Giving Assistance to
a Capsized Boat
(as per Rule 1.1)
1   Safety
A boat or competitor shall give all possible help to any person or vessel in danger.
A boat shall carry adequate life-saving equipment for all persons on board, including one item ready for immediate use, unless her class rules make some other provision. Each competitor is individually responsible for wearing personal buoyancy adequate for the conditions. 
CYA prescribes that, irrespective of class rules or the sailing instructions, every boat shall carry life-saving equipment conforming to government regulations.
Giving assistance from a sailing dinghy - in tough sailing conditions - is not an easy task. It requires a thoughtful approach so that we can be part of the solution and not, as they say, part of the problem. 

It is important to recognize what can and cannot, should or should not be, done.

First, we need to cautiously approach the boat that's in trouble and ask if/how we can help.

Priority #1 has to be the safety of the sailors.
If one or both are having trouble coping - either physically or mentally - then we should take them aboard our boat and get them to safety. We, for example, once took a lady sailor ashore who was literally hysterical with fear and cold. We wrapped her in my foul weather jacket and the spinnaker and took her to shore which was fortunately near by. In a situation like that, the capsized boat and its well-being are of distinctly secondary importance.

So - how do we go about picking up survivors?
Each situation is different as are the sailing abilities of the would-be rescuers. When doing a pick-up from a sailboat, it is usually best to approach the pick-up point close-hauled. On this point of sail, it is easy to slow down or speed up as necessary. It has been my experience that, except in a total emergency, you want to hover safely clear of the capsized boat rather than trying to make physical contact - i.e. stay well clear of the mast and sails, and if those are on the side facing away from you as you approach close-hauled, beware of the wind getting under the sails and flipping the whole mess over onto you!!!

Stop your boat as near to the capsized boat as you feel is safe. The person whom you are going to pick up, will - under all but the most extreme circumstances - have to come over to you. He or she will have to swim to you - perhaps you might have to throw him or her a line to help the process along. Once he or she is ready to come aboard over your windward side, you can put your boat into the R & R mode (board up, no forward momentum, and sails totally luffing). This allows the boat to sit unattended while the two of you can help the guest to come aboard by heeling the boat to windward and/or by physical assistance.

If it seems indicated, give whatever first aid you can. With luck, a Safety Boat will be coming along soon to take over from you. You should not leave the scene unless you have taken both crew members off the capsized boat.

The skills involved in doing such rescue work are worth practising: hovering in one spot, stopping and starting your boat while it's on a close reach, and sitting in the R & R mode. Fortunately, these are useful skills in  more than just those hopefully rare moments when you need to rescue someone, although they will never be more important!

Priority #2 would be boat recovery.
If you have established that the capsized crew are physically OK, and if you have useful suggestions to make, that would be the easiest way to help. Things like talking them through un-turtling the boat, suggesting they uncleat sails before righting the boat, etc. You may also be able to assist by lending necessary gear such as a bailing bucket.

While you need to remember that you do not want to become part of the problem, you may be one of those lucky few who has a crew who might be able to help better than one of the pair who are now in the water. If you have excellent single-handing skills, you might be willing to ask your crew to go and help while you hold the fort. I did this on the day that Frank became Wayfarer Man when the two sailors had been taken off a turtled boat and our one very inexperienced Safety Boat was about to try to tow the upside down Wayfarer into a harbour that was a mile or more away... Or you could do an exchange - one of them for one of you, if it appears that might help.

Safety boats are usually great for rescuing people but pretty tough on your boat, should they be left to try to 'save' it. Thus, if everyone feels comfortable with the above approach, then it is certainly worth attempting.

Well, that's it for now! Let me have your comments and/or critique!

Actual Capsize Photos with critique
A Case in Point and Resulting Recommendations
Assisting Others as per Rule 1.1
W.I.T. home page