from the crew.
  • All crews should be briefed on each task they are to perform before the action takes place, to reduce further problems caused by themselves, the boat, or the craft / sailors in trouble.
  • If the capsized vessel is drifting into shallow water, be prepared to rescue the crew and abandon the capsized, damaged craft, if necessary. You can then leave the scene before getting into difficulty yourself, especially with an injured person(s) on board. Keep your Course Chief posted as to your situation as much as possible.
  • Keep talking to the distressed sailors to ascertain their physical/mental condition and to alleviate their distress. This communication will increase their confidence in you and the actions you are taking on their behalf.
  • Ensure rescuers watch for booms, sails, lines, etc., flying around in the wind. Also, be aware of your equipment, such as tangled lines, which could get caught around a Rescue Crew memberÂ’s foot, or fall overboard and tangle in your prop or rudder.

Handling Injuries

The handling of the injury will depend on many factors including severity of the injury, the number of the injured persons, weather conditions and the positions of the boats involved, the capability (including size and shelter available) of the Rescue Boat and crew, first aid equipment, and supplies on board etc. However, the important thing is to bring the injured person(s) on board the Rescue Boat as quickly, safely and comfortably as possible. Administer first aid, keep them warm and continually monitor their condition. It may be necessary to take them to shore or transfer them to a larger vessel. Again, keep your Course Rescue Chief advised of your actions, so if necessary he or she can make the arrangements for you, know the situation youÂ’re in and your availability for other rescue tasks.


Two methods of towing are recommended. Rescue Boats should always wait for permission of their Course Rescue Chief before towing boats to shore, because Rescue on the Course is RescueÂ’s priority . For example, a course Rescue Fleet of four boats sending one to shore, loses 25% of its Rescue capability. The two recommended tow methods are:

  1. One behind the other – Drop either a bridle or a line over the stern of the rescue vessel and have the first sailboat tie a line to the mast step with a bowline. Make sure the boat is far enough away to avoid exhaust and damage. Next, have the painter of the second boat secured to the bowline and not to the mast step. The other boats do the same until you have a full and safe tow. The number of boats you can put on a line will depend on the weather and the Rescue BoatÂ’s size and horsepower.
  1. Long Line Tow – For this type of tow you will need a long floating line. Let it out over the stem, encouraging dinghies to tie to it as you approach them. It is easiest if you let the whole line out at one time. It is safest and the best controlled if you attach the first boat picked up to the end of the line and later boats between it and the rescue vessel. In this way you build the tow from the end forward. Remember to wear the proper gloves in order to protect your hands, and never wrap the rope around your hand as this can cause sever rope burn.
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Other Responsibilities

In addition to our primary objective, the Safety of Life and Limb , and our secondary consideration, the Safety/Recovery of Equipment, RESCUE has other tasks to perform . These include:

  • The observation of, and safe passage to and from the race area, of all vessels involved. Late comers WILL NOT be towed to the course unless requested/given permission by the Course PRO , through the Course Rescue Chief . All Rescue Boats should be at their designated locations, and report to the Course Rescue Chief , before the ten minute gun (Yellow Shape).
  • Report of competitors leaving the Course before the end of racing including the class of vessel, the sail number, time they left and disposition ( under sail or tow ). All Rescue Boats will record this information and will pass it onto the Course Rescue Chief . On arrival this information must be given to the Harbour Master/Mistress (launch).
  • A visual sweep of the Course at the end of the dayÂ’s racing will ensure that all competitors and committee boats have returned safely. This is accomplished by combing rescue fleets at either end of the Courses.
  • Being asked to return to the water to assist in finding boats not recorded in or to find equipment lost during the day. This request would normally come from the Rescue Chief .
  • Being requested to carry other persons on board such as Jury, Press etc. Other persons you agree to take on board must be cleared through the Rescue Chief . They are responsible for their own safety equipment and lunch.
  • Under no condition will a Rescue vessel leave their Course areas without consent from the Course Rescue Chief , despite adverse weather conditions.

Related Articles:
Crew Overboard by Jim Smith
Crew Overboard – Quick Question
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