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Guard Duty

Someone fall overboard? This gear could save a life.

April 6, 2009
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Sure, there are days when a crew-member is so annoying that you’d love to go Tony Soprano and toss him (or her) to the sharks. But when one of your crew accidentally goes over the side, that’s another story. Locating and getting the person back safely aboard requires skill, precision, and of course, the proper equipment. In tools for locating and recovering we’ve come a long way from ring buoys, cork life jackets, and spyglasses. It’s time to take a look at what’s out there to help find and retrieve people in distress.

General Rules. In the event of a man overboard situation, there are precautions you should take — especially if you’re planning to run offshore and the weather turns crappy. Being prepared starts with having everyone don a life jacket before you cast off. Also, are you going to be out after dark? Consider issuing personal strobe lights. Daytime cruises call for personal dye markers, any of which can be attached to life jackets. Of course, whistles or horns are good anytime.

Lifesling. Sailors have been using the Lifesling rescue system for years. Today there are a couple of upgraded versions that bear consideration. The Lifesling3 ($250; www.westmarine.com), USCG-approved for powerboats and commercial vessels, is a bit larger with 150′ tether, stainless D-rings, and solas reflective tape. Plastimo has a similar device called the Rescue Sling ($120; www.plastimousa.com). The new inflatable Lifesling ($200) functions much the same way, but it can be tossed easily and with more accuracy. Add a 5:1 powerboat lifting hoist for any of these models for $250 and bringing Bubba back onboard is a breeze.

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MOBI-lert. From Australia comes Mobilarm’s MOBI-lert 720i crew overboard system ($895; www.mobilert.com). The system includes two wearable electronic transmitters that send a signal to the base receiving station as soon as it is activated (additional units are $149 each). The unit can be tied into your GPS for accurate trackback information.

Throwables. There are a several rescue devices available that are designed to be simply tossed to a victim. Mustang’s Rescue Stick ($130; www.mustangsurvival.com) is an inflatable flotation device on a stick stowed in a protective cover. It’s easy to toss it long distances accurately, and it inflates instantly; however, it has no tether. A similar device from Switlik is the techfloat ($225; www.switlik.com), an inflatable horseshoe attached to a 75′ tether. The 70′-long Stearns Rescue Mate ($50; www.stearnsinc.com) is basically a polypropylene rope in a bag. Hang on to one end and toss the bag to the guy in the drink. West Marine’s proprietary Throw Rope ($70) is the same but its bag has solas reflective tape for night rescue.

MOB/COB Poles. Automatic, inflatable MOB poles — now also called gender-neutral COB (crew overboard) poles — are another practical addition, thanks to reliable CO2 cartridges and polyurethane-coated nylon. When tossed over the side, Plastimo’s Inflatable COB Module ($475) has a 5’9″ buoy with a water-activated light, red/yellow Oscar (man overboard) flag, drogue, and reflective tape. Upside: no bulky hard pole to mount. Downside: no life preserver. Switlik’s MOM8-A ($895) drops out of the bottom of its hard rail-mounted canister like a bomb from a B-52 and inflates to a 6′-high pylon with light. Attached is an inflatable horseshoe buoy and drogue. The buoy has stainless-steel lifting rings to help those onboard assist in crew recovery. Upside: same as Plastimo, plus PFD. Downside: no Oscar flag.

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