Pietro Passarelli

Sailing: Man Overboard (MOB) - notes

Overview of man overboard maneuver

Overview of man overboard maneuver

cover photo credit unsplash


The man overboard maneuver can be one of the most daunting things to get your head around when getting into sailing. Mostly because there’s a few variations around the same theme, and some variables to take into account, eg are you going under sail, or motor etc.. When you first learn about it, generally you get thought one of these technique, and altho mastering one of those it's definitely a valuable skill, having an overview of the other option and under which conditions one might be better then the other could be the factor that makes the split second difference in a successful MOB recovery.

In this blog post I am going to break it down, looking at what is considered best practice in both the RYA and ASA go to books.

In 2012 I got my Sailing RYA Yachtmaster (Offshore) from UKSA qualification, after an intense residential live a board 4 months course ( see this blog for more on that adventure )

In 2014 I Worked for Med Sailors in Croatia. After that, life got in the way, and a side from the sporadic dinghy sailing while on holiday, Iast year, during the pandemic in 2020 I had a chance to briefly get back into it.

So first things first, I started looking into man overboard maneuvers to brush up on skills and drills.

“There is no RYA standard method for retrieving a man overboard; you can tack or gybe and use any method you please. A gybe is quick but be careful or you will end up with a second person overboard. You must end up stopped next to the casualty in the water and have thought of a way of getting a real person on board. This is going to be much easier if you make contact early. The longer the boat handling takes, the colder, weaker and more helpless the casualty becomes.”

“The goal of any MOB maneuver is to bring the boat to the MOB as quickly as possible. How that is accomplished will depend on many factors, including the point of sail the boat was on, the wind and sea conditions, and the skill and experience of the skipper and crew”


To lower the barrier of entry for this post, here’s a few quick explanation of some of the sailing terminology used.

Point of sails

Point of sails diagram

Do you know your points of sail?

RYA point of sails

ASA's Sailing Challenge App - iOS and Android

ASA game has got a good section about about point of sails.

Heave to

How to heave to in a yacht – Skip Novak's Storm Sailing

Heaving to - Wikipedia

Heaving to


Tacking (sailing) - Wikipedia



Jibe - Wikipedia


A call done over the radio to ask for help.

Example from Mayday message

This is yacht
Puffin, Puffin, Puffin

Call sign MYFT7 MMSI 232167284  (MMSI or DSC number)

My position is (give latitude and longitude from GPS or bearing and distance FROM a known point)

Nature of distress: ...

Require immediate assistance

Further information… (Give number of persons on board, and Other VITAL information i.e. abandoning to liferaft/have no liferaft)



Some of the variables that might come into play when choosing how to tackle the MOB situation are as follow

  • Sail
    • Both sails
    • Head sail only
    • Mainsail only
  • Motor + sailing
  • Motor


  • Sea state
  • Weather
  • Visibility
  • Number of crew
  • Experience of crew

“Pre maneuver” (first response)

“Y, P, T, S, C

Excerpt From: The American Sailing Association. “Bareboat Cruising Made Easy.”.

  1. Yell/Shout “Man overboard”

  2. Point Nominate a spotter / pointer

    “Throughout the maneuver that follows, the spotter never takes his eyes off the COB, points toward him at all times, and communicates regularly with the helmsman, describing the COB’s location relative to the boat using both distance (e.g., “Three boat lengths”) and direction (e.g., “Dead astern”).”

  3. Throw floating aids

    1. Lifebelts
    2. Danbuoy
      1. Ideally

        “Have a drogue, a small sea anchor, attached to each belt to reduce this drift”

  4. Call / Mayday / Radio alert

    1. MOB button on GPS

    2. Call VHF Channel 16 to alert of the MOB situation

      1. “Pan-Pan, all stations” if not life threatening
      2. Otherwise “Mayday”
      3. Once MOB resolved, call to say all good

      “Prepare a throwing line to secure the MOB to the boat. Crew working on the side deck should wear a safety line.”

Common key parts of maneuvers

In the section below we’ll see a few different maneuvers, but thought it be useful to highlight some common steps

Short handed handed MOB

Consider  heaving to, to make time to follow those steps.

“If you are shorthanded and you need to do all these actions yourself, heave to by doing a crash tack to stop the boat as near to the MOB as possible ”.

Manovouvers (recovery steps)

MOB under power

  • Turn on the engine

    • If it doesn’t. Then start one of the other under sail maneuvers
  • If on sail

    • Optional Heave to
    • Option 1
      • Furl jib
      • Sheet in main (don’t drop in case engine fails?)
    • Option 2
      • Or head up into the wind to slow the boat, then furl the jib and, depending on the conditions, the mainsail.
  • Go down wind of COB (Crew Over Board)

  • Motor up wind towards COB

    “Contact is made with the casualty on the leeward side of the boat, usually behind the shrouds, well away from the propeller.”

  • Set to neutral when reach COB

  • Keep COB and sheets away from prop

“Your first action, after Y, T, P, S, C, would be to head up into the wind to slow the boat, then furl the jib and, depending on the conditions, the mainsail.
Before starting the engine, make sure no lines are trailing in the water.”

“Volunteer “victims” taking part in organized man-overboard exercises report that flailing jibsheets can be a hazard when the boat is to windward. For this reason the jib should be furled before the boat makes contact with the MOB - if you have crew available to do it”

“The mainsail might steady the boat in rough seas, but you’ll have to drop it if the boat sails too fast. Some boats might lie hove-to quietly and require little attention while the crew recovers the MOB from the water”

“MOB under power: As when under sail, the goal is to approach the MOB on a course as if on a close reach. A modern sailboat motoring with any speed will turn sharply when the helm is put hard over — a person standing can be thrown off his feet — so warn the crew and back off the throttle before turning. Stop the boat well before reaching the MOB and inch it toward him with short bursts in forward gear. Engage neutral for the recovery. Make sure no lines are in the water to snag the propellr”

MOB recovery under power diagram

From RYA Man overboard

MOB recovery under power diagram 2

Option with heaving from Royal Yachting Association. “RYA Yachtmaster Handbook (E-G70).” Royal Yachting Association, 2018.

On YouTube - Nautilus Sailing - Learn How To Sail: Sailing Basics Video Series - Man Overboard Drill

From sail to power

How to recover a man overboard – Yachting World Bluewater Sailing Series | Yachting World

On YouTube - practical boat owner - Man Overboard - recovery under engine

Figure of Eight

  • Regardless of your point of sail go onto a beam reach

  • Furl the Genoa

  • Proceed to 3 to 6 boat length spending on wind speed and waves.

    “A distance of four to six boat lengths (20 to 30 seconds) should be sufficient — the distance will be shorter in lighter winds and longer in higher winds. ”

  • Tack into the wind

  • Go onto a broad reach

  • Then onto a close reach

  • 1 knot speed

  • Approach COB “Aim to stop the boat upwind of the MOB so that it will drift down towards them”Excerpt From: Royal Yachting Association. “RYA Day Skipper Handbook Sail (E-G71).” Royal Yachting Association, 2018. https://books.apple.com/us/book/rya-day-skipper-handbook-sail-e-g71/id1385607847

“Sail to a point from where you can head up onto a close reach aiming just slightly to windward of the COB”

Figure of 8 diagram

On YouTube - Florb/Dylan Magaster - How I Learned to operate a Sailing Boat in 5 Days - 4.45min to 6.39min

Example on a dinghy

On YouTube - Royal Yachting Association - RYA - Man over board - with Olympic Medalist, Shirley Robertson

Broad Reach Close Reach (BRCR) - (Reach Tack Reach)

  • Optional heave to
  • Broad reach 3 to 4 boat length (15 to 20 sec)
  • Sail onto a run (with wind behind) for a bit to position for the tack and close reach to be a good angle with the COB (Crew over board)
  • Tack
  • Close reach

“One advantage of this maneuver is that, after the tack, the boat is heading almost directly toward the MOB”

Broad Reach close reach diagram

On YouTube - Practical boat owner-  Man Overboard under sail - Reach Tack Reach method

Quick Stop with jibe

Downside - Jibe

“it should only be used by a well-practiced crew and in light to moderate winds.”

  • Head to wind
  • Jibe
  • Circle back to COB
  • If time furl the jib otherwise let it luf
  • Luf the main sail to stop the boat

Quick Stop Diagram


On YouTube - Practical boat owner -  Man Overboard under sail - the Quick Stop method

The Life-sling

Also good for shorthanded

Careful not to get line in the propeller.

Another thing to be mindful with the life-sling option is that you need to be confident enough that your COB is able to grab the line. Eg they are not in shock or otherwise incapacitated that they wouldn't be able to grab and hold onto the line when it reaches them.

“The goal is to drag the LifeSling so its line passes over the MOB”

“if the MOB is able to grasp the line, luff up, stop the boat, and douse the sails. If not, make another circuit.
Haul the MOB toward the boat and prepare for the recovery stage”

“Other options to consider are a life sling and a throw bag, both of which can be repacked after practice drills. The life sling is rather like a soft lifebelt on a long rope, which is attached to the boat.
Once the sling is thrown, the boat is sailed round to encircle the casualty. With the sling under their arms the casualty can be pulled to the boat and winched back on board using a halyard. ”

“The LifeSling does not replace the flotation you throw in response to the MOB alarm because it’s tied to the boat and you will tow it away from the MOB. Instead, you deploy it as you make your return toward the MOB, then maneuver the boat around the MOB in an elliptical course to bring the floating line within his grasp. Using the LifeSling eliminates the need to stop the boat precisely at the MOB, which is difficult to do at any time”

“Flake, don’t coil, the floating line into the container to ensure it will deploy properly — and make sure it’s secured to the boa”

“If you don’t have a LifeSling, you can MacGyver a towable device by tying a length of floating line to a float cushion or a horseshoe buoy.”

short handed life sling diagram

On YouTube - Sailing SV Delos- Man Overboard Drill. Altho it is reccomended to not use an actual crew member to do the drill.

On YouTube - Practical boat owner - Man Overboard - using a lifesling

COB back onto the boat

“Get the casualty attached to the boat as soon as possible and get them back onboard using the stern ladder in calm conditions or a halyard winch.”

Solo MOB

On YouTube - Bradley Enterline - Solo Man Overboard Drill

Williamson turn

Good if you lose sight, or low visibility

  • Note the course and position
  • add 60 degrees to your compass heading
  • Then when reached do 180

“The Williamson turn is a maneuver used to bring a ship or boat under power back to a point it previously passed through, often for the purpose of recovering a man overboard. It was named for John Williamson, USNR, who used it in 1943 to recover a man who had fallen overboard.”

  1. Put the rudder over full.
  2. If in response to a man overboard, put the rudder toward the person (e.g., if the person fell over the starboard side, put the rudder over starboard full).
  3. Shift the rudder full to the opposite side to stop vessel 60 degrees from its original course and start turning to the opposite direction.
  4. When heading about 20 degrees short of the reciprocal, put the rudder amidships so that vessel turns onto the reciprocal course.
  5. Bring the vessel upwind of the person, stop the vessel in the water with the person alongside, well forward of the propellers
  6. If dealing with a man overboard, always bring the vessel upwind of the person. Stop the vessel in the water with the person well forward of the propellers.”

Man overboard rescue turn - Wikipedia


“The sailing and handling characteristics of a catamaran affect the way you maneuver to recover a man overboard (MOB), whether under sail, under power, or using a combination of both”

“The Broad-Reach Close-Reach return maneuver works quite well with a catamaran, but allow for the catamaran’s leeway. Return to the MOB by sailing more on a beam reach than a close reach. Try to put the MOB on the same side as the helm station (note the alternatives shown). Time is of the essence: Don’t hesitate to use the engines to help you through the tack”

Catamara MOB Diagram

“A catamaran does not turn as sharply, and is markedly slower and more difficult to tack. If the maneuver that offers the most direct return involves tacking, you may need assistance from the engines”

“You can use one engine to help hold the boat in place, but make absolutely sure to shut downthe engine on the MOB side so a spinning propeller does not become an issue.”

“if a person falls overboard while the catamaran is under power, immediately shift both engines into neutral. Once the MOB is well clear of the propellers, use both engines to return to the MOB.
Maneuver the boat to windward of the MOB so someone standing forward of the beam can throw him a line. Once the MOB has hold of the line, shut downthe engine on that side”

Picking up COB

“The majority of skippers pick-up the MOB on the leeward side. The rail is lower and the boat is drifting towards rather than away from the casualty. Also, a boat slowing down for a windward pick-up will make leeway and steer its bow across the casualty, which is pretty unnerving for the person in the water.”

Recovering unconscious or weak(eg because of hypothermia) COB, that might need extra help getting back onto the boat.

“It is essential not to lose contact once alongside, so a line needs to be attached either round the chest of the person in the water or better still to the harness or life jacket. Achieving this with a weak or unconscious casualty means another crew member attaching themselves to the boat and getting down to water level. Launching the dinghy or possibly the liferaft might be the only way.”

helicopter strop

If COB is still attached to the boat

Stop the boat asap

  • Heave to
  • Or go into the wind (at iron?)

“Don’t practice MOB recovery on a live crew. Too many things can go wrong. For a dummy, make a float that will be about as visible as a person in the water and is heavy enough it won’t be blown by the wind. A pair of half-filled one-gallon water jugs tied together works well and you can retrieve your homemade “Dunkin” with a boathook”

References and furthers readings

Other Videos of MOB

On YouTube - The Sailing Frenchman - Man Overboard offshore: prepare for the worst, hope for the best - Ep110 - The Sailing Frenchman - 2:59 as part of clipper's crew training.

On Youtube - Derry~Londonderry~Doire successfully recovers man overboard during Clipper Race

On YouTube - Andrew Taylor Rescue Story

On YouTube - Miracle Rescue: Man Overboard During Storm Survives


Dramatic Footage of Man Overboard | Volvo Ocean Race

Morning Light
Disney documentary morning light has got a man over board scene as part of the crew's training.