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Jim in Halifax

What would you do?

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What would you do if a crew member jumped overboard in an apparent suicide?

Maybe this story is elsewhere on SA, but the first I read about it was in an Ocean Navigator article in December. There is more about it in this newspaper report. This is stuff that professional captains are probably trained in, but the average cruising sailor has likely not given such things much thought. Death at sea is a tough thing to  prepare for...

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I'd treat it like my dad did when I announced that I was running away from home at the age of 8....

"Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out", and then proceed to toss all of his stuff overboard too, while chumming and yelling shark.... 

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Make a perfunctory sweep of the area to shut the lawyers up?

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24 minutes ago, justsomeguy! said:

Make a perfunctory sweep of the area to shut the lawyers up?

+++1

Because after this case, even though a douche is a douche, and a dangerous douche at that, to cover yer ass...a perfunctory sweep is your friend.

I fear the slippery slope for us all as a result of these charges.

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I never venture outside the CA playpen, so I had not read the SA thread - thanks Cruiser Jim for linking it here. I think a salient point is that most pleasure boat skippers seldom consider that they are under the same onus of maritime law as commercial shipping. The duty to render assistance is pretty high up in the law book. It seems to come down to the question of whether Capt. Smith did this adequately in the case of Pontius. No doubt the log book will be analyzed, but the failure to start a search grid and activate the EPIRP (in lieu of a satphone or HF comms, assuming he had one - only a VHF is mentioned) would  seem to be errors in judgement. But, to be fair, my own judgement would probably be lacking after a psychotic big guy had attacked me...

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I was on the big grey boats and one night (while in harbor) a very junior sailor tried to commit suicide by jumping over the stern. 

Someone heard the noise and every effort was made to save the guy (some of those guys were nominated for medals).  Once back on board, the sailor was handed over to the medical system, provided treatment, counselling, etc.  Alcohol was a factor and he was 'dried out'.  He eventually returned to the ship but his very short career was over (no one could trust him).  

But everyone did what they could to help this guy, messed up as he was. 

No, not directly applicable to this scenario but if the question is "what do you do if crew attempts suicide by jumping overboard?" the answer (for the Navy) is "everything".    

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I'm with Bugger on this. I'd do everything I could to recover the crew. Maybe when he hit the water he had  a change of heart and wanted to be rescued.

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I'd like to think I would try to save the guy,... 

 

I know the boat and of the captain, as it/he are local. I've never heard anything disparaging about the guy. I like his boat. :)

 

When I got the initial info on the story (local news), my first thought was; this sounds like a case of mental illness happening in a dangerous situation. I doubt that ever goes well.

 

I don't know a lot about mental illness but I may know enough to recognize it. If you don't recognize it, you will react differently, I think.  

 

  

 

 

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1 hour ago, Bob Perry said:

I'm with Bugger on this. I'd do everything I could to recover the crew. Maybe when he hit the water he had  a change of heart and wanted to be rescued.

This^^

You are obligated, morally and perhaps legally, to do everything you can to find the guy and bring him back aboard, even if he's a ginormous asshole and you can't stand him and he jumped of his own accord. He's still a human being, and hitting the water with that "oh, fuck!" moment may, as Bob says, bring about that sudden and instantaneous soul searching.

You don't just sail on, or be perfunctory.

As a captain, I have an obligation to my crew for their safety and security even if they fail to carry out their obligations to me.

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I too would like to think I'd try everything to get the person back on board. 

The thing about mental illness is that it is often hidden by those afflicted and very difficult or impossible to detect unless you are trained and have the chance to speak with the individual. I know a little about it as my daughter is recovering from it. 

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    That would have been a rough situation for sure. I had a crew lock himself into one hull of a big cat that we were delivering. He actually had enough medical issues that he should not have been on an offshore passages but was very instrumental in putting the trip together and was one of the best natural cat sailors I had ever known. He was in a lot of pain and the rigors of the passage were not helping and he was often unable to stand watch. The big racing cat converted into a 'performance cruiser' was a challenge to a fully functional and practised crew. Everyone was tired and sleep deprived and the weather continued to challenge us and worsen as we proceeded north into the beginnings of the winter gales.

    We had called and pleaded for the poor guy to come out and have a meal but he just yelled to leave him to his meds and would 'rough it out'. You could tell that he was hurting both physically and mentally and he stayed sequestered for over a day and a half. I wanted to disassemble l the door handle to the stateroom and was about to do just that when our 'patient' came out without any further ado. Since he had put the whole trip together he considered himself to be 'Skipper' and things were pretty iffy for the rest of the trip. Not a good thing when the ersatz 'Skipper' gets schizophrenic on you!

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Sorry if someone else has covered this variant but there was a well known case in England of a crew member in a yacht who went into a meltdown and succeeded in throwing himself off. They got him back and the lifeboat did a medical evacuation but under unusual conditions. They improvised a straight jacket. 

He had been seasick so had lost his meds. 

I do think about what I’d do in that sit as a skipper. But have no clear answers. 

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Somebody going overboard creates a dangerous situation for themselves, obviously, and for the crew, particularly if the weather is bad. I agree that every effort must be made to recover the MOB, even if it was intentional to start with.  The rescue effort should not be perfunctory, the crew and skipper must assume MOB wants to be rescued, but it should not place the boat and crew at undue risk. When is that point reached? As usual, it's up to the poor skipper.

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I would hope I could control the situation but I would point out to all the armchair captains in other articles he was described as aggressive, 6' and 250.  I may be 6'2 and 210 but that's not someone I would want to get in a fight with.  I am not sure before I read about this, that I would have set off a epirb in this situation.  Although now I would think of it.

 

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2 hours ago, B.J. Porter said:

As a captain, I have an obligation to my crew for their safety and security

Agreed,  of course this obligation extends to all crew members.  

7 minutes ago, seaker said:

I would hope I could control the situation but I would point out to all the armchair captains in other articles he was described as aggressive, 6' and 250.  I may be 6'2 and 210 but that's not someone I would want to get in a fight with.

The captain had two other crew to worry about.  Could the three of them control this guy?  I don't think I could do so alone. Could he endanger the boat and their lives?  If so, what's the right moral choice? 

As a legal matter, since this is a criminal charge it requires the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard for conviction.   I have a lot of doubts, don't know what the jury will hear and decide.  Seems like prosecutors would not bring something like this to trial unless they saw a path to conviction.   Or maybe there are other forces involved in bringing the charges and they hope to plea-bargain it to go away?

This is about the worst situation a skipper could be in. 

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Having read it now, I can’t imagine not even going through the motions of trying to find him and sending out a call message. It sounds at the least callous - aggressive difficult man though he clearly was being. 

Frankly I’d have done what I could to get help -EPIRB or what have you, and would have searched, although (not very) deep down I would hope not to find him. But I’d have done it nonetheless. 

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5 hours ago, seaker said:

I would hope I could control the situation but I would point out to all the armchair captains in other articles he was described as aggressive, 6' and 250.  I may be 6'2 and 210 but that's not someone I would want to get in a fight with.  I am not sure before I read about this, that I would have set off a epirb in this situation.  Although now I would think of it.

 

I'm guessing a COB that does not want to be rescued will not be able to be brought on board against his will.

And I'm also guessing - and this is just from how I felt being the volunteer recovery victim in flat water on a calm day - after going over and being recovered there's not going to be a lot of fight in the guy for a while.

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3 hours ago, B.J. Porter said:

I'm guessing a COB that does not want to be rescued will not be able to be brought on board against his will.

And I'm also guessing - and this is just from how I felt being the volunteer recovery victim in flat water on a calm day - after going over and being recovered there's not going to be a lot of fight in the guy for a while.

Somewhere in the process of dragging the whale onboard and getting zip ties on him things could get really ugly.

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Having been attacked by a big psychotic person, I can understand how difficult it was to be in a confined space with a person who has reverted to an animal state. The fear of an intense physical attack and being killed on board with no outside help available must have been hellish. When you’ve been stabbed by a psycho, you can understand the position of the crew.

I wish the skipper and crew had tried to rescue him, but he may have refused help and taken someone else overboard with him or caused harm once back on board. Many people drown themselves in despair. I’m going to hold off on judgement. I wish the best for those involved and I’m sorry for the loss of life. 

PS. The navy story above is a little different because a sailor is considered government property and the crew at dock had resources and manpower to deal with that sailor who was not having a psychotic episode- just a despondent drunk...

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I'm glad I've never been in that situation. Back in the 80's I did an Atlantic crossing on a 72 foot schooner. One of our crew was a Scotsman who was a skilled celestial navigator, and who spent summers leading Outward Bound-type expeditions in small boats on the North Sea. He was the last one you'd think would succumb to seasickness and depression, and our crossing was a real milk run. 12 - 15 knots most of the time and never above 30. All on a broad reach.

Anyway, about 5 days in, he stopped coming on deck or showing up for meals. After a couple of days like this, he stopped leaving his cabin except to go to the head. The skipper had his meals taken to his cabin, and he barely ate any of them. This went on for two more weeks, and by the time we got to Barbados he stunk to high heaven and had lost over 20 pounds. Within minutes of tying up, he got up, showered, shaved, threw his dirty cloths and bed linen in the trash, and went off to the hotel just as happy and normal as ever.

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Last time we picked up a suicide jumper who leap off the Golden Gate bridge that lived said, "Can I call my mom?" upon being pulled aboard.

Red-&-White-U-turn-under-GOLDEN-GATE.jpg

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26 minutes ago, Kris Cringle said:

I believe the captain has just been exonerated in court. 

Source?

While I would like to avoid being the armchair commentator, I cannot help but notice some obvious mistakes the captain made once the guy was overboard. Yes, go through the standard procedures. Drop sails, activate VHF/EPIRB and meanwhile remember that those scary Hollywood movies (in which all of a sudden a villain presumed dead is standing behind you with a knife) are fictions! Yes, hindsight from the armchair is easy, and I hope the news of exoneration is correct. I am sure he was relieved the threat was gone and when he did not emerge after hitting his head, the assessment that nothing could be done was probably correct, but as others said he should have gone through the motions. 

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On ‎1‎/‎4‎/‎2019 at 10:30 AM, justsomeguy! said:

Make a perfunctory sweep of the area to shut the lawyers up?

This X1000!

No matter how much you don't want him back, you have to at least fake it!

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On ‎1‎/‎4‎/‎2019 at 12:59 PM, Bob Perry said:

I'm with Bugger on this. I'd do everything I could to recover the crew. Maybe when he hit the water he had  a change of heart and wanted to be rescued.

You are missing the part where he weighed over 250 pounds and had attacked the skipper.

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On ‎1‎/‎4‎/‎2019 at 2:05 PM, Rasputin22 said:

    That would have been a rough situation for sure. I had a crew lock himself into one hull of a big cat that we were delivering. He actually had enough medical issues that he should not have been on an offshore passages but was very instrumental in putting the trip together and was one of the best natural cat sailors I had ever known. He was in a lot of pain and the rigors of the passage were not helping and he was often unable to stand watch. The big racing cat converted into a 'performance cruiser' was a challenge to a fully functional and practised crew. Everyone was tired and sleep deprived and the weather continued to challenge us and worsen as we proceeded north into the beginnings of the winter gales.

    We had called and pleaded for the poor guy to come out and have a meal but he just yelled to leave him to his meds and would 'rough it out'. You could tell that he was hurting both physically and mentally and he stayed sequestered for over a day and a half. I wanted to disassemble l the door handle to the stateroom and was about to do just that when our 'patient' came out without any further ado. Since he had put the whole trip together he considered himself to be 'Skipper' and things were pretty iffy for the rest of the trip. Not a good thing when the ersatz 'Skipper' gets schizophrenic on you!

Well some props to him at least for leaving you all alone to sail the boat and not being a danger to himself or others. Can't have been fun for him.

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7 minutes ago, kent_island_sailor said:

Well some props to him at least for leaving you all alone to sail the boat and not being a danger to himself or others. Can't have been fun for him.

Yeah, he was really suffering and it was huge that he spared us the agony of witnessing it. Great guy and I'm glad now that the trip was able to provide for him one last hurrah. 

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25 minutes ago, Kris Cringle said:

That is good news for Smith!

This is how they got him out of this legal mess:

"In the defense’s motion for judgment of acquittal, attorneys argued that the statute known as seaman’s manslaughter only applies to commercial vessels. Sheesley explained that because there were no paying customers and no commercial cargo when the Cimarron was sailing south in October 2015, it was considered a recreational or pleasure voyage. The U.S. Attorney’s office opposed that motion but the judge ruled in Smith’s favor."

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45 minutes ago, Rasputin22 said:

Yeah, he was really suffering and it was huge that he spared us the agony of witnessing it. Great guy and I'm glad now that the trip was able to provide for him one last hurrah. 

Ah.......what happened to him after that :o

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1 hour ago, kent_island_sailor said:

Ah.......what happened to him after that :o

I THINK Ras was describing the dead man. Did you know him R? Or have I got the wrong end of the winch handle here?

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No, I'm sure I have met the skipper on trial in St Thomas if he has been going down there for as long as the reports say. Just can't seem to place him though. The mate that went into self quarantine is someone different altogether and I had known and sailed with him for years before the incident I mentioned. It would have been far worse in that instance if he had been a pier head jumper like in the topic of this post.  

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A strange end to the case. Acquitted because the law only applies to commercial vessels, not because of the facts of the case. It reminds me of a case where I was a juror.

The defendant was accused of DUI. The undisputed facts were that a car he was driving crashed through the door of a Fedex facility, causing much damage, but no loss of life. Many witnesses saw that the car was driven by the defendant. The officer called to the scene testified that he was over the limit. At some point, the judge had the jury go to the jury room. When we got back, he told us we were excused because the charges had been dismissed. He then explained why.

Because the NC DUI law only applied to operating a vehicle on state highways, byways, etc., and because no one had seen him driving drunk, except inside the facility. He could have become intoxicated in the Fedex parking lot, which is not a state highway, byway, etc., and then driven into the facility.

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I did a long race on an American owned boat, in British waters, and was shocked when the owner asked me to sign a disclaimer to the effect that I wouldn’t sue him if anything went wrong. Said it was “standard” to use these documents.

If I had known I might have prepared a reciprocal disclaimer where it wasn’t my fault if I messed up his nice boat. 

 

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Those disclaimers aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

no one can sign away their common law rights in the UK or OZ, not sure about the USA.

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In the Canaries (and I assume many other last ports of call for transoceanic trips) you often see people walking around the Marina's effectively thumbing a lift. I always thought it completely mad to take someone on board for weeks that you have never met or sailed with. This story reinforces my feelings. 

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Agreed: we have a rule not to take, even for a day, someone we don't know properly. We only break it under the strongest of recommendations. 

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10 hours ago, olaf hart said:

Those disclaimers aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

no one can sign away their common law rights in the UK or OZ, not sure about the USA.

A U.S. litigation attorney told me the same thing. Of course this was 40 years ago, and he was a personal injury plaintiff's attorney

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1 hour ago, Bull City said:

A U.S. litigation attorney told me the same thing. Of course this was 40 years ago, and he was a personal injury plaintiff's attorney

Like just about everything in US jurisprudence, the answer is "it depends".  If a sophisticated person, experienced with similar situations signs a waiver and all evidence points to the fact that he read it understood it thoroughly before doing so, then the chances are better that that waiver will be upheld.  On the other hand, if a 13 year old goes skiing on her own for the first time and buys a lift ticket with a waiver on the back of ticket in tiny, tiny print, and the ski area fails in a basic duty towards her, most jurisdictions I know of would not enforce the waiver.  It's been a long time since law school for me, and this isn't my field, but I remember that states have their own rules:  some states void all such waivers as against public policy; some weigh the facts and try to balance the equities (as above); and some generally enforce all but the most egregious waivers.

But remember, sometimes law suits aren't filed because the plaintiff expects to win; they just want to be paid to go away.

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I signed it because I wanted to go for a sail but I figured it would have been pretty worthless, especially in Britland. 

Is there much case law of crew suing owners?

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1 hour ago, Hukilau said:

Like just about everything in US jurisprudence, the answer is "it depends".  If a sophisticated person, experienced with similar situations signs a waiver and all evidence points to the fact that he read it understood it thoroughly before doing so, then the chances are better that that waiver will be upheld.  On the other hand, if a 13 year old goes skiing on her own for the first time and buys a lift ticket with a waiver on the back of ticket in tiny, tiny print, and the ski area fails in a basic duty towards her, most jurisdictions I know of would not enforce the waiver.  It's been a long time since law school for me, and this isn't my field, but I remember that states have their own rules:  some states void all such waivers as against public policy; some weigh the facts and try to balance the equities (as above); and some generally enforce all but the most egregious waivers.

But remember, sometimes law suits aren't filed because the plaintiff expects to win; they just want to be paid to go away.

I seem to recall something about negligence, to the effect that you can't sign away your right (or your estate's right) to compensation for damage as a result of another party's negligence, and the converse, that you cannot escape liability for damage to another party as a result of your negligence.

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18 hours ago, Bull City said:

I seem to recall something about negligence, to the effect that you can't sign away your right (or your estate's right) to compensation for damage as a result of another party's negligence, and the converse, that you cannot escape liability for damage to another party as a result of your negligence.

That's globally true in some states, partially true in others, and not true in others.  Again... it depends.  

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And an oral agreement is not worth the paper it's written on.

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45 minutes ago, Bull City said:

And an oral agreement is not worth the paper it's written on.

Or the blue dress that catches the leftovers.

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