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MOB: Sending in a Second Soul?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Our thanks to FOSI John Schafer (USA, Annapolis) who contributed this article to SI in follow up to his appearance on TFE LIVE last Friday, 2020-06-05. Watch a replay of that thought-provoking, widely-viewed show. John said repeatedly that this is a proposal, a thought starter, and it was the collaboration of a number of his close sailing friends including Marcus Cholerton- Brown, Michael McCarty, John Gusweiler Poast, Daniel Gaw and Bob Hillier. Accompanying photos are courtesy of MAIDEN FACTOR / Amalia Infante. —TFE


“NEVER, become the Second Victim” - words to live by - for the untrained. But, as a watch captain, team leader, coach and persons-in-charge, there is an emerging school of thought that includes being prepared for ‘any and all’ situations which may include Sending in a Second person if you are on a particular type of vessel with the correct training and equipment in order to assist in the rescue in a Man-Over-Board (MOB).

In a recent survey over sixty percent of respondents said that they would consider placing a second person in the water under certain circumstances. The purpose for writing this article is to present that a team or crew’s decision making process on the topic of on sending a second person into the water has numerous variables and the answer to the question, just may depend the type of vessel, well-practiced procedures and the extra equipment that would be needed to include this as an option in an MOB procedure.

Before we start, the authors are seasoned sailors, amateur and professional, who have taken this COVID hiatus and teamed up to comment on sending swimmers into the water. The collective experience harnessed to write this article include countless Safety-at-Sea seminars, interviews with offshore veterans of "Around-the-World campaigns," and international offshore races and regattas — we quit counting when we hit 400,000 miles offshore racing.

In the past 15 years, we have seen sailboat become longer, wider and very, very fast. In recent MOB incidents which included high performance vessels, the turn to return was a few miles away from the Person-in-the-Water (PIW). The current established procedures for recovering a MOB have been in place for many years with only minor changes, and do not account for the new speeds that today’s racing boats are making nor the difficulty in changing course to recover a MOB. Our community needs to foster a platform where we can openly and intelligently work out the problems that faster vessels and extraordinary situations may present a “First Chance – Last

Chance” opportunity for recovery. We need to open a dialog through the numerous to sailing platforms that discuss the topic, provide research and a decision making methodology to establish a new set of procedures for recovering a MOB that incorporates the placing of a “rescue swimmer” or a second soul in the water. We believe it is important to open this dialogue to asses the risk, mitigate the risk and define the circumstances, boat, crew, equipment when utilizing a “rescue swimmer” is not only an option but the best option.

In the existing seminars that are required for offshore sailing events, participants often ask about sending in a second soul in a MOB situation. In the ones I have attended it abruptly ends with a single sentence: “Well, you could do that, however we never recommend it."

In the same crowd, many professionals and even amateur teams are sitting on their hands as they already have procedures, practice and equipment in place and may be ‘at the ready’ to deploy a second person in the water to assist in the recovery. We see two significant issues that need to be addressed before the response becomes “Well, you could do that, however, it is only recommended under specific circumstances,” and those circumstances are clearly defined.

Issue one – People may take the risk (often hearing that some teams have it as a practice) but they do not have any training to do so. There are many teams placing swimmers into their MOB practice and many are observing this.

Issue two - There is a gap between the concept and practice. Our recommendation is to solve the issue by initiating a transparent discussion so a decision making process to understand how to mitigate the risks and how to train if the circumstances present themselves as an option for sending in a swimmer to assist the PIW.

Rescue Swimmer?

Before we ‘dive in’ we need to define “Rescue Swimmer”. We believe first that there are three categories of swimmers that could be trained and utilized in the recovery of a person in the water. We also believe that sticking to existing nomenclature is important. A few (Volvo) Ocean Race teams have already identifying what they are calling “Rescue Swimmers” on each watch. Some circles are using the term “Rescue Swimmer” broadly reflecting the term as used by the Coast Guard and other military and professional organizations. The term is also similar to that used by professional diving organizations, “Rescue Diver” although the “Rescue Diver” differs in many ways from our “Rescue Swimmer.” Further, in the most recent America’s Cup, each team had numerous trained “Rescue Swimmers” on chase boats, ready to deploy in the event of an emergency.

We suggest that there are three types of Swimmers and recommend that following definitions.

Recovery Crew Assist – Used in the final stages of a recovery to assist in the final portion of getting the MOB into a vessel. In most instance the MOB is already secured to the vessel, yet someone is needed in the water briefly to untangle a line, attach a halyard or assist hoisting the already likely exhausted MOB. While this is likely a low risk use of a Rescue Swimmer particularly in calm seas. We still believe the Recovery Assistant requires training and diligence in execution.

Surface Swimmer – This is a person who has been trained for a specific vessel, has strong swimming background and experience in training for water or aerial rescues. We imagine that professional teams and high-performance teams who consistently practice safety methods would use a “Surface Swimmer”. (Surface Swimmer is taken from USCG Insert)

Rescue Swimmer – This is a person trained in a specific course designed to incorporate Rescue Swimming and Advanced Life Saving and taken from current curriculums including Oceans Surf Lifeguard, Big Wave Risk Assessment, and Rescue Diving. The optimal training: Ocean Surf Lifeguard with Ariel Rescue experience. It is important to maintain the integrity of the profession and the training of those who have been certified and/or trained in ‘Rescue Swimming’. Therefore, unless a person on the boat is a trained “Rescue Swimmer”, the term should not be used.

Rescue/Surface Swimmer Characteristics/Preparation

Today, there are several “rescue swimmers” in use. One ‘Ocean Race’ vessel has a ‘Swimmer’ defined on each shift. Another Clipper Race captain has a harness in the companion way so a potential rescue swimmer can get it quickly with the intention of attaching a halyard to the harness. Another Whitbread contender vessel practice MOBs with swimmers on the ready, attached to the halyard, PFD partially inflated with an extra tether on hand to clip onto the PIW if needed. Discussions on which teammate is to be considered a candidate for the Swimmer position are internal to every vessel but there needs to be redundancy. There should be at least two trained rescue swimmers on board for a boat to consider having a rescue swimmer. We imagine the mast or bow persons, yet, they are most likely to be the ones cast off, therefore there should be a few on each team and on different shifts.

But most importantly, if a rescue swimmer is to be considered, there needs to be in place specific to each boat defined procedures, training and practice. Practice will expose what procedures work best for each team and vessel type. We recommend that practice be videotaped for review and that each boat have their procedures and practice reviewed by a professional not associated with the boat.

Having a rescue swimmer abord however is only one factor to be considered before incorporating a rescue swimmer into a MOB recovery procedure. Vessel Characteristics, Equipment and Crew are equally important.

We do not envision a small or midsize cruising vessel as ever having the crew, training, or equipment to safely use a rescue swimmer. In fact, these types of boats are not likely to gain any advantage in recovering a MOB by using a rescue swimmer. (Although the writers have the position that a PFD be of purpose built for rescue, photos used underline that there is a need for open discussions, procedures and training).

Vessel and Crew Characteristics best suited for a Rescue Swimmer

We believe that the only boats both suitable for incorporating a rescue swimmer in their MOB recovery procedures and likely to benefit from a rescue swimmer are racing vessels with:

Bucket attached to simulate weight and characteristics of a non-responsive person. Photo MAIDEN FACTOR / Amalia Infante

Pedestal Grinders – The multiple speed functions combined with the power advantage can be used to minimize the time in the water for the PIW and Swimmer. The resistance from a moving boat and the combined weight of two people in the water will make hoisting difficult without significant mechanical assistance.

Power Winches – also able to provide mechanical advantage without the possibility of exhausting the individuals grinding.

Multiple Halyards – at least one for the MOB and one for the rescue swimmer.

Crew Cross training – not only will the MOB’s position need filled to effectively maneuver the boat, but the rescue swimmer if on watch will also need to be replaced.

Rescue Swimmer Equipment

Before a rescue swimmer should be consider, we envision several specific pieces of equipment be readily available and redundant.

Rescue Swimmer PFD – While the primary goal of a standard PFD is to keep a person afloat with their head above water, there are additional requirements for a rescue swimmer. Specifically, in addition to providing buoyancy a rescue swimmer PFD must not restrict visibility nor mobility. A rescue swimmer must be able to see and maneuver to and with the MOB in the water. While existing PFD’s may be adaptable, we envision a specific Rescue Swimmer PFD with multiple attachment points for equipment and lifting straps. A PFD that has 10lbs buoyancy uninflated and 25lbs when manually inflated.

Helmet – Performance boats can maintain as much as 10 knots boat speed with no sails, and while it may not be possible to reduce the potential for hull vs skull injury for the MOB we can for the rescue swimmer. Helmet should be purpose built for rescue with SOLAS reflective tape and lights.

Tethers – Used by the swimmer to connect to the PIW,

Knife – Cut away debris or entanglements

Visual Aids – Light, AIS, Smoke (some teams drop smoke with the Jon Buoy as a practice as well)

Harness – We recommend the harness and not the PFD be attached to the halyard. Further, we would recommend the practice and use of the “Australian rappel technique” for attaching the harness to the halyard, that is the clip is attached to the rear of the swimmer and not the front for greater mobility.

Wet/Dry Suit – To minimize exposure to cold water it is first important to minimize the rescue swimmer’s time in the water. The swimmer should not be deployed until the MOB is close to the boat. While a wet suit or a dry suit could further reduce the effects of exposure, a wet suit and a diving dry suit both would likely take too long to put on. Until such time as a specific dry suit is developed for a rescue swimmer, we recommend when conditions warrant the rescue swimmer either have on or have ready access to a sailing dry suit.

Rescue PFD W/Rescue Air – There are currently available small air cylinders used by professional divers with regulators that could be easily attached to the rescue diver PFD.

Radio – Always a good idea to be able to talk to a person in the water.


With more and more teams begin the practicing the use of Swimmers to assist in an MOB, we need to share our knowledge, lessons learned and procedures.

As sailors, it makes no difference if we are professionals we have a responsibility to protect all of our crew and our sport with the same tenacity we need to create a platform where we can openly and intelligently work out the problems.

We need to discuss “First Chance – Last Chance” situations for recovery and discuss training methodology.

It is necessary that we can use every tool in the toolbox and simultaneously train all of the teams who use the tools.

We need to explore every option to save our souls. Without such, casual onlookers may employ an unsafe and unpracticed -“feel good’ attempt to save a soul, but in the end it may not “think good’.

Stay tuned for our next article where we discuss modern technology (off the shelf) that can radically increase rescuing persons in the water (USAFE, FLIR Enabled Phones, Rescue PFDS, Drones).


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