If a Passenger Falls Off My Boat, What Do I Do?
Boating can give you a chance to feel the wind in your hair and enjoy the sunshine, while providing an opportunity to cool off, too. But even if you take safety precautions, sometimes the unexpected can still happen.
Would you know how to respond if someone went overboard?
Rescuing an Overboard Passenger
Falling off a boat can be dangerous — so it’s a good idea to learn what to do if you ever find a boat passenger overboard.
The moment a passenger goes overboard, alert the rest of your passengers by shouting, “Man overboard!” so they are aware of the situation and can help keep visual contact with the victim, suggests The Boat Owners Association of The United States. Also, press the “man overboard” button on a GPS, if it’s available.
Here are some additional steps from the BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water:
- Stop the boat as soon as the person goes overboard to help avoid potential contact with the propellers. Make sure the victim is always in sight.
- Throw a flotation device to the overboard passenger to use until the boat can get back. If you are close enough, use a floater with a cord that is attached to the boat.
- Take the boat back toward the person in the water by approaching from downwind. By coming from this angle, you will have more control of the boat and reach the person faster.
- When close enough to reach, help the person back onto the boat using a lifeline, ladder or swim platform.
A key point in proper rescue, says the BoatU.S. Foundation, is avoiding having anyone else jump in the water for rescue. If a second person ends up in the water, that’s one more person who will need to be towed back into the boat. If the person in the water is injured and someone has to jump in to help, the Foundation advises that the rescuer wears a life jacket and is attached to a lifeline.
If, at any point, the situation seems life-threatening, The Boat Owners Association of The United States says to announce “mayday” three times on a marine VHF radio’s Channel 16. Next, state “man overboard” and provide your location and descriptions of the boat and the victim three times. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry — the association says to simply cancel the call for help if the victim is returned safely to the boat.
Tips for the Overboard Passenger
According to Yachting Magazine, as soon as the passenger hits the water, he should do whatever he can to make himself visible. This includes splashing around, pulling a colorful hood over his head (if he’s wearing one), and whistling toward the boat.
Additional tips from Yachting Magazine include:
- Remain in place: Don’t waste energy trying to chase the boat. Splash the water or use the whistle on your life vest to attract attention.
- Use clothing: Try to trap air inside your clothes to help increase buoyancy, but kick off heavy articles like boots.
- Stay warm: If the water is cold and you are able to, keep your head out of the water (and covered with a hat or hood, if you have one). Then cross your arms over your chest, and cross your lower legs while keeping your knees together, and lift them to help prevent heat from escaping your body.
Stay on the Boat
Of course, it’s best if no one goes overboard in the first place. To help keep everyone on board, consider these tips from the BoatU.S. Foundation:
- Let one person board at a time.
- Avoid sitting on the bow, swim platform or top edge of the boat.
- Make sure everyone keeps three points of contact with the boat at all times – both feet and at least a hand holding on.
Also prep your passengers before leaving the dock by showing them where life jackets, recovery gear and flotation devices are and how to use them, suggests The Boat Owners Association of The United States.
Whether you are the captain or a passenger, make sure you are always aware of the potential risk of falling off the boat. If someone does go overboard, remember these tips to help ensure a successful rescue.