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What’s Your Water Exit Plan?

The icy docks seen all over the Bay Area recently remind us of an important lesson learned:

A few years ago I was walking down a dock toward my boat on a cold winter’s night when I heard a muffled sound that I first assumed was a seal — which was puzzling, as we never see seals in our marina. Turned out it was a fisherman, who’d slipped on the dock and fallen into the 50-degree water. He was so cold that his legs were almost numb, his hands were so cold he could barely grip the dockline that kept him from going under, and he barely had the strength to make a feeble cry for help, let alone pull himself up onto the dock. He was a big guy wearing full foulies, but luckily I managed to roll him up onto the dock, which almost certainly saved his life.

That incident left me not only with a racing heartbeat, but with the startling realization of how dangerous an ‘overboard’ situation can be even in a marina — something you simply don’t expect to happen.

When is a powerboat a sailor’s best friend? When he falls overboard into ice-cold water and needs a quick way to safety. 

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Think about all the safety gear that responsible sailors carry on board these days in preparation for man-overboard (MOB) situations: lifejackets, throwable floatation, Lifeslings, MOB poles and lights, GPSs and AIS units with MOB buttons … But how many of us have ever thought about a water-exit plan from our own marina? Even though the dock surface may be only be a foot above the water, you have to be in pretty good shape to do a muscle-up onto it — especially after a few minutes floating in muscle-numbing water. 

Have you ever thought how you would get out if there was no one around to help? Our advice is first to scope out boats near yours that have a swim step or near-water sugar-scoop deck. If you could get to one of those by swimming a few strokes, that may well be your best option. Otherwise, consider buying one of the many commercially available emergency ladders that are available from marine stores and online. Some come in quick-deploy pouches. Others have some sort of hinged mechanism. Any of these would be a good investment for an offshore MOB situation also. 

A quick Internet search shows that there are all sorts of emergency ladders designed to be at the ready both offshore and at the dock. 

© 2016

Hopefully, this winter’s quota of icy-dock-days will soon be behind us. But in the meantime be careful out there.  

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John Kostecki (second from left) called tactics on Joel Ronning’s J/70 Catapult at the Worlds on San Francisco Bay in September; Catapult won the championship.
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