There’s an age-old procedure for dealing with a person (not ‘man’ anymore so yes we can now rescue women & children) overboard which includes “witnessed” and “not witnessed”.

I’ve questioned that for some time and now I believe it’s time to change it because how can you be sure someone has gone overboard without actually witnessing them falling over?

We are now going to make a serious deviation from the age-old accepted tradition and here’s a couple of reasons why…

  1. I was delivering a trawler from Yamba to Gosford on the NSW Central Coast with a friend who was my relief Master and an 18-year-old deckhand when my friend came into the wheelhouse and said the deckhand is missing. What to do?
  2. A vessel was working off the coast when a crew member advised the Master that one of the crew was missing. What should they do?

In my case we assumed the deckhand had fallen overboard (a reasonable assumption) and we proceed to come about and undertake a search for him. We found him some 30 minutes later up in gallows thinking the whole thing was funny…but I can assure you not for long!

In the other example the Master turned the vessel around and started searching for the lost crew member for several hours. They later found him asleep in the aft compartment.

What do both of these examples tell us?

They tell us that looking for a person overboard where the person was not seen falling over can be the wrong procedure.

So…what is the right procedure?

That’s where we’re changing things to remove the not witnessed procedure and inserting a new procedure for a Person Unaccountably Missing” or PUM for short.

We’ll be updating all of our clients SMS Manuals when we do their Annual Reviews but if you would like it done sooner just let us know.

Not a client…no problem we can help you put a Person Unaccountably Missing procedure together for you, just contact us to get us started.

There are a number of critical steps in this new procedure to ensure time is not wasted on looking for a person overboard (like I did and others have done) and where a person has been determined to have gone overboard a search is initiated quickly.

Shorlink’s Recommendation

This is a change from the old school thinking but we recommend you take the steps to put this new procedure in place sooner rather than later.

By simply putting it in place you may help save a life!


When putting your PUM procedure together make sure you take into account your vessel design and operations, the number of persons onboard (crew and passengers if carried) and the areas you operate in. these are all critical steps in developing a good procedure.