Man Overboard Drill – Sailing Basics Video Series

Knowing how to recover a crew member that falls overboard is one of the most important skills sailors need to know. What happens if you fall overboard, does one of your crew know how to rescue you? Here is the easiest and best way to recover a man overboard, broken up into simple steps. Watch the video, and next time you go out on the water, be sure to practice this drill with your crew!

  • 1. Yell and point!
  • 2. Throw something that floats
  • 3. Turn on engine
  • 4. Drop and furl sails
  • 5. Head downwind 3-5 boat lengths
  • 6. Approach COB slowly and into wind
  • 7. Make contact at beam

We already took notes!

We have included all of the things we said in the video here, so you can just copy and paste what you need for your notes.

Morning, guys. This morning, we’re going to talk about a serious subject and something that you really need to know how to do on your sailboat, and that is a crew overboard drill. It’s really easy for someone to fall in the water, especially if you’re in stormy or windy conditions. You’ve gotta know, “What is the best way to get that person, that crew member, back on board?” So, think about these things carefully and make sure a couple people on board know how to do this.

Nautilus Sailing does some really cool flotillas for their alumni around the world. This year, we did one in Croatia, we had one in the Caribbean, we did one in Tahiti, and we have one coming up in Corsica. The first thing we always do, everybody comes out with their boats and we practice a couple man overboard drills just to make sure that everybody knows what’s going on.

This is Pepe. Pepe here is a good sailing buddy, often comes with us sailing here in Mexico. Unfortunately, he does have a drinking problem. He hits the Tequila here, the cheap stuff, rather hard. So, he randomly falls overboard, and it’s kind of frustrating for us. Just when you’re enjoying a nice sail, he goes in the water, and we are forced to recover him.

As soon as someone falls in the water, the person who sees him fall in, right away, they want to yell at the top of their lungs, “Crew overboard,” just so that everyone on the boat is aware that, “Hey, we’ve got an emergency here.” That person then becomes what we call the spotter. The spotter is going to point at the person in the water and just keep their finger pointing at him. As they’re pointing, they want to make sure that they get into a place on the boat that’s not going to get in the way of what’s going on, but they want to be really visible to the helmsman so that the helmsman can see exactly where they’re pointing.

We do this drill all the time with sailing students, and inevitably, they’ll turn away and say, “Hey, go ahead and grab the boat hook,” and when they turn back, they’ve already lost sight of them. You’d be amazed at how quickly you lose sight of someone, even in one to two foot waves. When all you’re looking at is a head, you’ll lose sight of them really quickly. So, very important, spotter, keep pointing at them, don’t take their eyes off, and just point. They’re pointing so that the helmsman knows, as they’re maneuvering around, where that person is in the water.

If you’re under sail, when someone falls overboard, you want to turn on the motor so that you have steerage and now you want to get your sails down as quickly as you can. So, we want to ease that main halyard, just drop the main sail, doesn’t matter what it does. You want to furl the genoa, release the loaded sheet, and just rip it in. Once your sails are down, you want to go ahead and motor three to five boat lengths down from the crew that’s in the water. Really important that it’s three to five boat lengths. You actually need that distance when you turn the boat around to get the boat into the wind and to control your speed. You’ll be tempted maybe to just swing a quick circle. Inevitably, your boat’s going to end up at a different angle to the wind and it’s just going to blow you away.

When you’ve turned and you’re now coming back up into the wind, the helmsman can be looking at their instruments, looking at flags, or any other visual clues, to make sure the bow of the boat is dead into the wind. Now, the helmsman will want to go ahead and put the boat in that first click in forward. You want just a little bit of speed in forward, but you don’t want to be going too fast because we’re trying to control our speed. When you’re making your approach toward the person in the water, the helmsman will want to make sure that they are keeping them on the same side of the boat where the throttle is. That just gives them the best vantage point.

One trick that we like to use now is try to get the man overboard lined up in the top corner of your bow pulpit. It kind of forms a little square around them. That allows the helmsman to aim right at the person in the water. When you’re one to two boat lengths away, put the boat in neutral, depending how strong the wind is, and the boat should glide up towards them. You’ll want to turn off just a tiny bit, bring them down the side, and the ideal place to recover them is off the beam, off the widest part of the boat. With a crew overboard recovery, you want the boat to come to a full stop right next to the person in the water.

We’ve gotten really good at doing the man overboard drills with Pepe here, but for some reason, we still do bring him sailing. We just enjoy his company.

About the Video Series

New to sailing? We created this comprehensive basic sailing video series just for you! We know how difficult it is to find solid answers to your questions related to sailing fundamentals. As professional sailing instructors, we get it, and since we cover these topics regularly with our students, we knew we could help you too. We created these Learn How to Sail:Sailing Basics Videos, to be your ultimate sailing 101 video series. In them we cover monohull sailing for beginners from anchoring to steps to recovering a man overboard, all the way up to perfect sail trim!


If you need any further information, want to check availability or discuss anything to do with our courses – then please get in touch.