Preventing and Surviving Boats Capsizing and Falls Overboard

Falling into the water is a real risk when getting onto a boat. This is why it is crucial to always wear a life jacket. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 79% of boating fatalities are caused by drownings; 86% of those victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Capsizing occurs most often in small boats such as canoes or sailboats. This can happen when a boat is overturned or swamped with water. When smaller boats capsize, they are more likely to stay afloat, providing those in the water something to hold or climb onto.

The most common ways for boat passengers to end up in the water are:

  • Being caught off guard. A large wave or a sharp turn can easily throw a passenger out of the boat.
  • Carrying too much weight. Too much weight or unbalanced weight can cause a boat to take on water.
  • Bad weather. Storms can cause sudden, unexpected conditions that can cause the boat to take on water or cause a passenger to fall out of the boat.

Prevention of Boat Capsizing and Falls Overboard

There are a few easy things that can be done to help prevent these emergencies.

  • Stay low and centered; always maintain three points of contact when moving around on a boat.
  • Always take corners at a safe speed and angle.
  • Watch for wakes and take them head-on from the bow.
  • Always reduce your speed if you are caught out in bad weather.
  • Never tie the anchor to the stern of your boat. Placing additional weight at the back of the boat increases chances of capsizing or swamping your boat.

What should you do if a person falls overboard?

  1. Immediately slow down and stop the boat. 
  2. Quickly throw a buoy or a life jacket to the person overboard. If they can’t stay afloat, it will mark their location in the water if they go under. 
  3. Assign someone to keep eyes on the overboard person and point at their location at all times.
  4. Get the boat close enough to reach the overboard person on the operator’s side of the boat.
  5. Throw a buoyant heaving line, or a lifebuoy attached to your boat, to the person overboard.
  6. Get the overboard person to the boarding ladder, if possible, to pull them in. If your boat doesn’t have a ladder, drape a rope or chain across the stern to use.

Always turn off the engine! In most cases, an overboard person will climb back into the boat from the stern.

How to Survive If Your Boat Capsizes or You Fall Overboard

If you fall into the water:

  • Stay calm to conserve energy.
  • If you are with others stay together, and make sure everyone is accounted for.
  • Re-board your boat as soon as it is possible to do so.
  • Stay with the boat unless it is headed for a hazard. Small boats tend to float; holding on to the boat will help you stay above water and conserve energy, and it will make you more visible.
  • If you are separated from your boat while in fast-moving water such as a river, float on your back with your feet pointed downstream.
  • Get out of the water as quickly as possible.

You should also read: