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Catamaran skills: recover a multihull man overboard

Rachael Sprot spend they day sailing a catamaran to learn new skill including how to deal with a multihull man overboard

Finding yourself in a man overboard (MOB) situation probably ranks near the top of every sailor’s list of biggest fears whether it’s a monohull MOB of a multihull man overboard.

Even close to shore this can be a potentially fatal situation, which is why MOB manoeuvres are included in many training courses and exam situations.

Though many examiners for the Yachtmaster exam have their own areas they like to focus on in an exam – the syllabus being too wide-ranging to cover everything in a single exam setting – MOB always features.

It’s also a good demonstration of boat-handling ability as well as a key safety manoeuvre. Most will be familiar with the basic steps suggested to get back to a MOB, to sail away on a beam reach and return to the casualty on a close reach, controlling the sails and raising the alarm at the same time. This is the standard approach most have learned.

Many sailors either remain monohull sailors for life, start out on monohulls, or only go multihull sailing when heading on a charter holiday. However, if you are transitioning from monohulls to multihulls (be it temporary or long term) a key consideration is to re-evaluate how we would retrieve a casualty from the water.

Since catamarans don’t heel and have good wide side decks, hopefully this is a very unlikely scenario, but if the worst should happen is there anything we need to do differently?

Final manoeuvres will be done by using the two engines to pivot the boat. Photo: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

Recovering a multihull man overboard

Some things don’t change, so you’ll still need to make an upwind approach to depower the mainsail and slow down. Different principles of boat handling apply here. Specifically you need to consider how a catamaran behaves differently to a monohull. Being lighter, with less boat beneath the water and with plenty of windage, they are more prone to moving around with the wind than a similarly sized monohull.

It is also worth remembering that their relative lightness meant that catamarans carry their way less well than a monohull. Hopefully if you are catamaran sailing you have spent some time familiarising yourself with the differences between the skills required to manoeuvre a monohull and the specific catamaran manoeuvring skills you will need under engine.

Crucial in manoeuvring a catamaran under power is that at slow speed directional control comes from the throttles and not the rudder. With (usually) twin engines these can be used with one ahead and one astern to spin the boat with the helm neutral. This can actually make a large cat more manouerable than a monohull, once you get the hang of it.

The dinghy and davits may come in handy for MOB retrieval, but try it out before you need it for real. Photo: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

There are some catamaran specific challenges too: large blind spots demand good communication with someone on the side deck and high topsides mean that you’ll need to think carefully about how to get someone out of the water.

Making contact with your MOB casualty in the first place will be tricky as you’re unlikely to be able to reach out and grab them, so at least a boathook will be essential.

Bringing them to the stern is an option, but with the propellers situated further outboard and closer to the surface than they are on a monohull, this needs to be done with extreme care and the engines switched off or at least in neutral.

On a charter boat you’re unlikely to have much in the way of retrieval equipment other than a boathook and a halyard to bring a casualty aboard, so it may be that the sugar scoop is the only option.

Finally, you may want to consider launching the dinghy, which may well be ready on davits, or the liferaft to assist the transfer.


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