MOB drills for Transpac

Transpacific YC respond to spate of MOB incidents in offshore races

Friday August 9th 2002, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United States
Recent overboard incidents in ocean racing have inspired the Transpacific Yacht Club's board of directors to expand its safety regulations by adding a mandatory pre-race man-overboard drill.

Each crew in the 42nd running of next July's race from Los Angeles to Honolulu must certify that it has conducted such a drill, following guidelines in the Offshore Special Regulations of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF).

Transpac Commodore Brad Avery, who runs such drills as director of the Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship, said, "what we are trying to do is prepare people so they know exactly what to do and don't freeze in what can be a chaotic situation."

There will be no need to draw lots or ask for volunteers. The normal procedure for a drill is to drop a floatable item, such as a float cushion, fender or life ring with a drogue, and recover it within a reasonable period of time.

Jamie Boeckel was lost in a Block Island race off the East Coast this year, a tragedy soon followed by four crew members falling off three boats in the Newport-to-Bermuda Race. All four were recovered safely - testimony to the value of that race's own requirement for pre-race MOB drills.

Robbie Haines, a Transpac director who sailed the Newport-to-Bermuda Race on Roy E. Disney's record-setting Pyewacket, emphatically endorsed the new rule.

"There were some very good sailors that went over in Newport-Bermuda," Haines said. "The drill was effective. It worked."

Pyewacket navigator Stan Honey said, "The story [in Bermuda] afterwards was, hey, it was a good idea to do the drill."

More recently, a crew member whose identity has not been disclosed was recovered after falling off Bob McNeil's new, first-to-finish maxZ86 Zephyrus V in the West Marine Pacific Cup from San Francisco to Hawaii, as described in madfor sailing's interview with Gordon Maguire. McNeil confirmed his boat's procedure: "we spun up head to wind immediately. The MOM [man-overboard module] was overboard, sails down, engine on, go to the light, there's the guy, pick him up."

The ISAF procedure does not mention using an engine, but Avery said that makes it easier to control the boat than if the victim is approached under sail.

Haines also suggested that someone immediately punch in the GPS location of the incident, especially at night or in heavy seas where the crew may lose sight of the victim. "You can't overdo the safety aspect," he said.

The Transpac-required drill will reflect the procedure detailed in Section 6, Rule 6.01.8, Appendix D of the Offshore Special Regulations. The immediate actions to be taken are:

1. Shout "man overboard" and detail a crew member to spot and point to the victim's position in the water. The spotter should not take his eyes off the victim.

2. Provide immediate flotation.

3. Bring boat head to wind.

Then the boat is maneuvered off the wind and the headsail - jib or spinnaker - dropped. The boat circles back and the victim is approached from leeward on a close-winded course and recovered with a line or sling.

Transpac, which has not lost a competitor in nearly a century of races, has pioneered other safety regulations, including that anyone on deck between dusk and dawn must wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) with an auto-activated strobe light.


After receiving mixed reviews of a change to two mandatory daily position reports for the 2001 Transpac, the directors voted to return to the former system of one - a move sure to be hailed by the tactically aggressive competitors. "I like the one report a day," veteran navigator Stan Honey said.

Because all boats monitor the race radio frequency, navigators sometimes will call for a course change soon after roll call to slip away from rivals. The twice-daily rule limited the strength of that tactic. As before, the single report will be in the morning roll call by the communications vessel, Alaska Eagle.

At the same time, it was voted to increase the penalty for reporting a false position from 10 minutes to 30 minutes.

The directors also voted to expand the freedom of racers to access weather information from public Web sites.

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