Overboard: Stories from off the boat

Published on April 24th, 2019

Falling overboard can occur unexpectedly and end tragically. Staying onboard is always a priority, but even the most experienced can find themselves off the boat. Rich Jepsen shares his experiences.


My first unintended overboard was when I was filming a corporate teambuilding event for my company, OCSC Sailing. I was standing in the back of a Boston Whaler Rampage, filming Accenture Partners, on J/24s in the Berkeley Circle, San Francisco Bay.

One of the J/24s got too close and my driver gunned the engine to avoid it. Having violated my own rule to be seated or holding on, I did a beautiful flip into the water. I was wearing a Type 3 lifejacket. The buoyancy helped me keep the video camera (mostly) out of the water and functional.

I was skipper on the second incident when I lost the foredeck crew off a J/22 during the prestart of a midweek evening race at St. Francis Yacht Club. With 18 knots of wind and water temperature at 58 degrees, she was in a lifejacket (required by the SI) and was light and in good shape. Getting back to her was complicated by a bent spin pole that was partially dunked at the same time, but all went smoothly because of drilling the maneuver and her being in a lifejacket.

The third (and final…whew!) episode was while I was tactician on a J/111. It happened at the downwind mark in 22 knots when I went to leeward to clear a line as we rounded up to close hauled when I lost footing and slipped under the lifelines.

I was wearing a Zhik dinghy vest which was a few pounds of buoyancy short of USCG certified Type 3. As I’m 6’ 1”, 225 pounds, and was in full foulies, the vest worked perfectly in 2-3 foot San Francisco Bay chop, keeping my head and airway above water.

I was picked up on the first pass but found myself furiously paddling to leeward on their final approach as the helm had underestimated the leeway a slow moving J/111 would make in that breeze and chop. However, I made safe contact with the boat on the lee side, and was hand-over-handed to the open transom where I was able to clamber/be dragged back on the boat.

We finished the race, albeit well in control of last place.
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