[FAQs] Ways to Tackle Man Overboard Situation on Ship


Man overboard is a situation wherein a ship’s crew member falls into the sea from the ship, no matter where the ship is sailing, on open seas or in still waters in port.

A recent article published in MarineInsight briefs about the different ways to tackle Man Overboard Situations on Ship. Here’s an excerpt from that article.

A man overboard is an emergency situation, and it is essential to locate and recover the man overboard as soon as possible. Otherwise, due to bad weather or rough seas, the crew member can drown or due to the temperature of the cold water, the person can get hypothermia.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a situation wherein there is an extensive loss of body temperature due to prolonged contact of the body with cold water, and the body’s normal metabolism and functions get affected.

A person will fall unconscious after 15 minutes in water with a temperature of 5 ̊ C.

Actions to be Taken during Man Overboard Situation

The initial and early sighting of the fallen crew plays a vital role in increasing the percentage of saving their life. The actions for a MOB mentioned below are extremely urgent and must be taken without delay to save the life of the person who has fallen overboard.

  1. Shout ‘Man Overboard on Starboard side/Portside’.
  2. Change over to hand steering from auto and put the wheel hard over to the respective side (port or starboard).
  3. Release MOB marker from the side of the bridge wing to which MOB has occurred. This marker is buoyant and has a self-igniting light and self-activating smoke signal.
  4. Press the MOB button on the GPS to mark the casualty’s position for future reference.
  5. Sound’ O’ on the whistle (Three prolonged blasts). This is to let the Master and the crew know about the emergency situation. Supplement this with the appropriate ‘O’ flag.
  6. Post an extra lookout as soon as possible.
  7. Sound the General Alarm on the ship’s whistle to alert everybody to proceed to stations. This is to ensure that if the crew has not understood the three prolonged blasts for MOB, they are alerted regardless and proceed to muster stations to assist in the recovery of the person.
  8. Thereafter, announce the MOB situation on the ship’s PA system.
  9. Inform the engine room of the situation that manoeuvring will be required.
  10. Execute the rescue turn.
  11. Keep a keen eye on the RADAR/ARPA and put the VHF on Channel 16.
  12. Maintain a record of all the events in the Bell book.
  13. Carry out Master’s orders.
  14. The Chief Mate should take over all decisions based on deck, about lowering survival craft, boarding ladder, etc.
  15. The Third Mate ought to assist the Master on Bridge.
  16. The officer in charge at the moment must send out an “Urgency signal” on all the communications systems to let ships in the vicinity know about the situation.
  17. Keep the lifebuoy (MOB marker) in sight.
  18. The rescue boat should be manned adequately to carry out the rescue operation. Everyone should wear a personal location beacon.
  19. The officer in the rescue boat must carry a portable handheld VHF
  20. Once the person is rescued, the rescue boat must be picked up upon arrival close to the ship along with the lifebuoy and hoisted back.
  21. Immediate first aid should be administered if required.
  22. An ‘Urgency Signal’ must be sent out to cancel the last transmitted MOB alert.
  23. Appropriate entries must be made in the Ship’s Logbook.
  24. The Master must conduct an enquiry concerning the MOB incident and all entries made in the Ship’s Logbook.
  25. The engines are not stopped immediately to keep the person away from the propeller. The same is the case for wheeling hard over to the casualty’s side as it is done to keep the stern away from the casualty.

Screaming about the MOB when the mishap is realised is of paramount importance to use all manpower available for immediate use. Also, sighting a person amidst the glare during daylight is hard as visibility is compromised. Hence, immediate action is needed in such a situation to avoid fatalities in such circumstances.

Importance of lifebuoy 

The lifebuoy also adds to the life-saving process as the smoke signal leaves a conspicuous mark by the day or night. It is also important to pick up the lifebuoy to not confuse any other ships passing by about the status of the MOB. They must not assume that there is a MOB in the vicinity and proceed towards helping the person when he has already been rescued. Also, one must always wear a life jacket while working, and if one falls overboard, one should not waste energy by thrashing the waves or panicking in the water.

Ship Logbook entries

Entries in the Ship’s Logbook hold great legal importance and should be made carefully. Always try to succeed in the first attempt, as even a little delay can cause a human life.

Man overboard rescue turns

The Williamson Turn

  1. Note the position of the ship
  2. Put wheel hard over to the side of the casualty
  3. After the ship has altered course by about 60 degrees, put the wheel hard over to the other side
  4. When the vessel is 20 degrees short of the reciprocal course, wheel on the midship

The Scharnow Turn

  1. Put the rudder over hard toward the person
  2. After deviating from the original course by about 240 degrees, shift the rudder hard to the opposite side.
  3. When heading about 20 degrees short of the reciprocal course, put the rudder amidships so that the vessel turns onto the reciprocal course.

The Anderson Turn

  1. Stop the engines.
  2. Put the rudder over toward the person.
  3. When clear of the person, go all ahead full, still using the full rudder.
  4. After deviating from the original course by about 240 degrees (about 2/3 of a complete circle), back the engines 2/3 or full.
  5. Stop the engines when the target point is 15 degrees off the bow. Ease the rudder and back the engines as required.

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Source: Marine Insight


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