MOB (tethered)

The recent Lion tragedy , whereby a skipper went overboard and was drowned , despite still being attached by his tether , caused everyone in the offshore sailing community to think hard and long about the dangers of man–overboard.

Previously “man overboard drills” concentrated on retrieving a man in the water separated from the boat. It appears  that being towed through the water by a harness at normal baot speeds is  not compatible with survival and that new techniques needed to be mastered for a tethered MOB.

Following this I assisted my son Ben , under the aegis of PBO , with several  practical sessions which aimed to throw a light on this subject.

First of all we made use of the survival pool at the RNLI to tow casualties in various lifejackets. It became apparent that it was difficult to breathe at 1 knot, and impossible at 2 knots. Counter intuitively we found it easier if towed on your front, but crucially , failed to follow through this observation to its logical conclusion.

Next we went sailing in the Solent in 25 knots, and practised recovering a MOB dummy . We soon realised  that we had to reduce the boat speed to under 2 knots – WITHIN 60 SECONDS – if the casualty were to survive.

We tried all sorts of techniques , and to cut a long story short , found that the best way was to go head to wind and drop all sail . The boat turned beam on to the wind , allowing the mob to be recovered to leeward. Doing the same thing hove-to was frankly dangerous as the boom thrashed around above the crews heads. Heaving to from running downwind with a boomed out headsail did however stop the boat within 1 boatlength , and heaving to with a trysail allowed danger free recovery to leeward. We have yet to test the emergency stop with kite up, but intend to do so in the near future.


Other people had been thinking this through as well. A young singlehanded sailor called Oscar Mead also observed that being towed on your front was better, but realised that this was due to the aquaplaning body position adopted through being towed on your chest as opposed to being forced head under when towed on your back. He then shifted the tether to the back of the harness and found that the casualty was towed with head clear of the water AND facing backwards , allowing survival at higher towing speeds , or perhaps giving the crew more time to get the vessel under control. We tested this concept and the results were astonishing , and based on this I would recommend  seriously considering purchasing a rear attachment harness when they become commercially available, especially if it is still possible to retain a short tether. The best safety plan is to not go overboard in the first place.

The most important survival factor is however to train all the crew in all conditions , and especially at night, to stop the boat in under a minute . All of them MUST  know what to do immediately the alarm is given,  without waiting for orders , as every second is vital for the survival of the MOB.


I feel this has yet to appear in conventional training, and would urge that it is something everyone considers before setting off on passage .