November 5, 2012

Rescuing a Neighbour

An easy to deploy rescue system is essential on a boat

First a lifejacket drifted past us, then a shoe. We were driving our dinghy down the pile moorings, looking for open slips for a boat arriving from New Caledonia but what we found was our elderly neighbour in the water.

Falling in is always a risk on a boat—and having some easy way to get out again is essential. But we discovered that because most of us don’t practice and test our escape out of the water methods, they might not work as planned.

In our neighbour’s case he had a ladder. But after a quick attempt on his own he realized not only that he couldn’t climb it but he dislodged it with his efforts. He started yelling and a couple from a nearby boat arrived just before we did, but even with help from the five of us it took about 20 minutes to get him aboard.

We had so many precarious moments in the process. None of us could lift him—but our efforts to support him hampered his efforts to help himself. And not knowing his boat (which was a real mess) we weren’t able to find any sort of lifesling system to help us get him up.

Eventually though (one painful step, and a few heart-wrenching slips at a time) we got him aboard. Getting emergency service was something else though. The emergency number here is ‘000’
(which I only recently learned--shame on me) but the automated system for mobile phone users was difficult to activate while actually trying to help someone. So I ended up calling Evan—who then called for help and relayed the information back through Maia.

With the police boat located well down the river from us, we ended up ferrying land-based emergency personal back and forth, and finally (once he was stabilized and in agreement—he’s a stubborn old fellow) we took our neighbour to the dock and to the waiting ambulance.

This was our third major rescue since cruising. And I wondered yesterday how they must affect Maia. The first time we rescued people it was her who heard the faint yells for help in San Francisco Bay. A group of teens had jumped off a wall to swim but two of them got swept away by the current. By the time we pulled the second boy out he was too weak to even help himself. Then there were the two men who had been adrift with no engine, no battery power, and were out of food and water from a difficult Pacific crossing. Evan and Maia took the dinghy out into heavy (for a dinghy) seas to try to manoeuvre them safely into harbour before their boat drifted further away.

The funny thing is I thought being involved in these high stress rescues might make Maia fearful, but instead they seem to make her even more alert to helping other people. Not a bad record for a kid: helping to five people in three different emergencies by the time you’re 11.

Fellow boaters--anyone have tips or links for simple to rig recovery systems that would work on someone else's boat? It retrospect we should have had some sort of line around him--there were so many moments when I feared that even several sets of hands wouldn't be sufficient for hoisting him up.


Karen said...

Wow! That sounds like a tricky situation! Thankfully we never had to use it but Matt had a system so that you could attach the main halyard to the ring of a life jacket or a stretch of webbing w/a ring that could then be tied around the person, and hoist them up with the winch if you had to.

Brian said...

Glad it all worked out. An interesting method and provided the MOB can help themselves to a certain degree this is an easier way to get them back on board: