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Crew Overboard (COB) Prevention and Safety Tips

There is much to love and enjoy with all forms of boating - whether recreational or sporting. However, learning the rules and safety procedures of boating is a must for being on the water no matter the size or type of boat you are in. Falling overboard is a real threat on any size boat and a simple mistake can easily turn into a fatal situation. In the case of a crew overboard (COB) situation, victims can be exposed to many dangers including panic, injury on fall or landing, loss of consciousness, hypothermia and drowning. While instances of COB are mostly accidental, all are easily preventable with safety protocols and common sense.

How to prevent COB

There are many ways to decrease your chance of falling overboard and one of the most essential is being aware of your stance while on the watercraft. As a typical rule, it is always good to maintain three points of contact with the boat. This prevents you from becoming off-balance while sitting or moving about. When standing, keep both feet planted on deck and hold onto something like a rail or stanchion. If walking on board, keep both hands holding onto something to stabilize yourself. While it seems unbelievable, one of the most common causes of COB is falling off balance while relieving oneself along the side of the boat. It is situations like this where it becomes easy to forget about stabilizing yourself and one bad move can put you in a bad situation.

Other ways to prevent COB

  • Board one person at a time
  • Keep yourself low to the deck and centered
  • Apply non-skid tape to high traffic walking areas
  • Keep large pets secured
  • Keep crew member’s weights as evenly distributed as possible
  • Keep boat decks uncluttered and unused ropes tied up or stored away
  • Sit in designated areas - not on the bow, gunnels or swimming platform
  • If your boat requires you to stand while operating, make sure you brace yourself with a post or the bolster chair.
  • Always wear a life jacket that fits properly.
  • Ensure there is a Type IV throw able safety device on board if the boat is over 16 foot in length.
Importance of safety drills in preventing COD

Becoming familiar with rescuing an overboard crewmember can make retrieval easier and help offset panic and missteps if an accident were to ever happen. Before undocking, make sure that all members on board are familiar with floatation devices and their location on the boat. Everyone should have some practice in throwing a flotation ring or cushion to get used to their weight and throwing distances. At least once a season, all crewmembers should practice rescue maneuvers to familiarize themselves and to be prepared for emergency situations.

What to do when a crewmember falls overboard

1) Stop the boat - Your boat’s engine can take you fairly far in a short amount of time. Stop all forward motion as soon as possible and keep the COB victim in sight.

2) Throw the overboard victim a flotation device - Throw the flotation device as close to the victim as possible to help them float above water and prevent them from having to exert any energy.

3) Take a roll call of everyone on board in case there are more people overboard - knowing who is in the water and how many people need rescued is crucial in executing a successful rescue.

4) Delegate roles to crewmembers - Everyone should have a role that they have practiced in previous drills. Have a lookout and manpower assigned for an effective rescue.

5) Move the boat alongside the COD - Position the boat so that you are going next to the COB, not directly towards them. This allows for better visibility and a lower risk of hitting them with the propeller. If you can, position the boat in such a way to block the wind, making the water flatter. Increase your ability of getting to the COB faster by approaching them from downwind.

6) Get the COB on the boat - Using a life sling, rope, flotation device, a ladder, buoy, or just pulling the victim on board are ways to retrieve a COB. Different situations, such as an injury or unconsciousness, will call for different rescue procedures so practice different ways to become familiar. Try to never send someone in the water for a rescue, as that could make a situation worse with the potential addition of another rescue.

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