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Man Overboard Workshops
Offshore, Sydney, August - October 2020

A quick update on the Ocean Sailing Club's final MoB Offshore workshop for 2020

Please do read the main content below this for a full critique of our MoB workshop and our findings.

The conditions were lovely for boating, but hardly as taxing as the 30-35 knots we had offshore las time. However, that meant we had plenty of time to assess the equipment available and to report back on what we found.

But in a nutshell, even in no swell, a MoB disappears from sight very fast. Even a 1.5 m danbuoy will be hard to see at quarter of a mile (2-3 minutes ay 6 knots). When looking for a MoB 'up sun' with the glare on the water, you can reduce that easily to 200 metres.

For 30 minutes before and after sunset, the danbuoy got harder to see and its stroobe was too weak to be seen in the remaining light. So... don't fall overboard at dusk!

Even in the gathering gloom, this smoke flare worked well for over 2 minutes, and was much better in calm seas than in the 2m swell of last time. Also, the plume was useful to mark the wind-direction for pick-up.

To overcome visual limitations, we used the "Mark" button on the GPS and on the Garmin Plotter. The old-fashioned text GPS below decks has a simple MoB button which returns the course and distance with one push. The plotter has a raft of menu selections which (in extremis) could easily be fumbled with resulting mis-information.

Returning to the MoB waypoint after as little as 5 minutes already gave inaccuracies fom the drift - even with a drogue - of up to 200 metres due to tidal current, and we learned not just to look on the expected bearing, but all around, since the target could be found abeam, or even astern on return to the waypoint. This was resolved completely using the MoB1 AIS transponder on the danbuoy. With that, the MoB's actual position is always the target for the bearing and distance. Even in pitch dark and from over 1/3 mile, we were always able to return exactly to the MoB.

If you can't afford for each crew member to have a MoB1, then do at least tape one to the danbuoy. It can be activated with two quick movements and its automatic strobe augments the danbuoy light. Also the DSC howler that it gives every 5 minutes was picked up as far away as Port Stephens 100 miles away (again). So, conclusion, AIS rules!

Conditions: Day 1, Force 6 offshore, sea 1-1.5 metres; Day 2, Force 7 offshore,sea 1.5-2 metres. Sunset 17:32. New Moon risen

Overview: On two consecutive days we took The Ocean Sailing Club's 60 ft yacht Loquax on 10 hour MoB workshops. The workshops started with orientation: boat handling, heave to, sailing accurately to a wind angle, preliminary MoB and progressed from inside Sydney Harbour to a couple of miles offshore by late afternoon. On board was club skipper, Peter Edington and each day 4 different club members with varying levels of skill

Objective: To identify, and find solutions to, difficulties of searching for and returning to a MoB; practise alternative methods.

Permissions: Sydney Water Police, Marine Rescue Sydney and AMSA were all informed of the exercises and were very helpful and interested in what we were doing

Day 1: Automatic 'Jonbuoy' 3m inflatable danbuoy with automatic light on top of the pole, inflatable horseshoe with reflective tape and drogue, attached.

Day 2: Rigid Danbuoy with rigid horseshoe with reflective tape and drogue. At night a manually operated flashing light was taped 1 metre up the pole; simple horseshoe with 6m floating line to grow to MoB; floating orange smoke flare.

On each day:
An OceanSignal “RescueMe MOB1” was taped to the danbuoy pole and activated manually after dark.

Standard Horizon GX2200E AIS/VHF with integrated display showing AIS targets with GPS information for each. This AIS Radio was chosen over others for its simplicity, low cost and comprehensive data display

Preferred sail technique: Heave to, drop down to MoB, deploy danbuoy, beam reach away, gybe, close reach back to MoB while furling headsail, feather main to stop to windward of MoB as near as possible to the shrouds. The heaving line with horseshoe was deployed and MoB towed to swim step.

This technique was used extensively by all crew with encouraging results. The distance to beam reach away was determined by sea state and wind in order to be correctly placed for the close reach back.

With 25 knots on Day 1 and up to 38 knots of wind in day 2 we were given a significant lesson in controlling the gybe turn. Although being very careful, on each occasion we popped mainsail track sliders on our new mainsail, each requiring an hour of whipping to temporarily rig new sliders. On passage that in itself could lose a great to safety if hard pressed

Preferred technique under motor: Exactly the same as under sail, except the beam reach away was halved, this still allowed time to furl the headsail, before heading to a position 5-10 metres upwind and stopping beam to wind and sea, MoB amidships. The yacht was allowed to drift down to MoB while the heaving line with horseshoe was deployed and MoB towed to swim step.

Again this technique was used successfully by all crew, though interestingly their wind awareness was much less acute under power, so stopping and keeping the yacht in position proved almost less easy than under sail.

Issues we identified:
Timing: At 6 knots a yacht travels 200 metres in one minute. Given that these are practice exercises, the speed of reaction of the crew - all on deck and harnessed - was unrepresentative of a real MoB. And typical time to successfully return to a recovery position was between 2 and 6 minutes

Deploying a manual danbuoy with attached horseshoe, drogue was neither easy nor quick, taking up to a minute.

A quick rehearsal shows that it typically takes about 1-2 minutes for crew relaxing below decks to don jackets and harnesses.

It also took us about one minute to detach, unravel and throw the horseshoe on the heaving line that would tow the MoB to the swim step.

The smoke flare was quick to deploy and smoked for 3 minutes. The Smoke flare canister was recovered to avoid plastic pollution

The Jonbuoy automatic danbuoy deployed in 10 seconds.

It is interesting that the Jonbuoy danbuoy, horseshoe and drogue, and plastic equipment casing are joined together with very thin cord. We terminated Day 1 when this cord failed while the Jonbuoy was being lifted on board by hand, and the drogue plus casing was lost. The reflective tape on the loose horseshoe made it easy to spot at 50 metres. Inspection showed the brand new Jonbuoy has (in our opinion) a badly designed attachment point since inspection showed the plastic attachment loop had become unstitched

Significantly, something similar happened on the conventional danbuoy. Inspection showed that in this case the plastic cable tie attachment to the drogue had failed through becoming brittle with sun damage, but in that instance everything was recovered.

Daytime -
The danbuoy disappeared quickly if you were looking for it into the sun. Being laid quite flat by a stiff breeze, the flag was often only 1 metre above the water.

The smoke flare was good but the smoke was low to the water and not as profuse as we had expected, but it served its purpose in the, up to 1.5 metre swell. Interestingly it was reported to Marine Rescue by people on North Head a mile away.

At dusk: Both the danbuoy and the Jonbuoy lights were discouragingly dim while the poles and flags were hard to spot in the twilight.

At night - The “RescueMe” AIS MOB1 was attached about 0.5 metre above the water - significantly higher than if it was on a life jacket - but its onboard strobe was often hard to see or lost from sight at over 100 metres. The strobe on the danbuoys - about 1 metre off the water in the breeze - were much clearer and seldom lost.

The Jonbuoy light is apparently water activated and failed to light on deployment. It was turned on by hand at its first recovery.

Without a strobe, but relying only on reflective tape a horseshoe was visible at upto 50 metres with a strong torch. Without the reflective tape a MoB was invisible at a boat length.

AIS: Without AIS device, given a sea of over 2 metres, it is doubtful that a lifejacket strobe would remain usefully visible over 400 metres - 2 minutes sailing time. The usefulness of a AIS device, especially at night, is I feel, immeasurable. Given a range of a couple of miles, with course and distance shown on board the yacht, the probability of return and hopefully of recovery is multiplied a hundredfold. Indeed, we were told by Marine Rescue Sydney, that, due to the network of VHF aerials up the coast, they were called by Port Stephens VMR - 100 miles away - 20 minutes into our first night exercise to advise there was a DSC distress happening outside Sydney!

Significantly, on Day 1, when the AIS MOB1 was activated (we did this by hand on board before deployment) the VHF received its DSC call and the MOB1 showed immediately. On Day 2, the DSC went off and we'acknowledged' the danbuoy, but no MoB GPS data appeared on the VHF. The danbuoy was recovered and for no reason we could see, the VHF got a fix immediately on second deployment.

It was very useful to see how to select the object clearly labelled "MoB AIS" from the list of targets in the VHF display, and to choose 'info' for course and distance (shown to 2 Decimals of a mile) to return to the MoB.

I believe everyone should conduct an exercise like this to identify for themselves, with their own boat and crew, how to improve the chances of recovering a MoB.

They will see how all the equipment comes together to achieve a happy result from the potentially catastrophic event of losing a crew member overboard offshore at night in a running sea.

Although expensive at about £200 per unit (and the Standard Horizon AIS VHF at £325), the RescueMe, or similar AIS MOB device really will make the difference.

I'd like to thank Sydney's Water Police, Volunteer Marine Rescue and Australian Maritime Safety Agency for the interest they took in our safety workshops, and for helping us have a very instructive two days on the yacht.

Peter Edington

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