The first rule in boating (at least for Mike and I) is don't fall off the boat (closely followed by Don't Panic). But just in case it happens, it's best to practice what to do. Which Mike and I did a few weeks back. Not with an actual person -- that's just inviting disaster -- but with a life preserver acting as the unfortunate crew member.
We chose a calm, yet overcast day. No one else sailed (or even motored) the bay with us, so we had ideal conditions to try out our COB maneuvers. Of course, we kept in mind that should a COB happen for real, the water would likely be choppier and the wind blowing, because disasters like to happen in less-than-ideal conditions. But when you're learning or practicing, it's easiest to concentrate when you have fewer things with which to contend. With little wind and fewer waves, we could focus on how to actually get the boat back to the COB without running into him/her.
Mike went first, using the motor and no sail. As pilot (helmsman), it's his job to move far enough away from the COB and then safely turn about and come up along side them without running them over. As spotter, it's my job to keep an eye on the COB, pointing them out pretty much constantly (as in actually keeping a finger or arm pointed at them), and having the safety pole to hand, ready to pull them back on board [or the roped life ring or whatever you'll need to bring help them in. For this particular exercise, we used the pole as we were more about learning how to move the boat into position than all the different ways to retrieve someone, which often depends on the situation, like the consciousness of the COB]. You have to move the boat far enough away from the COB (a few boat lengths) so that you have plenty of room to maneuver if the wind or other unforeseen conditions crop up, and so that your own wake doesn't complicate things (like swamping the crew member). Then you turn the boat so that it will approach on the windward side of the COB, which would provide shelter to them and take any line you throw closer. Of course, you have to be especially careful not to smack them with the boat, so it's about angles as much as speed (which is pretty much nil at this point).
There are two approaches most used: the Figure-Eight Method, and the Broad Reach-Close Reach Method (BRCR). The Figure-Eight is exactly that in shape, and the BRCR is more of a single loop. I could describe each in terms of wind direction and sail position (as these methods mostly pertain to what to do while at full or partial sail, rather than only using the motor), but suffice it to say there are 2 methods, and we practiced both. Mike used the BRCR a couple of times, as he wasn't satisfied with his first approach. I think it would have worked to retrieve a COB, but he felt we might have over-shot them, and seeing as this excursion was about practicing, it seemed a good idea to do it more than once. It also gave Mike a chance to explore and hone his motoring skills which, if you'll recall from our disembarking and docking adventures, is something he feels needs more work.
Anyway, it all worked out. We got to the COB/life preserver without hitting it and close enough that I did not have to stretch to hook it with my pole and bring it back on board.
And then it was my turn. We raised the sails and tossed the life preserver over again. Mike talked me through the turns which, as I mentioned before, are dependent on the wind direction. He left the distances and steering up to me, just helped me figure out which way to turn for the Figure-Eight so that we're always tacking and never jibing (in other words, so that you pass through the wind rather than turning away from it, concentrating on the jib instead of the mainsail). To my surprise, I managed a great COB retrieval on the first try, coming up closely and slowly enough that Mike pulled in the preserver with great ease. I even managed to get the boat hove-to, which basically means I put it neutral, the jib where we left it and the rudder opposite, keeping the boat from moving very far (a great way to stop and have lunch without having to anchor). Next time, though, I'll have to figure out the turns of the Figure-Eight on my own, seeing as, if I'm performing a COB maneuver for real, the most likely crew member that I'd have to retrieve would be Mike.