Sailing on a beautiful broad reach northward up San Juan Channel this spring, we managed to lose our only boathook overboard. Not wanting to lose a good boathook, and seeing the opportunity to practice a crew overboard maneuver, we quickly jumped into action to retrieve it.

Here is how we successfully picked up our boat hook using a very basic figure eight maneuver.

  1. As soon as the boathook went overboard we immediately designated a spotter to point at it. (Of course, the boathook was difficult to see in the capping waves, but we managed to keep an eye on it.)
  1. Since we were on a broad reach when the boathook jumped ship, we headed up to a close reach in order to put us in position for a figure eight pickup.
  1. We ended up five to six boat lengths across the wind from the bucket and tacked.
  1. After the tack we turned down to a deep broad reach and rolled up the genoa. (Tip: Rolling up the genoa clears the foredeck, which is safe for crew moving forward, gives the helmsman better visibility and alleviates the nerve-wracking noise of a flogging sail when you go head to wind to pickup the object/person in the water.)
  1. Sailing a broad reach after the tack allowed us to get downwind of the hat so we could turn up towards the wind to slow the boat on our final approach. (For the final approach I like to be close hauled or close reaching so I can ease or trim the mainsail to maintain steerage. If you go head to wind and stop short, you’ll have to use the engine or come around again.)
  1. After briefly loosing sight of the boathook on our final approach, we were able to bring it up the starboard (leeward) side and snag the hook with a boat brush.
  1. Had we missed the boathook or been unable to grab it, we were prepared to fall off to a beam reach and repeat the maneuver.

We like to practice crew overboard maneuvers a few times a year, and should probably do them more often and from all the points of sail . There are a number of good ways to successfully get your boat in a position to pickup a person or object that has gone overboard. Whatever method you choose, practicing it every so often will at least familiarize you and your crew with the motions in case you need to do it for real some day.

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