Always make some attempt to save a man overboard. It is better to chance losing a sail, by throwing her up in wind than make no effort at all. It is sad to have to say so, but, notwithstanding the lifesaving appliances clauses in the Merchant Shipping Act, boats in ordinary steamers and sailing ships, are seldom, if ever, "at all times fit and ready for use." A boat lashed down in chocks having standing hinges, with the davit falls coiled into the boat, and the covers laced on over all, can scarcely be said to be "ready for use," as required by the Act; with the result that twenty minutes is no uncommon time to elapse before a boat reaches a man in the water. If it were the universal rule to keep a boat slung out and fitted with some lowering or disconnecting apparatus, many a man would now be alive who has been sacrificed to this grossly careless custom.
Lifebuoys are often carried after they are useless: to heave such a thing to a drowning man is like thowing a boly-stone at him.
First order: "Put the helm down!" "Turn the hands out!"
First thing to do, even if the man does not come up: Heave overboard the handiest article you can get, before you see him. This marks the sea. If nothing else is at hand, throw the binnacle lamp overboard. This will effectually mark the sea with oil for a considerable time, and can be seen an immense distance from aloft. At night a Holmes' patent light will, of course, be hove overboard, if you have one.
Send a hand aloft at once to keep his eye on this mark, if the man is not visible, and direct the boat which way to pull. The further procedure will have to be considered with regard to the boat available.
In a sailing ship, if with a lee boat ready in the davits, and fitted with patent gear, man the boat at once, and lower her into the water before the vessel's way is stopped.
A life-buoy will, of course, have been thrown as near the man as possible.
Suppose the vessel going free, run the after yards forward, leaving the fore yards square, but have regard to the strength of wind, and right the helm in time to prevent her gaining sternway by flying-to too far. The vessel will come-to quicker this way than by running the fore yard forward. Sail must of course be shortened to meet the case, and the boat, if fitted as above, should be lowered before the vessel's way stops. (Plate No. 74)
If on a wind, down helm and let her come round, getting the boat away, as before, before she loses her way, leaving the after yards square, and not touching the fore yards. Lying thus she will drift towards the man; but be careful not to lower the boat whilst she has sternway. (Plate No. 75.) If going about would give a weather side to the boat you are going to lower, of course do not do so. In such a case throw the ship aback, unless blowing too hard. If running in a moderate gale, the topgallant and upper topsail halyards should be let go, the helm put down, and the weather after braces slacked away, or, if thought best, the weather head braces. The yards will run forward of themselves as she flies to. But perhaps it is safest in so much wind to run the head yards forward.
If the boat is not fitted with patent gear, care must be taken in lowering her, the painter being passed up, and the boat not lowered till the most of the way is off the ship. Coolness in a time of excitement like this is of great importance to bring matters to a successful ending. A boat carelessly lowered may capsize, and you then have seven or eight people in the water instead of one.
The great object should be to stop the ship's way and get the boat lowered as quickly as possible, and to get the vessel to drift back towards the man. Be careful not to lose sight of the boat. More than one instance of this has occurred. In one case known to the writer the boat was picked up by another vessel. In another and very sad case the boat, having an officer and two brothers, apprentices, in her, besides four others, was never again heard of.*
Do not give up a man overboard in heavy weather, if daylight, until some effort has been made to get the vessel back to the place where he fell overboard. With permission of a friend I here give an extract from an old log-book illustrative of this point:&mdasH;
"Ship off the Mauritius 200 miles. Strong gale and heavy sea. Under double reefed topsails and reefed courses, jib and spanker. Whilst hauling the jib sheet aft a Lascar named Laloo fell overboard. Ropes were thrown to him, but missed him. Wore ship off before the wind (at 2 p.m.) and brought her to on the port tack. Kept a good look out for the man, but saw nothing of him. Stood on on port tack. At 3-30 p.m. wore ship to starboard tack. At 5 p.m. a man who was aloft sang out, 'I see Laloo to leeward!' Kept ship off before the wind, ran close up to the man and picked him up, all well, but much exhausted, but he was all right an hour afterwards. He had been swimming in a heavy gale of wind and heavy sea for three long hours."
In a steamer, if there are no reasons against it, hard a-port the helm and put her full speed astern. When ready to lower the boat, stop the engines until she is clear of the side, and do not give the vessel sternway until the boat is clear. If she is nearly stopped, and the back wash reaches to where the boat will enter the water, see that the bow tackle is unhooked first, unless the hooks are patents, in which case it will not matter. If you have been running before a strong breeze it will often be best to turn her round, keeping a good eye on the man in the water, and either tow the boat up to him or else not lower her till she can fetch him without pulling against wind and sea. If a man goes over in a heavy gale, and it is not too bad to lower a boat, make a lee for her and oil the water. If the ship has been going head on, it will sometimes be possible, by skilful management, to give the boat a lee nearly all the time she is in the water.&†
Though volunteers will generally be found to save life, it is for the master to judge whether it is wise to risk a boat's crew to save the man or not.
The best way to get into a circular life-buoy in the water is to keep both hands together and strike the buoy fair in the middle, it will then turn over your head. When fairly in it, keep your hans together, spread out your elbows, and let them rest on the sides of the buoy; you can thus keep better clear of the water.
A good way to manage a drowning man is to get round to the back of him, and clutch him by the arm, close up to the shoulder; you will thus be able to keep him up, and he will be unable to size hold of you with either hand. The writer tried this with a heavy man, and found it to succeed admirably, and he was able to save him, though unable to reach a life-buoy, and having to wait what seemed a terribly long time for the boat to come up.
Unless your ship is disabled, and it is impossible to manœuvre, never give a man up until you have made some effort to save him. Even if too rough to lower a boat, make an attempt to get the vessel back to him, and always heave a buoy over first thing, whether you see him or not.
* If too short handed to manœuvre the ship and clear away a boat at the same time, let go all the weather braces fore and aft, and run into the wind.
† For further remarks on lowering boats see page 169.
Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius
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