Coastal Boating, Sailing, Cruising, Yachting, Racing, Coastal, Sailboat, Yacht, Fleet, Club, Regatta, Commodore, One design, Social, Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Island, Seamanship, NE waters, NOAA, NWS


Crew Overboard Rescue Symposium


There and back again
The First Rule of Boating
Navigation displays for the rest of us
Patchy Fog

Tools and more info

The Importance of Practicing MOB Drills and Crew Training
Tools for coastal navigation
What is the meaning of Zulu time?
Lots more Navigation Resources


Top 10 Online Boating Resources
Top 10 Challenging Cruising Waters in the Northeast

The Importance of Practicing  MOB Drills and Crew Training

You might just save a life!

By Captain Andrew F. Seligman

I would like to tell you a short and true story.  I was racing a J-27 one day at the end of September 2004.  My club, Liberty Sailing Club, runs club races on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  This was the end of the summer racing series and fall frost bite racing was starting the following Sunday.  We had a beautiful race and the sun was setting on the Delaware River in downtown Philadelphia .  Not many people realize the Delaware River is great for small boat sailing (small being defined as a vessel with an LOA less than 30 feet.)  The sunset this evening was spectacular, and my crew and I decided to take a sunset cruise before heading back to the dock for the end-of-series party.

Crew performing elevator method recovery during the 2004 COB Symposium. See note below.
Photo by John Rousmaniere.

We were approximately one mile north of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge when we heard people screaming for help!   I noticed several people in what looked like a brand new 25 foot bow-rider power vessel waving their hands for help.  I gave the helm to a person I trusted would work well with me and we sailed over to the vessel.  As we arrived, I observed a woman swimming down current of the power vessel and she was very tired.  After all, the victim was fighting a current greater than 4 knots.  The “Captain” of the vessel yelled to me that they needed help as his cousin was getting tired and was beginning to drown.  I IMMEDIATELY yelled “MAN OVER BOARD”, threw a floatable cushion to the woman in the water, assigned a spotter to another crew member and directed the helmsman to fall off to a beam reach and do a Figure Eight MOB.  I then instructed the woman to stop swimming immediately hold on to the cushion and told her we (our vessel) would come to her. 

This woman looked very tired, like she was going to go under.  I instructed another member of my crew to take a spinnaker sheet and tie a huge bowline so the loop would be large enough to slip under the woman’s shoulders.  Two people were performing the figure eight maneuver—the helmsman controlled the rudder and the main sheet, and one crew member controlled the jib sheets.   As our vessel approached the woman, we tossed her the spinnaker sheet with the bowline in it and put a rope ladder down into the water.  Now, for anyone who is not tired, climbing up this rope ladder would not be easy.  I had suspected that the victim would be too tired to climb the ladder when I instructed a crew member to tie the bowline in the spinnaker line as a back-up system—this indeed turned out to be the case.  The woman tried to grab on to the ladder, however, she could barely hang on.  We attached the spinnaker sheet to a winch and, with the help of my crew, hauled the woman into our vessel.  Aside from being tired, the woman was ok.  We dropped our sails and motored toward the bow-rider.

As it turns out, the bow-rider was anchored—in the middle of the channel.  This channel is transited by oil and container ships as well as large tugs with barges performing lightering operations (transfer of liquid or solid cargo from ship to ship at sea).  The “Captain” of the vessel yelled to me that he did not have a VHF on board. I am not sure if he knew the purpose of a marine VHF or how to use one if he had had one on board.  I asked him if he had life jackets.  He said, "Yes" and I told him to make his entire party (all 8 of them not including the woman I had on board) put on life jackets.  The woman told me, as did the "Captain”, that their vessel had hit something and their engine would not work.  So the “Captain” asked his cousin to go into the river (4+ knot current) to check out what was wrong.  The woman did NOT have a life jacket on and she WAS NOT tethered to the vessel.  This created a dangerous life-threatening situation. 

Ok, the sun was almost to the horizon and I looked south on the river. And………

In the 2005 Crew Overboard Retrieval Symposium on San Francisco Bay on August 9-12, 120 volunteers took part in some 400 day-and-night tests of rescue skills and equipment. Forty items of safety gear and many maneuvers were tested in conditions ranging from 36 knots and a three-foot choppy sea, down to a moderate wind and smooth water.  Almost 200 hours of trials were held on 15 boats ranging from 21 to 53 feet in length – seven keel cruisers, a keel racer, a catamaran, three trimarans, and three powerboats. This was the first crewoverboard rescue trial involving a fleet so big and so representative of American cruising boats.

I saw three white lights in a row with red and green lights. These lights were approximately 1 mile away as they were just north of the Ben Franklin Bridge and - you guessed it - they were directly in the channel and not going slow!  I immediately turned to channel 13 and contacted the tug (towing a vessel greater than 200 meters) to advise them of the situation.  The tug captain thanked me; he stated they were so close to the disabled bow-rider that the bow-rider could not be picked-up on the tug boats radar. The tug Captain advised me he would turn to his starboard and keep clear.  In effect, everyone on the bow-rider was likely to have been killed if I had not contacted the tug via marine radio.   

I contacted the USCG station group Philadelphia next .  The USCG instructed me to ask the “Captain” if he had a cell phone on board—which he did and I relayed the number to the USCG.  The USCG contacted the vessel and then Sea-Tow to assist the vessel. I issued securites on channels 13, 16,  and 69 advising all vessels in the area of the situation.   The USCG instructed me to standby until sundown.  The USCG dismissed me at sundown, and we went back home to enjoy the festivities.

I make it a point to train my crews in MOB and other safety procedures.  When I sail on a larger body of water, for example the Chesapeake Bay, I always train my passengers/crew on basic safety issues and procedures (i.e., when and how to put on a life jacket, how to use the VHF, how to use the GPS to identify latitude and longitude, and the location of all the fire extinguishers). If it not for the experienced crew I had on board, the woman in the water would most certainly have drowned. 

Lessons to Be Learned From This Very True Story:

1)  Practice MOB drills regularly.  Only repetitive training will ensure you can do it when you need it.

2)  Safety precautions should never be underestimated; as the Captain you are responsible for the well being of your crew and passengers.  Be a Captain—not a "Captain.”

3)  Always continue learning and training while having fun.

Captain Andrew Seligman is a United States Coast Guard Licensed Master with Sailing and Towing Endorsements.  He is also a Certified American Sailing Association Sailing Instructor and is an instructor at the New Jersey Sailing School (; and a Certified USCG Licensed instructor for Mariners School (  Captain Seligman’s e-mail is ASELIGMAN at COMCAST.NET


Joy of sailingCoastal Boating (Reg. in Ireland No. 443222) is a division of Knowledge Clinic Ltd.
Port Aleria, Rosnakilly, Kilmeena, Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland - USA: PO Box 726, Mahwah, NJ 07430
All content on this site is subject to Copyright© - All rights reserved.
Contact us - Advertising - Privacy - Terms & Conditions - Copyright & Trademark - Webmaster