Ned Talks - Man Overboard Drill

Training Drill

So, as a training drill, this would never be your first port of call. However, once you are feeling confident at the helm and are enjoying the boating experience, this is a great next step.

This is like defensive driver training, which is handy for increasing your skill in “out of the ordinary” situations.

The Man Overboard Drill is pretty important. But first we should say that we want to avoid having a man overboard at all costs! But if it happens it is better to be prepared and understand the sequence of events to retrieve the person in the water.


And if for any reason you feel unsettled out in the water or if you know that you are not a strong swimmer, put a life jacket on. It’s only a life jacket if you’re wearing it, so please take that away from here today.

Ned Talks - Man Overboard Drill
A view of Melbourne city from Port Phillip Bay

So, what is it?

It is something that we do to get back to someone that’s gone over, but it’s really more important to look at it as a really grounding experience in how to remain calm, how to keep your cool in a situation where things can get a little crazy.

The other thing too is how to remain calm as your skipper. As a captain of the boat, the responsibility to the captain is absolute at the end of the day. And as the captain of the boat, it’s really important that you remain calm. It doesn’t matter if you are absolutely in a panic state yourself, you have to give the outward appearance of calmness and be on top of it.

Falling Overboard

So doing drills like this really gives you muscle memory that will keep you feeling like you’re on top of it because you will be on top of it. You’ll be on top of this situation. It’s a horrible thing to think of someone falling overboard, but it’s a reality.

I’ve had 3 in my 30 years of boating, so let’s say that’s an average of 1 every 10 years. So I’ll be pretty honest with you about that. They all were recovered, thankfully, and touch wood I don’t have another one again.

They were on charter vessels. Two were accidental and one was voluntary. Some idiot decided he would jump off the boat in the middle of the Yarra River because his mates bet him $250 bucks that he wouldn’t – so he did.

Another fellow fell overboard when we were just going under the bridge, and another guy just stumbled off the boat just as it was coming to dock. We’d already pulled up alongside, he had hopped off the boat and then fell into the water. And although this is potentially less dramatic it is still a man overboard situation.

But the one thing that we all dread is the thought of someone falling off when we’re belting across the water, and especially when it is choppy. However, for this training drill we’re not going to go out and do it in choppy waters, we’re going to go out and do man overboard again, and again, and again, and again in calm waters, until you build up a muscle memory around what to do.

We can then work on it further when we do a choppy water advanced course, where we won’t actually throw something overboard, but I’ll say, “Okay, I need you to get back to this GPS point a couple of times, and a couple times, and a couple times more, so that we can simulate a man overboard situation.”

And that’s the thing, it’s one of those moments where you as a skipper understand that if you stay stoic on the outside, despite what’s going on on the inside, you’ll retain control of that vessel and more so the people on it. If the captain shows fear or uncertainty, that fear and uncertainty magnifies in your crew or whoever else is on the boat. So this is why the man overboard drill is not only a really good thing to actually do so that you know you’ve done it and you know what processes to go through, but also it’s a huge confidence builder in knowing how to stay on top of a situation that could become very fractious very quickly.