Tether Lanyard Simplifies MOB Recovery


For years, safety advocates have touted the use of a four-part block and tackle attached to the end of the boom as the hoist of choice. It affords a great dockside demo, but put to use in a rolling seaway, a crew quickly notes that boat motion causes the boom to flail about and the hurriedly dropped mainsail further complicates using the boom as a hoisting tool.

The lack of a topping lift and the result of overloading a rigid vang can cause the outboard end of the boom to dip so low that the hoisting tackle is chock-a-block before the victim can clear the rail. Adding a preventer and setting up the mainsail halyard as a makeshift topping lift will help tame the boom, but theres a far more efficient way to hoist a victim out of the water. All it takes is a spinnaker halyard and a two-speed self-tailing winch. It gets even more useful if you add a 10-foot pennant with a spliced eye and a small diameter, jawed, heavy duty, latching-type snap shackle.

Tether Lanyard Simplifies MOB Recovery
A ten-foot length of line with a Tylaska shackle can be attached directly to the tether of a person in the water.

Adding the rescue pennant increases the reach of the spinnaker halyard and allows a rescuer to clip onto a victims harness, Lifesling or tether. Theres an extra value provided by this approach. The small-jawed snap shackle will trap a laterally loaded and twisted free tether clip (see adjacent photo). Plus, its easy to set up by a rescuer rather than needing the victim to secure the halyard.

For example, in the CV30 incident, Simon Speirs was dragged alongside the big sloop for five minutes while those on the foredeck were unable to haul him back aboard. The bowman had the right idea when he went for a spinnaker halyard. Unfortunately, Speirs’s webbing attachment point on his inflatable PFD was pulled taut and was so hard to access that Spiers was unable to clip on the halyard. To expect a victim being dragged in the water to make this connection-whether or not the tether is taut-is bound to fail.

An alternate approach, afforded by the halyard pennant eliminates the victims role in attaching the halyard. This approach eliminates the need to connect directly to a ring or webbing on the victims inflatable life jacket.

The halyard snap shackle is clipped to the spliced eye in the pennant and the pennants snap shackle is clipped around the victims tether webbing by a person on board. As the halyard is tensioned, the PIWs head and shoulders lift out of the water.

In the CV30 situation, the fouled, laterally loaded jackline clip failure may still have occurred. But the victim would have remained attached to the boat via the small diameter, robustly built, snap shackle (Tylaska T-12 pictured). Such a heavy duty snap shackle would have prevented the damaged tether clip from slipping through its latched jaws. This would result in ongoing attachment to the boat and a means of lifting the person back aboard. It does not require the PIW to clip themselves on and it prevents a laterally loaded, failed tether clip, from releasing the victim.

No technique is perfect, and when employing a halyard recovery, especially in a significant seaway, its important to keep the victim from becoming an active pendulum. They can be accelerated by pitch, roll and yaw and their three cousins surge, heave, and sway.

The best way to accomplish this is with another crew using a short line to keep the victim from swinging as the rig gyrates in the seaway. Ideally, theres enough crew to handle the vessel and still have at least two people available to cope with the halyard connection and winching up the victim.

The double handing crew that loses a person overboard becomes a single hander and faces a major challenge when it comes to the recovery maneuver and getting the victim back aboard. The Lifesling, or a similar device, is their best friend, because it provides a streamlined means of making contact with the victim, adds extra floatation and is keeps the PIW connected to the boat ready to be hoisted from the water.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at darrellnicholson.com.


    • Are you referring to the quote: “Unfortunately, Speirss webbing attachment point on his inflatable PFD was pulled taught and was so hard to access that Spiers was unable to clip on the halyard. To expect a victim being dragged in the water to make this connection-whether or not the tether is taught-is bound to fail.”? If so he mentioned webbing, not lines!

  1. If I understand correctly, the maximum hoist would be the length of the tether, since it’s still attached to the jack line on deck. Probably enough. Might be beneficial to show pictures in use.

  2. The usefulness of a halyard in MOB/PIW rescue depends on how much friction there is between the PIW and the winches. Some boats have complicated fairleads to get lines aft. These can introduce enough friction to make the halyard almost useless in hauling a PIW onboard. Understand the limitations of your rig. You should also consider the speed with which a PIW can be pulled on board via a block and tackle system versus a winch.

    I’ll be practicing with my boat soon. In my situation I think using the halyard to keep the boom end high, a preventer to stabilize the boom and block and tackle makes the most sense. Thanks for encouraging us to think about and plan for PIW emergencies.

  3. Agree with A. Lee. Interesting but way too wordy and difficult to comprehend. This is an important topic that needs graphics or schematics…
    Thank you though!
    I “experienced” an overboard swim, while feeling like an old “walker” log, spinning like a mad sail fish! I now have a multiple purchase line at the ready on the boom, between the clew point on the boom and the boom vang.
    The last word: TESTING… TESTING… TESTING

  4. The technique discussed is a good reason to have a halyard that is long enough to reach a PIW without having to find a strop during an emergency. A tether hook, assuming the casualty is wearing one, will not fit through most halyard shackles.

    For many larger and/or newer boats, freeboard is so high that reaching the PIW midship to attach the halyard is problematic. Each boat is different.

  5. Whether or not the main boom will be used for lifting it is not necessary to drop the main. Any vessel with a preventer can use the mainsail to heave to, simply by hauling it forward against the shrouds and lashing the helm alee.
    If a headsail is deployed it can be backed or rolled away.
    This method deserves to be better known. It is particularly suitable for picking up an untethered MOB. Make the final approach on a beam reach while hardening the preventer so that the single action of rounding up will back the main, which will stop the boat on a dime as well as leaving it hove to. If only one person is left on board, all they need to do to ensure the boat will self tend is to lock the helm.

  6. I think the primary first goal is to keep MOB attached to the boat, so, at that moment any halyard (spinn, jib, mizzen, pole lift, etc) serves it very well in combination with the proposed system! I like it! It appears to be a quick, literally effortless, and a sure attachment to the tether. The next goal is to hoist up MOB as far as one can and transfer MOB on board! This actually can create friction problems as someone mentioned early, but not necessary. It will depend on the location where the MOB got hooked/stopped overboard, weight, rolling, dragging, etc. The longest halyard on the boats is indeed a spinnaker halyard and it should reach the bow or stern with ease. In my case, I do have a spare Main halyard but it is shorter, so, I will try to practice all with a longer (15-20 feet?) lifting lanyard also, with the addition of the first thing that crossed my mind while reading about friction problems: the large snatch block! I will give it a try as it is worth it because so far all systems took me and/or crew “forever” to set it up eating valuable minutes – simply speaking too long!