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Almost Man Overboard

"Things can go from benign to potentially deadly in seconds, even to very experienced and competent sailors."

“From the CCA School of Hard Rocks

...lessons learned in pursuit of the Art of Seamanship”

By Charles L. Starke MD FACP, Florida StationImage

On a warm, sunny October day, Heather and I backed Dawnpiper from the dock and proceeded down the very calm East branch of Stamford Harbor.  I normally don my Mustang float coat in cold weather, or my Spinlock life vest in warmer.   But I neglected to wear either.  I had a Lirakis harness sewn onto the outside of the coat to always encourage harness use.

We proceeded down harbor and I went forward to stow fenders in the deck opening bow locker.  The hatch opens with the hinge to port, and I was on starboard.  My finger caught under the latch as the heavy hatch swung open, and I could not free it.  With the continued swing of the hatch, my finger bone broke.   The end of my finger seemed to wiggle in the breeze.

I walked aft toward Heather and the binnacle, and when I reached the aft cockpit, I passed out and did a faceplant on the deck.  Heather said I was unresponsive for about a minute.  She was horrified but was steering in a narrow channel.  When I came to, I drank a quart of fluids and recovered enough to help get Dawnpiper back to the dock. If I had fallen overboard, I would have perished in the cold water.  No life preserver!  The finger later required operative repair.

Lessons learned that we already knew:

  1. Don a life jacket before leaving the cockpit.
  2. Second, in an emergency, slow down, (SIT DOWN?) and make an action plan.
  3. I feel so terribly stupid and sheepish in not having a life preserver on, and in not sitting down to assess the injury and recover.  A broken finger or other traumatic injury without a life preserver could be a life threatening injury.
  4. Be careful handling heavy equipment. Having a harness on when wearing a warm jacket is a big safety asset, but only if you use it.

I’ll never again go forward without flotation or a harness, and perhaps you shouldn’t either.


The Cruising Club of America is a collection of passionate, seriously accomplished, ocean sailors making adventurous use of the seas. All members have extensive offshore boat handling, seamanship, and command experience honed over many years. “School of Hard Rocks” reports, published by the CCA Safety and Seamanship Committee, are  intended to advance seamanship and help skippers promote a Culture of Safety aboard their vessels