Latest figures published by the UK's Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) reveal that 47% of reported man overboard incidents from recreational boats ends in a fatality

The latest man overboard statistics from the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) reveal that 47% of sailors who fall from pleasure boats died as a result.

The MAIB examined 308 man overboard incidents from recreational and commercial boats, both at sea and inland, which were reported to the branch between 2015-2023. Overall, 40% of MOBs lost their lives.

The highest fatality rate was within the fishing industry. Out of 58 man overboard incidents reported to the MAIB, 33 – or 56% – resulted in a fatality; the second highest fatality rate occurred within the recreational boating sector.

Between 2015-2023, 144 MOB incidents from recreational boats were reported to the MAIB, with 69 resulting in a fatality.

Canoes, kayaks,  stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), inflatables, sailing boats, motor and power boats, rowing boats and personal watercraft are all classed as recreational craft by the MAIB. However, the MAIB has confirmed that nearly all of the fatal MOBS were from sailing, motor and power boats and not kayaks, canoes, SUPs and personal watercraft.

A man in the water having fallen overboard from a yacht

The RYA and MAIB are urging sailors to practise their man overboard plan. Credit: Richard Langdon

The majority of fatal man overboard incidents from recreational boats happened in coastal or inland waters, with only six fatalities occurring in the open sea. 35 MOBs died in coastal waters (less than 12nm from coast), while 12 fatal MOBs took place in port areas.

The MAIB says fatality rates are lower for other parts of the maritime industry.

Of the 20 man overboard incidents from cargo vessels, 6 resulted in the loss of a crew member.

Inland waterways saw 6 fatalities from 24 incidents and passenger ships 8 incidents resulting in 1 fatality.

Out of 54 reported man overboard incidents from service ships, 8 were fatal – a recovery rate of 85% success, which was the best in the industry.

The MAIB said marine casualties and incidents were reported to the board in line with the Merchant Shipping (Accident Reporting and Investigation) Regulations 2012. The data used in the MOB statistics is drawn from reports and information received by the MAIB, and it is encouraging people to continue reporting MOB incidents.

The MAIB and RYA are now urging recreational sailors to plan and prepare for man overboard incidents, and what steps a crew might take to recover the casualty successfully.

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The MAIB said that on average, crew have under 11 minutes to recover someone who has fallen overboard into cold water before they become unresponsive; this time decreases as the water becomes colder or the sea state rougher. In some cases, crew had just 4 or 5 minutes to coordinate a complex recovery under extreme pressure.

The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, Andrew Moll said man overboard recovery can be “exceptionally challenging at the best of times, but the recovery becomes much harder if the casualty is unconscious or unresponsive.”

Man Overboard under sail: The reach-tack-reach method of getting back to a man overboard

Man Overboard under sail: The reach-tack-reach method of getting back to a man overboard

“Our data paints a truly shocking picture of just how little time a crew can have before cold water incapacitation renders a casualty unable to assist in their own rescue. It is essential that boat users – regardless of the sector – think carefully about how they would recover a crew member on their vessel,” he said

The RYA Chief Instructor, Vaughan Marsh, said crews needed to prepare, plan and practise in order to have the best chance of helping a crew member.

“Prepare by undergoing appropriate training, make a plan based on their vessel and ensure that they practice by carrying out regular drills, including actually using whatever equipment they have to recover the casualty from the water in those drills,” added Marsh.

NOTE: This article has been updated since publication to include the breakdown of MOB statistics from the MAIB.

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