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Solo RIB Driver becomes a Man Overboard - 18 Miles Offshore in the Irish Sea

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04.06.2018

Andy Proudfoot on 5 metre RIB 'Merlin'

Heading from Wales to Ireland for the start of the 2013 Round Ireland Challenge, Andy Proudfoot, the solo occupant of the 5 metre RIB ‘Merlin’ was ejected into the water 18 miles off St Ann’s Head in the Irish Sea.

At the 2018 MAN OVERBOARD Prevention & Recovery Workshop in Southampton UK Andy recounted lessons learned from the man over board’s perspective.

Andy recalls, ‘I was varying speed according to the conditions. Seeing the seas flatten out I increased speed. I had just checked SOG on the plotter at 24 knots when I came to a fairly innocent looking crest that I remember hitting with a slight lean to starboard. The crest concealed a very deep trough, and the boat snapped rapidly to starboard and dropped down. I remember looking at the sea rushing closer to me, and the boat running on its starboard tube, seemingly still pointing vertically down. It took a fraction of a second but the sickening feeling of rolling out of the boat seemed to be happening in slow motion, until I impacted the water on my right shoulder and disappeared under the surface. The initial impact and ingestion of water was extremely disorientating. I started to take stock. I noticed the kill cord still attached to my leg, but couldn’t see the boat. I had to spin myself round, then saw it some 50 to 75 metres away.'

The engine had stopped – the kill cord had worked. My auto inflate life jacket had not fired, the hybrid life jacket had 75 newton of foam buoyancy and 165 newton in air chambers, I pulled the toggle and it inflated. The handheld VHF webbed into my lifejacket had smashed into several pieces on impact with the water. It rapidly became apparent that as the RIB had more windage, whatever wind and current action was acting on me was also pushing the boat disproportionately further away from me. The distance between myself and the boat was opening up all the time.’

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The MOB Experience – First Hand Account by Andy Proudfoot

Earlier that same day I had completed a 400 mile tow to get to the start of the feeder leg of PBR’s 2013 Round Ireland Challenge, which was leaving from Neyland Marina at Milford Haven and crossing the 80 miles to Kilmore Quay in Southern Ireland, the official start line for the circumnavigation. The departure time had been set at 11.30, but due to reasons beyond my control, I didn’t arrive at Neyland until a few minutes after that time, just as the flotilla was leaving. I still had to fuel the boat and stow kit,  so I resolved to take my time and leave when I was settled and everything attended to.

'Merlin' is a Gemini Waverider 550 RIB. She was commissioned especially for the legendary RB4 event, and to make sure she complied with the sub 5 metre requirement, Gemini shortened her in the factory by removing 55cm of length. Jan Falkowski successfully helmed her round that challenge.

In 2010 I rescued the RIB from a barn in Cornwall. The hull and GRP was all in excellent condition, but the tubes were beyond repair, and there was a very elderly 150VRO bolted to the transom. Over the next year, the boat was re-tubed, rewired and re-engined with a Tohatsu 90C TLDI. She didn’t look like a twelve year old boat.

By 14.45 I had fuelled, launched, parked the car and trailer, and put a course for Kilmore Quay into my plotter. By 15.00 I was clear of the sound and heading out towards Skokholm Island. Passing through the Smalls the wind over tide had created overfalls and confused sea with some large waves.

Off and on the gas, I was varying the speed for conditions, dropping to just on the plane and then through 14 knots up to 20 knots when conditions smoothed out.

Believing I was through the worst and seeing the seas flatten out I increased speed. I had just checked the SOG on the plotter at 24 knots, when I came to a fairly innocent looking crest which I remember hitting with a slight lean to starboard. The crest concealed a very deep trough, and the boat snapped rapidly to starboard and dropped down. I remember looking at the sea rushing closer to me, and the boat running on its starboard tube, seemingly still pointing vertically down. It took a fraction of a second but the sickening feeling of rolling out of the boat seemed to be happening in slow motion, until I impacted the water on my right shoulder and disappeared under the surface. Sudden accidents seem to somehow expand and amplify split second occurrences, and your senses heighten to such an extent that it all seems both quick and slow at the same time.

The initial impact and ingestion of water was extremely disorientating. As I came to the surface, my mind struggled to kick into gear, I was coughing up water and  bobbing up and down rather precariously, feeling like I would tip all the way forward and end up on my face. I started to take stock.

My lifejacket had failed to fire. An auto Baltic hybrid RIB lifejacket, it had 75 newtons of foam buoyancy and 165 newtons in air chambers. I pulled the toggle and the jacket inflated. I noticed the kill cord still attached to my leg, but couldn’t see the boat. I had to spin myself round, and then saw it around 50 to 75 metres away.

First priority was a Mayday call. I reached up to my right shoulder to grab the handheld VHF that was webbed into my lifejacket, but it wasn’t there, and as my fingers trailed through the water, they came into contact with the backplate of the VHF, which looked to have snapped off the radio body. No VHF to be seen. I then reached down to my left side where my PLB (a GME 410G with GPS) was webbed onto the harness of my lifejacket, and to my relief my fingers found it. I undid the webbing and pulled it out but before activating it, I took another look up to locate the boat. It now looked around 100 metres from me.

I took out the PLB and flicked up the whip aerial, sliding the activating switch across. After a few seconds the unit started emitting a regular beep and flashing the strobe light on the top of the unit. I held it up at arms length.

It immediately occurred to me that the PLB could have taken a beating, like my VHF, and not even be transmitting. I put that thought to the back of my mind. I took another look at my watch – it was 15.35.

I thought about getting to my boat,  floating in my vision but being so low in the water, estimating distance was difficult. It was apparent that the distance between myself and the boat was opening up. The RIB had more windage, so whatever wind and current action was acting on me, was also pushing the boat further away.

The maths say, that if it was for example, traveling 200 metres an hour faster than I was, in the tide and wind, then in the 20 minutes it may take me to get to the boat now, it would have moved on a further 70 metres, which would have taken another 15 minutes. During which time the boat would have moved on a further 50 metres, which would have taken another 11 minutes, and so on.

In my dry suit, Gecko helmet, carrying a PLB and wearing a lifejacket, this was not a practical proposition. It is one thing lying on your back sculling yourself along in a swimming pool, but quickly I found out that 10 minutes of effort in a 4 foot swell of confused sea will usually result in you moving in irregular circles.

I checked my watch again - it was 16.10 and I had been in the water around 40 minutes. The PLB made a rapid set of beeps lasting about 5 seconds, they were easy to miss, especially as I was still wearing my Gecko helmet. I didn’t remember what the rapid beeps meant. I hoped it wasn’t a fault indicator or battery warning. I was already concerned  that as the handheld VHF had broken apart with my impacting the water, the PLB had taken a big knock and wasn’t functioning correctly. After the rapid beeps it went back to one beep every 3 seconds and one strobe flash. I kept holding it up at arms length.

With my lifejacket fully inflated, my view had become some what restricted. Turning my head was difficult with the Gecko, and the posture I found myself in. The lifejacket bladders had inflated and formed a V shape, restricting almost all of my peripheral vision, and to scan for anything, I had to spin myself around in the water, paddling with my hands. In the far distance, I could make out the Smalls lighthouse, which in my perspective was about the size of a matchstick on my horizon. I kept the Gecko helmet on, as the sea was running a small swell, and occasionally the visor of the helmet would get hit with spray. It was also keeping my head warm. I wasn’t feeling the cold yet, and my dry suit was working beautifully, no leaks. Under my dry suit I had an under fleece and under that a thermal layer. That lunchtime, whilst sweating and grunting in the marina car park putting all that stuff on, I had been cursing my decision to wear so much. An hour or so later, I was extremely relieved I had.

I checked my watch again - it was 16.30. Now I was only seeing my RIB when I went over a swell, and providing I was pointing in the right direction! I could make out the radar reflector and aerials on the top of the A frame. I knew that everything on the boat was working and switched on at the time of my ejection. The AIS was working, and the VHF.  As I lay in the water, I was reasoning that someone must notice the RIB, or the Coast Guard must see the AIS signal. I saw a yacht on the far horizon, and waved my arms, but realistically I knew they would never see me. You are such a small target in the water, compared to a boat or even a liferaft. I reached for the whistle on my lifejacket, but couldn’t find it. Yet another item stripped from me when entering the water at 24 knots. I remembered there was another whistle in one of the pockets of my dry suit, but then my lifejacket had inflated over my suit and  that was now preventing access. I doubt the yacht would have heard it anyway. There is little marine traffic in this part of the world.

By 16.45 I was beginning to feel cold. It crept to my extremities first. I pulled my arms into my side, and crossed my legs at my ankles. I also noticed warm currents in the water, like threads running through the sea that felt as warm as bath water, the Gulfstream. It startled me when my hands first trailed through it, I started looking around thinking it would have to come from something manmade.

I was counting sea bird species - Gannett’s, Guillemots, Shearwaters and Gulls. Psychologically, up until that point, I was still adventuring. The whole trip was going to be an adventure, and this incident wasn’t going to change that. The Round Ireland Rib Challenge was going to be about pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and in my mind, this was just part of that. I was executing a plan, staying rational and thinking about my  RYA training courses and all the books I had read.

I thought about my father, torpedoed in the Atlantic in 1942 when a 19 year old Radio Officer on a Tanker, and one of only 10 survivors. He spent 24 hours on a raft wearing only a vest and trousers, 700 miles Southeast of Cape Farewell, Greenland. He survived and was rescued - it was a good positive image to keep in my mind.

But now, as the cold crept on and I started getting muscle cramps, I started for the first time to consider outcomes. There were only two possible. Sobering thoughts.

Again I wondered if the PLB was transmitting. I wished that it had something visible, a big green light that would come on when it had successfully transmitted a signal. Not knowing if it was working correctly was always in the back of my mind. And while this was happening, I had no idea that a full rescue plan was in operation. Falmouth Coastguard had been notified of my PLB alarm, and initial position indicated West Wales so Milford Haven Coast Guard (MHCG) was contacted.

The MRCC in Kinloss, called my mobile phone and left voicemails (my phone was in the boat), the Coast Guard did the same. They contacted my family who confirmed I was crossing to Kilmore Quay, but the situation was confused and the initial assumptions had been that my PLB had been activated and was a false alarm, and that my RIB and myself were already in Ireland. When it became apparent that I wasn’t, MHCG started to deploy assets to search for me.

Rosslare lifeboat was paged but not launched, and Kilmore Quay lifeboat was launched, St Davids Lifeboat launched. The LE Aisling, an Irish warship was diverted, and Stena Europe and the Isle of Inishmore, both large car ferries were also diverted to the search area. A yacht and a charter fishing boat were requested to join the search, and finally Rescue 169, an RAF Sea King helicopter from RAF Chivenor in Devon was tasked, a very impressive search party.

By 17.00 the cramps in my legs were painful. Trying to change position only gave a minutes relief and then the discomfort returned. The initial adrenaline surge had worn off and I was becoming aware of  the pain in my shoulder where I had made initial contact with the water. I was also desperate to pee, and after a few minutes I couldn’t stop myself. It was funny that such a small thing seemed to be so disheartening at the time, but to me, psychologically it was the situation managing me and not the other way round.

I checked my watch again - 17.15. I had tried to keep track of my RIB every time I passed over a swell and was pointing in the right direction. It sometimes seemed to be coming closer and then a few minutes later would seem farther away then ever. I was thinking the PLB had failed, and saw getting to the RIB as my last chance saloon. I knew I would have to let air out of my lifejacket if I was seriously contemplating getting to it. I let a little escape from the top up tube, and knew an attempt to get to the boat would be a completely desperate move.

Around 17.20 - when cresting a swell I noticed a new shape on the horizon. Two large white funnels. I recognized them as the Isle of Inishmore car ferry which had been loading cars at Pembroke Dock when I had set off from Neyland Marina. They were on my extreme horizon and were on a parallel course to me. I had no idea the vessel had been tasked, so to me it looked like it was on passage. It was only a few minutes later that I realized the funnels had turned towards my direction, although I convinced myself it was a course change on passage and it was not coming for me.

What seemed like another 5 or 10 minutes passed, and I thought I could hear a helicopter. I pulled my Gecko away from my ear. Yes…definitely a helicopter. I struggled to spin myself around in the water, and quite suddenly a big yellow Sea King was taking up the hover directly in front of me. Maybe 60 feet away and 60 feet up, I felt like I was looking directly into the flight deck.

It was a fantastic moment, and one I have replayed in my mind many times. Within a minute a winch man was opposite me in the water, and I was being lifted in the strop on the winch, in full view of all the passengers on the Isle of Inishmore. I could see that I had drifted close to the Smalls lighthouse, and also that my RIB was nearby and looked undamaged. No sooner was I aboard the helicopter, and having answered some basic questions about my health, than I requested a winch back down to my RIB. After some initial surprise at this request, the Sea King took up circuits while the captain conferred with the Coast Guard and presumably due to the proximity of St David’s lifeboat, they agreed to put me back on my boat.

As I was being winched back down, I could see my jockey seat laying on its side propped against the tube in the boat. I wanted to carry on, but knew that this damage would prevent that. The extreme sideways force exerted on the seat during my ejection had ripped the six stainless M8 bolts and a surrounding area of GRP and Treadmaster from the deck. Probably the only reason that the seat didn’t follow me out of the boat, was the fact that I had stuffed the base with several 5 liter containers of two stroke oil adding some weight to it.

Within a few minutes, St Davids Lifeboat arrived, and requested to put a crewmember aboard for the hour long journey back to Neyland. St Davids lifeboat stayed with me as far as the entrance to Milford Haven Sound, and then the Angle lifeboat took over for the escort as far as the marina itself. After a debrief with the coastguard and some hot food, I finally made it to the Bridge Hotel and some sleep.

The next morning, I was too busy with thoughts of repairing the jockey seat and catching up with the Challenge boats in Dun Laoghaire that evening, to spend much time reflecting on what had happened. I bought Sikaflex, stainless self tappers and a replacement handheld radio, and then spent the morning re-attaching the seat pod. It was only that afternoon, when I was once again turning the boat towards the open sea at the mouth of Milford Haven Sound, that the events of the previous day came into sharper focus once more. Either turn around now and put the boat back on the trailer, or head off on the 104 miles across St Georges Channel to Dun Laoghaire. I chose the latter, and six hours later was refuelling in Wicklow with just a twenty minute passage left to go to catch the Challenge boats in Dun Laoghaire.

THE RIGHT KIT

In the days following the Round Ireland Challenge, I began reflecting on what happened. With hindsight, I was going too fast for the conditions, a mistake on my part, but was unlucky to hit the wave trough combination I did. I felt I needed to understand more about the experience I had, but I also felt there were practical safety lessons to be learned that could benefit all boaters, especifically those that boat solo. I wanted to feed back to the manufacturers of my safety kit, both the positive news that I was alive because of it, and also look at ways that I felt items could be improved, based on my experience that day.

PLB - PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON

My safety clothing, helmet and lifejacket enabled me to survive, but the single piece of equipment that led to my rescue, was the PLB. With the destruction of my handheld VHF, the PLB was my only hope of raising the alarm, but for most of the rescue I was doubtful as to whether it was functioning correctly. It was strobe flashing and beeping, but in the circumstances of my ejection I was concerned that the unit may have suffered damage that was preventing a successful transmission.

After 30 minutes in the water, the PLB had issued a rapid series a short beeps of four or five seconds, which I was fortunate enough to see and hear, although at the time I couldn’t remember what they meant. In fact this indication was that it had acquired a GPS position fix and was relaying this position along with the distress signal and the unique personal identifier to the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system.

As time went on, and I began to doubt the operation of the unit, I contemplated attempting to get to my boat. Psychologically, knowing that the unit had successfully transmitted would have been very reassuring, and now that PLB’s are approved for land use, I can forsee more occasions when knowing a signal has been sent would perhaps prevent an ill advised decision. I contacted GME in Australia, and suggested a simple Red and Green LED could replace the rapid beep sequence. Red for no TX and Green for successful TX. This idea was positively received, and is being considered for the next generation of beacons under development.

Without doubt, I owe my rescue to the PLB. I can’t stress enough how important I consider one to be if your venturing out on the water. If you do own a PLB or EPIRB, make sure its registered with the Falmouth registry.

LIFEJACKET

My lifejacket that day was a Baltic Hybrid RIB Model. Although the auto mechanism failed to fire, it did work when manually activated. Without a doubt, the lifejacket was essential to my survival.

The Lifejacket has a central zip fastening to the front, as well as a harness and crotch straps, and zips up to fit much like waistcoat. I like this feature of the jacket, it significantly cuts down wind chill when worn over my dry suit, however I hadn’t really considered the relationship of my dry suit to the lifejacket in detail, and in the water I soon discovered that the inflated lifejacket prevented access to all of the pockets on my suit. The lifejacket and dry suit should be considered in combination as part of your survival system, and definitely something to factor into a selection decision when purchasing safety kit.

With the lifejacket inflated, and in the water, I found the bladders restricted my peripheral vision, something again I hadn’t been prepared for, despite all the straps and harnesses on the jacket being adequately tightened and adjusted when I set off. The impact with the water had no doubt caused some loosening of the straps on the jacket. Studies conducted in the UK in calm water revealed that just a five minute swim with a lifejacket, loosened straps and harnesses enough to reduce the wearers mouth clearance above the water by 2 centimetres. The fitting and correct adjustments of crotch straps is vital.

DRY SUIT

When ejected from the boat, I was wearing a Typhoon PS220 drysuit, with a thermal layer and a fleece undersuit. This extended my survival time in the water considerably. Around the British Isles, the sea temperatures will rarely get above 15 degrees for most of the year, and the Health and Safety Executive did some exhaustive studies into Cold Water Immersion survival in the 90’s, in connection with the North Sea oil industry. The findings make for sobering reading.

Although there are variables, not everyone has the same body mass, fitness levels etc. The study tested individuals with suits, without suits, with leaking suits, just about every possible variation. They also demonstrated the link between the lifejacket and dry suit, that as a combination, must work together. The trapped air buoyancy of the dry suit is relatively even and will tend to float the wearer in a horizontal position in the water with legs up, even when wearing a lifejacket, which in turn brings the wearer’s airways lower to the water’s surface where the risk of spray and water inhalation are greater than that of someone not wearing a dry suit.  The lifejacket must have enough buoyancy to make sure the head comes clear of the water.

Most of the UK boaters that use dry suits will no doubt have the membrane type of suit. The suits themselves have little inherent insulation, and work by keeping the clothing you have underneath the suit dry and therefore warm. It’s important that you maintain your dry suit and fix any faulty seals and leaks before using on the water. Making sure the suit is zipped firmly shut may seem obvious, but closure on some suits is tricky for the solo boater and your ability to fully close the zipper by yourself should be carefully considered when selecting a dry suit. The same HSE study found that in calm water, if the zip was open by 10 centimetres, up to 17 litres of water would make its way inside the suit within 20 minutes. This adds 17.5 kilos of weight, noticeably affecting your buoyancy, and also lowering your body temperature.

The conclusions of the HSE report demonstrate that wearing a dry suit will buy you significant survival time in the water. My suit worked perfectly, and after my recovery I contacted Typhoon about possible improvements to the PS220, specifically to improve the location of the pockets on the suit making them more useable in an emergency, something that they are reviewing for the new model.

HELMET

I wore my Gecko safety helmet throughout my immersion and rescue. I was wearing it on the RIB at the time of the ejection. On the boat they offer considerable respite from the wind and I discovered in the water it kept my head warm and with the visor down, my airway clear.

Recent studies by the US Military have found that the onset of hypothermia in water immersions is accelerated when the head is immersed or wet. Head cooling has been shown to impact thinking and judgement. Once you get over any of your own inhibitions about wearing one, they are a fantastic piece of kit. The RNLI wear them for a reason!

KILLCORD

If I had not been wearing my killcord at the time of ejection, its highly likely the outcome would have been much different. Whatever emotions I experienced at finding myself floating in the sea, just my head above water, could not compare to the sheer terror I would have felt at watching my own RIB run ever decreasing circles around me at high speed.

I have forgotten to wear the killcord before, I am sure many reading this will have done the same at one point. Nowadays, I am trying to think of it as the seat belt of the boat, so that when I sit down, I automatically reach for it .

SEARCH & RESCUE - SAR Q&A

I also wanted to speak with a Search and Rescue (SAR) professional to get their input on MOB and their opinion about kit, planning and the operational difficulties involved in a rescue mission for someone floating in the water. I was fortunate enough to talk with one of the Irish Coastguard’s most experienced Rescue Helicopter Pilots with over 500 missions to his name, Martyn Rayner.

I started by asking him about survivability in the water around the British Isles if you find yourself MOB.

Often when we get a shout for a MOB it’s a case of, " was the person wearing a life jacket, or any kind of flotation device?" The reason for that being that a person without it will often last no longer than 20 minutes maximum, even on a nice day. With a flotation device, it can keep you alive for much longer, but it too has its limitations if your not dressed properly. Sadly in the case of 90% of MOB from fishing vessels, the crew watch the person go under, the ONLY people we ever pick up are the ones wearing lifejackets. You MUST attach yourself to the killcord, the reason is obvious, but we have had many cases where a person is thrown out and the boat goes into a circle, and ends up running over them, causing amputations (if they survive).

Martyn also had some strong views about personal safety equipment, specifically lifejackets and dry suits

Make sure that your lifejacket has as much reflective tape as you can get, its amazing how that will show with the smallest amount of light at night.

Some jackets come with a strobe light, they can be seen 4 miles away during the day and up to 15 miles plus by night.

As for clothing, a full drysuit is best, flotation suits are good, but plenty of clothing is the key. Black suits are almost impossible to see day or night, we wish they would make bright suits, just think, you look just like a seal!

Divers carry one of the inflatable orange bags, they are easy for us to spot.

If more than one person, stay together, as tightly as possible, it keeps you warmer.

Exactly how difficult is it to find a drifting MOB from a helicopter if they do not have a PLB?

As you experienced, you are a very small object, thus making our job very difficult. What helps us is if your wearing a bright coloured dry suit / foul weather gear, orange/ yellow etc - anything except dark colours. We do have fantastic heat seeking cameras onboard, but only your face will be exposed if in the water, so again it will be difficult to pick up, a hand held flare is great but only use it if you can see the rescue agencies.

Some boaters operate on tighter budgets than others, if you don’t have a PLB to take with you, what would you recommend as an effective way of getting an  immediate response when your MOB?

Every mariner knows about flares, but not many know about or use pencil flares. These are pocket sized launchers that hold six small flares that will ascend 200 feet plus. If you don’t have a PLB - fire one, wait 2 minutes, fire a second then another 2 minutes, then a third, keep the other three for when a helicopter or lifeboat is seen. The Reason for 3, with 2 minute intervals, is that the coastguard gets lots of single flare sightings every day, and 99.9% are false alarms so depending on the individual rescue controller, they will usually only put a Pan call out to ask for further sightings, and if none are forthcoming then no agencies will be scrambled. Sad, but too many hoax flares have caused this situation. So, if they have a report of three, they will definitely call out the rescue agencies!

What else are effective safety measures that aid any rescue agencies looking for you?

Let people know your route and stick to it. If we have that information, it's the first search we will do. If going on a long trip, when you leave, tell the coastguard that you will check in with them at frequent intervals, letting them know you are OK, and most importantly your estimated time of arrival (ETA) at your destination. Please call them when you arrive, as if not they will begin overdue action. Alternatively if its only a short trip, let a friend know your full plan and ETA, and if they do not hear from you they can raise the alarm.

Finally when we find you, a winchman will be lowered to you, DO EVERYTHING HE TELLS YOU. He will put two strops around you, one under arms and one under knees. Its called a hypothermic lift. After the 1979 Fastnet disaster when many people were rescued but died on the way to hospital, it was found that a person with hypothermia has a far higher chance of survival if lifted this way. You may think your OK, but you are not.

I noticed that you have just switched to the new S92 helicopter, how does it rate against the Sea King?

It's the dogs bollocks of rescue helicopters, I had been flying Sea Kings for 30 years, and this knocks the spots off it.

WHAT TO EXPECT AND HOW TO PLAN FOR IT

No one expects to be an MOB when going boating. I know that many boaters think about it, and some will take a few steps towards planning for the event.

As I learned, there is a big difference between planning for an MOB event in your head, and the reality of being ejected at speed.

Take some time to consider possible scenarios and how you would react to them.

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself unintentionally in the water, and assuming your not injured or incapacitated, don’t panic and take a few moments to gather your wits.

The initial disorientation of entering the water will affect your ability to make rational decisions about what you should do. Take some time to clear your airway if you have ingested water, stabilise your position and orientate yourself.

Above all be aware of your own abilities in the circumstances in which you find yourself.

BACK ON BOARD

Maybe your boat has stopped close by and you can get to it relatively easily. Have you thought about how to get back onboard? Maybe you can climb aboard using the anti-cavitation plate on the outboard as a step, and the electronic tilt button as a lift to boost you up. But what if the boat isn’t close by?

I found the distance between myself and my boat opening up relatively quickly.

I made the decision that alerting rescue services, and getting help, was more important and more realistic then trying to chase down my boat.

Take into consideration the affect of wind and tide on your boat, they can push it away from you faster than you can reach it. Swimming in survival equipment will drain your energy and heat much faster than just floating in the HELP position.

Make realistic assessments of outcomes before deciding on a course of action.

SPEED OF ENTRY

The kit attached to your lifejacket or dry suit is vulnerable to the stripping affect of a high speed impact with the water.

I lost my handheld VHF to impact damage, despite it being strapped in to a secure location on my lifejacket, so it pays to consider the strength of your safety lanyards and attachment systems, and how exposed any safety items such as PLBs and handheld VHFs are if you enter the water at high speed.

Think about the ways you can raise the alarm, and then think about what you would do should you lose the use of one of those methods.

Make sure you can reach all your personal safety equipment. With your lifejacket inflated, can you reach all the pockets (and their contents) on your dry suit?  

COLD

Be prepared for the cold that comes with spending time in the water.

For most of the year, if you enter the water without appropriate clothing, and without a lifejacket, the initial cold shock response and the involuntary gasp reflex, will cause you to drown if your head goes underwater. To prevent prolonged hyperventilation, which in turn can lead to fainting, concentrate on controlling your breathing.

Cold incapacitation will occur within 5 to 15 minutes. To preserve heat in your bodies core, and protect vital organs, your body will decrease the blood flow to your extremities, which affects the muscle and nerve fibres and within a short time frame, you will lose any meaningful movement in your hands and feet followed by your arms and legs. Again, without a life jacket, you will drown.

The onset of Hypothermia depends closely on water temperature and body mass, but in most adults it will take 30 minutes or more, even in ice water.

In a survival situation, don’t panic that hypothermia will occur quickly, you will have time to make good decisions and actions to save yourself, if you can overcome the cold shock response and are adequately kitted out to prevent cold incapacitation.

All of the above can be mitigated by wearing the appropriate clothing and a lifejacket. In a membrane dry suit you will need to ensure you have layers of warm clothing underneath your suit.

THE SQUEEZE

Hydrostatic squeeze to be exact. This was something I knew nothing about prior to experiencing it. The pressure of the water on your body will be noticeable in a couple of ways. Your body will produce waste water at up to 6 or 7 times faster than normal, and wanting to urinate is not uncommon.

It will also press and flatten your membrane dry suit and squeeze the air in your suit to the parts not under water. Specifically, this tends to bring the back of your suit into contact with the clothing you are wearing underneath, and your back will noticeably cool faster. By the time I was winched back down to my RIB, I was aware how much my dry suit felt different and had been “flattened”, which can be seen in one of the pictures that St Davids RNLI took at my rescue.

However, the more worrying effect of Hydrostatic squeeze only becomes apparent if you are hypothermic. It is not the application of the squeeze as much as the sudden lack of application, if for example, you are lifted clear of the water in a vertical motion. The warmer blood that the Hydrostatic pressure has been keeping in your body core, once free of the water, is able to reach your extremities and conversely, the colder blood there is able to travel quickly to your heart and internal organs.

MAKE A SURVIVAL AND RESCUE PLAN

Time spent working out what you would do if you found yourself a MOB is in my opinion invaluable.

If you are driving a high speed open boat, it’s highly likely that your ejection will occur at speed.

You could find yourself in the water in a swell, a much different scenario to sheltered water. Think about how visible you are to rescue assets searching for you.

Lay out your survival kit, your clothing and your lifejacket, and think carefully about how they all need to interact with each other.

Make sure you have more than one way of raising the alarm.

If you are solo boating away from marine traffic, your needs for this will be different to those of a weekend boater in the Solent for example. But I feel a PLB should be central to your strategy.

Consider personal flares, a laser flare, and a high power strobe in addition to a handheld VHF and a PLB.

Register your PLB with the Coastguard registry in Falmouth

Make sure your lifejacket and your dry suit are serviced regularly and in top condition.

Make sure to tell people, the coast guard, friends, family - where you are going and when you will arrive.

Wear the Kill Cord !

When on the water, keep a regular check on your position, just in case you need to relay it.

Consider how you could re-board your boat if you found yourself at water level.

Staying warm is vital, think about the HELP (Heat Escape Lessening Position) position in the water, and remember that swimming will let heat escape.

Stay positive and focused.

 

FOOTNOTE - John Haynes

I encouraged Andy to recount his experiences of this incident at the 2018 MAN OVERBOARD Prevention & Recovery Workshop. There was a significant group in the room, many with extensive maritime backgrounds. It often takes an incident to improve safety and everyone will have learned something valuable from this account. The outcome shows that he was well prepared, he stayed positive and was focussed. Huge thanks to Andy for sharing his thoughts on what worked, what could be improved and for passing on what he learned from his survival.


MAN OVERBOARD Prevention & Recovery Workshop - 2 April 2019 >


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