a man is pulled out of the water practicing crew overboard techniques
a man is pulled out of the water practicing crew overboard techniques

Crew Overboard (COB)

Prevention Tips

On Small Boats

  • Board one person at a time
  • Step into the middle of the boat
  • Keep weight low and centered
  • Add non-skid or grip tape in strategic areas
  • Keep pets like large dogs from moving about

On Large Boats

  • Assure solid footing and keep decks uncluttered
  • Always sit in areas designated by the operator; never on the gunnels, bow or swim platform
  • Check life lines and railing devices that keep passengers aboard for wear or weakness
  • Boats over 16' in length must have a Type IV throw-able safety device like a horseshoe buoy

crew overboard spotter

Some Crew Overboard (COB) Rescue Tips

Stop the boat's forward progress! Every second that you move away from the COB will make it harder for you to get back to them.

Get floatation to the person. Items such as a Lifesling will help keep the swimmer afloat and help you get them into the boat.

Take a head count to see who fell overboard. Knowing who (or how many) fell overboard will help you plan the rescue. For instance, if the largest person on the boat fell overboard, it might take more equipment or people to bring that person back aboard. Knowing who you are going after will help you decide who needs to do what in the rescue.

Assign roles to crew members. Such as having a lookout to keep the victim in sight, to keep people involved in the rescue.

Get the boat next to the COB. Placing your boat between the swimmer and the wind (upwind) will give a lee to the person and will give them flatter seas, but you run the risk of floating over them, which will take away your ability to steer due to the danger of the propeller.

The better way is to have the swimmer between the boat and the wind by approaching the swimmer from downwind. This will increase your ability to maneuver, and will take less time to get the person to the boat.

Get the person on the boat. This can be very difficult, especially if the person is hurt, weak, or unconscious. Lifeslings, swim platforms, ladders, and brute strength are all methods of bringing someone on board. Practice all and pick the best one for your boat and crew. For further reading on COB rescue equipment, check out Foundation Findings articles.

Avoid sending a rescuer into the water. This will just be another person that could potentially need rescue. If someone needs to go over to help a week or injured person, make sure they have a life jacket on and a lifeline secured to them.