10 June 2016

How to throw a line

One in eight sailors told us they had fallen overboard. Man overboard is a common cause of death for yacht sailors. So what do you do if a member of your crew ends up in the water?

If you can, you implement your man overboard procedure. But if you can’t get the boat alongside or you’re standing on a pontoon, you’ll need a rethink. If the casualty is conscious and responding, get as close to them as you can, safely, and throw them a line.

You can use any line for this, but ideally one that floats. It’s a good idea to include a throw line in your standard onboard safety equipment, and know where it’s kept so you can get it quickly in an emergency.

You will need sufficient rope to cover the distance, including the distance between you and the water. The rope should be free from knots and loops. Throw bags are ideal because they are designed specifically for this purpose – the line being coiled inside a floating bag.

First, attract their attention: RNLI Trainer David Knaggs gives his step-by-step guide to throwing a line belowPhoto: RNLI/Nathan Williams
First, attract their attention: RNLI Trainer David Knaggs gives his step-by-step guide to throwing a line below

You can throw a line from a boat or from land to a casualty using our simple, step-by-guide opposite. It’s important to practise your throwing technique. Overarm, underarm, bullet – whatever works for you – you must be able to throw confidently and accurately. A single throw might be all you get.

A step-by-step guide from Lifeboat Training Team Leader David Knaggs

1 Attract attention

Step 1: Attract attentionPhoto: RNLI/Andy Perryman
Step 1: Attract attention

Shout out to the casualty to get their attention, and tell them you’re going to throw a line.

2 Throw line

Step 2: Throw linePhoto: RNLI/Andy Perryman
Step 2: Throw line

Using a throw bag if you have one, throw the line towards the casualty while holding the tail end of the line in your other hand. Aim to get the line to land across the casualty’s body.

3 Give instructions

Step 3: Give instructionsPhoto: RNLI/Andy Perryman
Step 3: Give instructions

Shout to the casualty: ‘Hold onto the line,’ followed by: ‘Roll onto your back,’ then: ‘Put the line over your shoulder.’

4 Pull on line

Step 4: Pull on linePhoto: RNLI/Andy Perryman
Step 4: Pull on line

Pull the casualty towards you using both hands. Just before they reach the side tell them to roll onto their front so they don’t bang their head.

5 Help out of water

Step 5: Help out of waterPhoto: RNLI/Andy Perryman
Step 5: Help out of water

Get hold of the casualty and assist them out of the water, using whatever safe means is available.

This story first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Offshore magazine. Learn more about RNLI Offshore membership, for those who use the sea for fun.

RNLI crew members use these skills and more in Saving Lives at Sea, a 12-part BBC series on the RNLI’s lifesaving work. Get more stories from the series here.