PS Advisor: 10/15/03
Lifesling Recovery Options
I've read about the difficulty of getting a crewmember back aboard once s/he's fallen into the water. It's not hard to imagine how tough it would be to get an exhausted, scared, and wet person back on deck—particularly if they are bigger than you and/or if you're shorthanded. Most remedies I've seen have the crewmember on deck rigging some sort of hoisting system to the end of the boom. But I worry about the time lost required to rig a new mechanical device while your mate is in the water.
I don't recall ever seeing a suggestion to simply use a spare halyard— most likely the spinnaker halyard— to hoist the crew. The spinnaker halyard is almost certainly fitted with a snap shackle that can easily be attached to a the harness/life vest (or at least the Lifesling) that the crew overboard is (hopefully) wearing. I realize that hoisting with a halyard won't raise the crew straight up, but it will get them out of the water — quickly. Am I missing something?
Any method that works in getting a crew-overboard (COB) back on the boat safely is a good method, but these things are never done well without forethought and practice. The best solution is to have four or five large, adrenalized crewmembers reach over the rail and pull the person on board with a collective grunt. Absent these helpful folks, every boat should have COB equipment in place, as well as a method to use it—particularly boats sailed by couples.
A boom-end method can work, depending on whether it's possible to raise the boom high enough with a topping lift or main halyard (moved to the butt) to swing the COB over the lifelines. However, there are a number of things that can prevent this from working, like a solid vang or gooseneck fitting that limits the ability of the boom to rise, not enough winch power, etc. So, unless you're particularly well set-up for this method, it's not recommended.
A straight pull with a spinnaker halyard can also work, but it requires either pulling the COB on board forward of the mast, or moving the spinnaker halyard aft, outboard of the spreaders, in which case you'll have a poor pulling angle with lots of friction, and run the risk of having the halyard jump the sheave. It will also be really hard to hoist a person up and over the lifelines with one person using a typical spinnaker halyard winch. Maybe if the COB is light and the grinder very strong. The only way to know is to try it on a day that isn't particularly calm.
The best way for a shorthanded crew to recover a COB has been, and continues to be, the now-familiar Lifesling, with lifting tackle. In this system, equipment and method go together, and like any other system they work best in an emergency if practiced beforehand.
There are too many recovery variables to go over here, but assuming that you have gone through an effective "Quick-Stop" maneuver, gotten the sling to the COB, and have him or her alongside, the key to success for the shorthanded crew is the block-and-tackle hoisting system, which is sold as an accessory to the basic Lifesling, or can easily be home-made in 3, 4, or 5 parts. The idea is to hook the top end of the tackle to the main halyard and hoist it about 10 feet off the deck. Then hook the lower end to the D-rings on the Lifesling. Take the fall through a fairlead to the nearest good-sized winch, and even a small person can haul a big load up and over the lifelines.
The store-bought three-part block-and-tackle consists of a single block with a becket on top and a carabiner on the bottom, for hooking into the D-rings, and a fiddle block (large and small sheaves, over and under) on top. This is the same system that used to be called a watch tackle, sometimes a handy-billy or jigger, in the old days. The only difference is that the old sister hooks are replaced by the carabiner (borrowed only a couple of decades ago from the mountaineering world). Once you have such a watch tackle on board,you'll find a dozen uses for it.
The whole system, including the accessory block-and-tackle, goes for about $270.