Manoverboard accidents just keep happening, and there are so many valuable lessons to take away from the findings made by inquiries. The next stories also came within the demanding and rigorous round the world yacht races. Sure they are pushing the envelope in these races but the lessons are applicable to us humble cruising types.

Manoverboard Fatality

In November 2017, Simon Speirs one of the crew members on board the GREAT Britain went overboard 1500 nm west of Fremantle during Leg 3 of the Clipper Race. The MAIB report makes informative and interesting reading and well worth the effort so the lost crew’s death was not in vain. This was in a boat that had suffered some damage in foul weather, had some injured crew, and they were busy doing a sail change when they got hit by a large wave, experienced an accidental gybe and the tethered crewman went overboard. Once back on board the next crew member went overboard but was tethered, but eventually the tether parted and efforts to recover him were too late, and he could not be revived. In improving weather conditions, Simon reportedly made the decision to wear foul weather jacket and sallopettes on deck, and not his dry-suit, and perhaps this would have made the difference. He was subsequently buried at sea. 

Manoverboard – The Inquiry

The subsequent inquiry and investigation uncovered a flaw in the tether hook design which showed that when twisted to a certain angle it would bend. This reduced the hook to just 10% of its design load.  This was the explanation as to why Simon Speirs was able to detach after his safety line snagged on a cleat and twisting the load onto the hook. The MAIB found that the ‘combined effect of Simon’s tether length and the hooking point location resulted in him being dragged alongside the yacht, preventing his recovery.  It was also stated that they had previously issued a Safety Bulletin regarding the dangers of lateral loading of tether hooks. They also had recommended ‘that the method used to anchor the end of the tether to the yacht should be arranged to ensure that the tether hook cannot become entangled with deck fittings or other equipment’. I know I reviewed all my tethers and hooks after this. I read the term “freak failure” of a tether safety clip and I hate the word freak, however this was not freak but a hidden failure mode.  The MAIB report made three recommendations to Clipper Ventures, but none apparently about the safety clip, which is somewhat surprising. The interim British report into Simon Spiers accident can be read here.

Manoverboard – Factors

Comments from the family were also ones I thought quite valid and not really explored. Sailing in these races is extremely challenging both mentally and physically.  The crew were required to do repairs, maintenance and due to a consistent leak were pumping water out. Simon was a watch leader and also a designated sail repairer. They said that in one instance he spent 20 hours out of 24 repairing torn sails in cramped conditions below. The crew were extremely fatigued and as many of us know whether afloat or ashore fatigue is a killer, to self and others. This is a cautionary tale for cruising yachts, many already know what sustained effort with no sleep, minimal nourishment and perpetual motion can do. 

Manoverboard Again

In 2013 a New Zealand sailor died after falling overboard, no harness and no life jacket. Out day sailing near Marlborough Sounds, the yacht was hit with a large wave and he went over the side. His companion was unable to save him despite several attempts to winch him back on board.  A rescue helicopter winched him up but couldn’t revive him.  There are many more incidents that could be described.  Make sure you are not a manoverboard incident, boating safety starts with you.