What survivors want you to know

Published on January 29th, 2020

by Margaret Pommert, 48° North magazine
Who are the experts on the experience of overboard recovery? It’s the people who’ve had it happen to them in real life, not in a practice drill. This article is a window into the experience of those experts—local boaters who have been overboard and are willing to share what they learned from their experiences. Some stories may be familiar, others may not.

Before we get into it, you’ll see that all of the survivors featured here are women. This is purely coincidental. I have no data that suggests that women go overboard disproportionately often. This is just a result of the fact that I have a lot of connections with the local women’s boating community, and that’s who happened to respond to my inquiries for this story.

1. An overboard situation can happen to anyone.
Most boaters think it won’t happen to them, yet two survivors interviewed for this article are professional captains and instructors and several others also have a lifetime of experience. Whether novice or savvy salt, cruising or racing, aboard large boats or small, sail or power, no one is immune to the risks of going overboard.

2. Life jackets — just wear them.
You’ll meet lots of sailors who don’t wear life jackets. But I have yet to meet an expert on the overboard experience­—a survivor—who doesn’t ALWAYS wear their PFD.

Put life jackets on before you leave the dock. Don’t assume you’ll put it on before the conditions pick up, or before you must go out of the cockpit, or when an emergency happens.

Consider the experience of Judy Rae Carlson from Port Orchard. She was the mainsail trimmer in a race that was predicted to be a light-wind drifter. When the winds slowly built to the point that she wanted her life jacket on, a crewmate retrieved it from the cabin for her. She had it in her lap so she could put it on… but before she did, a broach threw her head-first over the lifelines.

3. If not already integral, add crotch straps to your life jacket.
Fitting your inflatable life jacket with crotch straps should, and in many cases does, hold you higher in the water. It also prevents the inflated bladder from squeezing your neck, head, and ears, which can cause you to panic. This is common wisdom and is reflected in offshore racing requirements, but it strikes a more relevant chord from a person who saw the benefit firsthand. – Full report

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