March 19 2014

The „Back-Lift“: A man-back-onboard-manoeuvre

„Man overboard!“ During easiest conditions it can happen or in the toughest storm. Often it happens without any prior warning. Very fast consideration and immediate action is then required by the skipper.

„MAN OVERBOARD!“ During easiest conditions it can happen or in the toughest storm. Often it happens without any prior warning. Very fast consideration and immediate action is then required by the skipper.

Depending on yacht, crew, weather and condition of the person in the water, there could be considered various options for the rescue. The „Back-Lift“ is a manoeuvre that can be performed also with a small crew - even being alone at the steering.

Those are the most important actions that should be taken immediately:
  1. Put on the engine. Never lose sight with the person in the water!
  2. Note the geographic position - fastest by pressing the MOB button of the GPS!
  3. Try to establish a connection between the person in the water and the boat. If the person is still conscious and not seized with panic, throwing a rope with a bowline or a lifebuoy at the end could be successful.
How does the "Back-Lift" work?

This new version of the "Man-back-onboard-manoeuvre" called the „Back-Lift“, invented and applied by Hans Mühlbauer, can be performed by a single person also under various conditions. This is how it goes...

The person will not be picked at the side of the boat but at the stern! The yacht will be manoeuvred carefully backwards by engine against the wind towards the person in the water until it floats directly in front of the stern.

First Advantage: The helmsman is able to see exactly from his position the course and position to the person and which not require any assistance of another crew member. On a sailing yacht, the skipper does not need to be afraid that the person in the water will get close to the propeller because in between there is still the rudder blade which acts as an effective distance shield. However on power boats, which have their drive directly at the stern, extreme caution is required! With engine power the helmsman can carefully approach the person in the water and is able to keep distance by direct sight, which is much more difficult if the person floats alongside the yacht or somewhere at the bow, where it is hard to keep the direct view.

Second Advantage: From the bathing platform at the stern it is now easier to grab the swimmer, hand him a rope or tie him yourself without any further auxiliaries. Also the bathing ladder can serve to allow the swimmer climbing back himself. If required the mainsail or jib sheet can be used as rescue rope. This can be put over the winch to pull even heavy guys out of the water.

Granted, the "back-lift" is not the most elegant manoeuvre but at least it is a very fast performable action that can be taken by a single helmsman without losing much time getting hold of required auxiliaries, making turns and risking to increase the distance between boat and person in the water.

Good reasons to try once the "Back-Lift":
  • It can be performed by a single person.
  • Especially short reaction time when already under engine.
  • Modern sailing yachts have a lower bathing platform. This allows even to reach out your hand to the swimmer or enables the person in the water to climb back himself via the bathing ladder.
  • No auxiliaries like boat-hook required.
  • With light and moderate winds, set sails could be even kept; because modern yachts have powerful engines that even allow pulling backwards under sails until a certain wind speed.
  • In the position stern against the wind, the yacht can be easily hold straight which is not so easy as you have the bow against the wind.

Summary: Unfortunately there is no universal remedy, no real standard manoeuvre that is granted to perform always successful to rescue a person from the water back onto the yacht. The here presented "Back-Lift" seems to be a manoeuvre that can be applied with a small inexperienced crew in many situations.

Original text and photo by Hans Mühlbauer
Translated from German by Felix Wolf

Felix Wolf

Felix Wolf is co-founder and owner of YachtBooker. He is a charter skipper himself and enjoys discovering new sailing areas.

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