Every year the Hanseboot fair draws many thousand spectators from Hamburg, the region and even as far as Denmark, the Netherlands or Sweden to my home city. Today the fair started and of course I was among the first to visit the show. Having filled nearly all of Hamburg fair´s halls to their limits, the fair bristled with people, a colourful selection of all the different “yachties”: Daysailors, oceangoing Skippers, Kayak-adventurers, families and millionaires roamed about and searched for the latest gear, sails, equipment and – of course – yachts.

Teak, yachts and sails. Hanseboot 2015.
Teak, yachts and sails. Hanseboot 2015.

Me too, but I was on a special mission this time as well: My sailing school, having their own stand in one of the halls, was asking around within their pupils who was interested in a lesson of a special kind. Going overboard, full gear on, floating in the big demonstration pool of the fair – experiencing how a lifevest would work in “real life” – and being rescued was an offer, I couldn´t resist to accept. So here we are: Get the storm started!

Man over Board! – Can happen anytime.

Well, the topic is of a more earnest matter. Each year some 10 german skippers drown and die. So knowing how to rescue an MOB is essential for every skipper. I would say, for every crew member as well. “Man over board can happen anytime,” said Richard Jeske of Well Sailing who was conducting the experiment and told the watching audience: “It only takes minutes in cold waters for the body to shut down completely due to low temperatures: The person will loose all his strength and his consciousness very soon. The chances to get an MOB back on board safely are very rare”

Of course: Wearing a lifevest is mandatory and should be of no question for everyone on board. “Put the vest on as soon as you enter the yacht and get ready to cast off.”, Richard proceeded: “Wear the vest at any time, even during calms or rather lovely sea-conditions. People drown even in seas like a mirror.”

Before I made my MOB: Feeling fine.
Before I made my MOB: Feeling fine.

I was not only wearing heavy weather sailing-gear and – of course – my Securmar lifevest, but also a wetsuit which was handed out to me before I hit the stage. Richard told me little about the experiment. Just that: “You will go into the water, swim back to the simulated boat. A crew member will throw a line which you will put around your hips and waist. We pull you back to the boat, you just climb the rescue-ladder back on board.” Sounds as easy as ABC. I thought.

How a MOB feels. When you´re the “M”.

On his signal I “suddenly” lost balance and plunged into the water. Man, that was cold! I´ve read about the first 30-or-so seconds after being thrown into cold waters. I should almost feel like a shock, an instant peaking of my heart-rate, hyper-ventilation and choking-like seizures. Well, I´ve had nothing of them at all, lucky me, but I can now imagine how it feels when falling into really, really cold water. The Hanseboot didn´t warm up the water for sure.

Instantly icy-cold water was pouring into the trousers, flooding my feet, legs and butt. The same with my hands, water was coming down my arms and flowing into the jacket, filling my back. I was instantly shaking although the wetsuit was certainly insulating my body against most of the severe cold.

Man over board! Can happen anytime whilst underway.
Man over board! Can happen anytime whilst underway.

Only seconds after I was plunging into the water, I returned to the surface, already in the “right” position with my face turning to the ceiling above me and I was waiting for the moment that my vest would touch off. But it didn´t.

My lifevest didn´t trigger.

That was a bit of a disappointment. No, I didn´t spent minutes in the water hoping for the mechanism to work and blow carbondioxide into the floats of my vest, so I pulled the trigger manually. Whooosh!, that was a second, maybe a blink of an eye longer and the vest was unfolded to it´s fullest sized, holding me stable in the water.

“Lars, did the vest touch off automatically?”, Richard throwed a question towards me floating freely in the Hanseboot “ocean”. Thumb down. Turning back to the audience: “Well, as you can see, even the best vest is no guarantee to work properly at any time.” In my mind, I was making a note to myself: No alcohol while underway.

MOB? Stay cool. Don´t cool out.

Let´s put it this way: Richard, Klaus and their little helper Targo didn´t hustle to get me back on board. They didn´t even notice me for a stretch of time. Instead, Richard was telling the people the do´s and don´ts in a state of emergency while underway with a yacht. He was referring to sending MOB- and other emergency-signals immediately, training MOB-maneuvers regularly (and not only the skipper, but also his “I´m just a passenger”-wife and other crew-members and answered some questions from the crowd.

Meanwhile it got really cold and uncomfy in the water! Having read a lot of books, both fictional and factional, I know quite a lot about how to behave when going overboard. One thing was not to dispose of the clothing, no matter how heavy they get (and they are getting very heavy …) an other thing was not to try to gesture or – worse – cry for help. Since nobody will hear you anyway. Coincidence: Thinking of how can I make myself noticed by the others, Richard referred to the whistle on every vest. So I blew it. Very loud. Better than screaming for sure.

As Richard turned his back onto my miserable situation again, I learned that keeping my bare hands and feet out of the water was improving the overall situation very much since both limbs seem to transmit cold temperatures more than any other part of my body. I seriously began to shake, my lips turned blurry and teeth clattered loud.

I´m lucky: There´s no swell nor storm at all.
I´m lucky: There´s no swell nor storm at all.

When going overboard, one should remain as cool as possible. Calm down, lay on your back. Save energy. I tried to close down every body procedure currently not needed. I avoided every movement not really necessary and – it worked.

Getting back on board.

Eventually, that was all I could possibly do. And I felt with every minute that this wouldn´t be enough if I´d gone MOB in really cold waters. With real waves. And wind. No chance. Even with my wetsuit – really, just minutes.

Good news, the talking boys finitely turned their attention to me. Klaus suddenly awoke and pulled out a lifeline which he threw right over my head. He, being an experienced skipper, was accurately hitting my body at a distance of some 30 feet, I could grab the line and let it go through my cold freezing fingers as he was pulling it back on board. When I´ve reached the end of the line, attached to it was a yellow float, I opened the snap-hook and pulled the rope around my waist, pulled it up under the vest and closed the hook.

Just one minute later I floated alongside the simulated boat where Richard already released a 4 feet wide emergency-ladder where I could climb back on board. Which was no easy thing at all, having all of my clothing filled up to the top with water. Standing there, soaken wet, I realized that the air was a lot warmer than the water, instantly shaking up my body in search for warmth.

10 minutes in the water …

All in all it was not more than ten minutes in the water, I would guess. But that made a big impression on me. It felt a lot longer and even knowing that this was just an experiment, knowing that the pool was not deeper than 6 feet deep, knowing that I wasn´t in a real emergency-situation, I felt the whole concept of going lost in the midst of the ocean, seeing your boat veering away ever more, having no chance at all to go back by my own is … a really shitty feeling!

I hope that´s a view nobody of you will ever get!
I hope that´s a view nobody of you will ever get!

And the worst was: I´d had to mimic another MOB. As Richard was telling the audience: “Lars and Klaus just showed how to rescue a person who is still able to swim and act by himself.” Oh no … “Now we´ll demonstrate what to do if that person is unconscious, not being able to do anything at all …”

Well, it was my turn again.

Another Man over Board.

This time the shock was even harder. Being out of the cold waters briefly gave my body a chance to warm up a bit, shaking had stopped when I dropped underwater again and man, I can tell you, this time the cold water felt like it had dropped some more degrees since my initial rescue. I was shaking from the very first moment and couldn´t get it: If I wasn´t able to live up to “only” 10 to 15 minutes in these conditions, my god, how awful and terrible must it have been for the people on board TITANIC when they had to go into the really cold waters of the winterly North Atlantic? Don´t think about it too much …

I was floating about, acting as having lost my consciousness, shaking miserably and I was hoping that this time they would not talk too much to the listening audience …

Yacht emergency: Person unconscious in the water.

“We simply cannot simulate the maneuvers to bring our ship back to the MOB”, Richard was telling the people, “but as you may imagine, it´s essential that you come back to the place of action immediately.” I remembered having read of a skipper who was in the water with his life vest for half a night and some hours into the following day until he had been found. Only possible in high-season summer or the Caribbean, I thought.

“Psst!”, Klaus whispered of the water: “Swim toward me.” I smiled. Hollywood …

Trying not to stir up too much water, I finally floating some 3 feet away from him. “Now you´re going to watch how to rescue an unconscious person”, Richard raised the attention of the people: “That´s by the way a maneuver that works better the more swell you have.” Well, that´s good to know – the more hopeless the situation gets due to storm, the better it all works …

Haul´him up, ho!

Klaus had a stiff line with a big becket, which he was able to put aroung my feet. He then pulled me towards him, keeping me alongside in line with the imagined keel of the nonexisting yacht I fell off some minutes ago. Meanwhil they had converted the ladder into a strop that was tied to a beam at the ceiling of the hall – simulating the mast. “You can use any halyard, tackle or a strong rope attached to a boom for that kind of mechanism.”

Haul me up!
Haul me up!

Klaus had gently pulled me right over the becket, stopped me from drifting and then pulled me up the freeboard. Only 4 or 5 pulls later I was hanging over the deck, watterfalls dripping out of my sailing gear, but still unconscious.

After they freed me from the ropes, I stood up, the audience applauded. And I couldn´t help myself to … jump into to water for a third time. Well, I just acted as if I´d jump but Richard got scraed stiff for a moment. I smiled: “Naa, just a joke.” For no money on earth would I have jumped back into the cold north waters of Hamburg fair for a third time again!

What I´ve learned.

Being seriously impressed by the experiment, I am lucky having learned a lot today. First of all that it was really no joke during my yachtmasters-education (read full article here) wearing a life vest is mandatory at all times. Fullstop. MOB is – as funny as rescuing the buoy during my exam was a no-brainer – no funny at all.

Having spent some 20 minutes in the water – which was certainly feeling cold but at the same time not almost as cold as the real North Sea or Atlantic can be, having experienced no storm, high waves and cold winds at all, the pool did enough to leave me with a great impression of respect. I know now that acting as fast as possible is live-saving, staying cool on the other hand as well.

Still shaking a bit, I said goodbye to Klaus and Richard. Lucky to be dry and warm again on safe land: It took some minutes to get back into real life as well and have eyes for all the wonderful yachts again surrounding me here at Hamburg fair Hanseboot.

Shiny perfect yachts: Hanseboot Hamburg.
Shiny perfect yachts: Hanseboot Hamburg.

In the end, I can only hope that I will never ever have to live through a real man over board-maneuver – neither as skipper nor as “M” in my career as yacht owner. Because simply: It´s as scary as hell. Oh wait. Damn. I already signed up for another MOB demo-performance on Hanseboot´s last day, next saturday.

Oh my …


Did you ever had to do a MOB-maneuver in real life? What was your MOB-training? I am looking forward to your stories & comments.