Boating is the perfect pastime for enjoying the sunshine, spending quality time with family and friends and relaxing on the water. Recreational boating continues to gain popularity in the U.S., with about 280,000 new powerboats purchased in 2018 and a total of 12 million total recreational boats registered.
As more people head out on the water this season, it’s important to keep boating safety in mind. Experienced boaters know that good preparation can save the day when the unexpected happens. One of the most common emergencies that boaters face is a person falling off the boat. In their most recent Recreational Boating Statistics, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that there were 306 falls overboard in 2017, resulting in 179 deaths and 126 injuries.
To prevent the unthinkable from happening, boaters should be prepared for a man overboard situation before an emergency situation strikes. In this piece, we will teach you what to do if a passenger falls off your boat and the correct man overboard procedure to rescue the person quickly and safely.
Going overboard can be a frightening experience, but the best thing you can do is remain calm and try to make it easier for the boat to retrieve you. If you fall overboard, use these boating safety tips to get the boat’s attention and stay afloat until you are rescued:
You can also take safety precautions before the boat leaves the shore to be prepared should you fall into the water. Wear bright clothing when boating and avoid any clothing that could become tangled or drag you down in the water.
If you cannot swim, wear a life vest every time you are on a boat to prevent a fatal accident. Children should also wear life jackets at all times while out on the water. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that drowning is the number one known cause of fatalities in recreational boating accidents, and 84.5% of drowning victims weren’t wearing a life jacket when the accident occurred.
Also, avoid consuming alcohol while boating or before boating, as this can impair your physical abilities and make you more likely to fall overboard. According to U.S. Coast Guard statistics, alcohol use was a primary contributing factor in 102 deaths in recreational boating accidents in 2017 and accounted for 19% of all boating fatalities with a known cause.
A person can go overboard for a variety of reasons — rough waters, bad weather, reckless behavior or a true accident. But regardless of the cause, you need to know what to do if a passenger falls off of your boat. By having a man overboard procedure in place before an emergency strikes, you can retrieve the person from the water swiftly and safely. Follow these steps for rescuing a man overboard:
Immediately after a person goes overboard, alert the rest of the crew on the boat by shouting “man overboard.” Keep your eyes on the person and do not lose sight of them in the water. Use correct boating terminology and yell “port side” or “starboard side” so other passengers and the helmsman know where the person is. The passengers can help keep the person in their line of vision, while the helmsman steers the boat’s propellers away.
Shouting “man overboard” also lets the person know that you saw them fall off of the boat and will be returning to rescue them.
If you do not know where the person fell into the water or if there is any risk that they may be injured by the boat’s propellers, cut the engine immediately. If you stop the boat fast enough, you may be able to pull the person from the water right away, without having to bring the boat back. Turning off the engine also makes it easier for you to hear the person shouting or whistling.
The farther the boat goes before you realize a person has gone overboard, the longer it will take to locate and rescue them. However, if you have already passed the person, proceed with turning the boat around to go back and get them. Stopping the boat when you are already away from the person will only slow down the rescue effort.
If your boat’s GPS has a man overboard (MOB) button, hit it as soon as you realize someone has fallen overboard. The MOB button will mark the original location where the person went overboard to help you navigate back to them. However, your GPS will not account for any currents pushing the person, so it is still crucial to maintain a visual on them at all times.
If you are close enough to the person and have already stopped the boat, throw a flotation device with a cord attached and pull them back to safety. You may even be able to reach the man overboard with a pole or rescue tube if they are close to the edge of the boat.
Even if the boat has already passed the person, throw them a flotation device like a ring buoy or life jacket. They can use the device to remain above water until the boat gets back to them. Bright colored flotation devices also make it easier to keep track of the person’s location in the water.
As you prepare to navigate the boat back to the person in the water, quickly delegate tasks to each passenger on the boat to assist with rescuing the man overboard. By taking control of the situation and keeping everyone organized, you reduce panic and increase your chances of rescuing the person safely. Here are a few tasks to assign when addressing a MOB situation:
Any additional crew members should assist in keeping a close visual on the person. When the boat reaches the man overboard, all crew members should be positioned to help pull the person out of the water.
When navigating the boat back to the person, care must be taken not to endanger them with the propeller or sail over the top of them. In 2017, at least one person was struck by a boat propeller in 172 boating accidents. These accidents resulted in 162 injuries and 31 fatalities. To prevent fatal consequences, the helmsman must use the right strategy to navigate to the person in the water. Here are three options for approaching a man overboard safely:
When navigating back to the victim, use caution and approach slowly. This is especially important if the water is rough, the wind is strong or visibility is poor. Make sure you always know where the person is in the water as you approach. It is often safest to stop the engine as soon as you are close enough to toss them a flotation device with a line.
If the person is conscious and able to climb, the safest way to retrieve them from the water is with a swim platform or boarding ladder. Throw them a flotation device with a towline attached and pull them to the ladder or platform. The person can then climb back into the boat safely.
If your boat does not have a ladder but has a low free board, pull the person to the side of the boat and have them face toward the boat. Grip both of the person’s wrists and instruct them to do the same with yours. Smoothly and swiftly pull the person straight out of the water.
When pulling a person from the water by hand, lower your center of gravity so that you do not also go overboard. If there are other passengers on board, they can assist by holding onto your waist or legs to stabilize you. Two people can also pull the person in the water out together, with one hand holding the person’s wrist and the other hand holding onto the boat for stability.
If the person is unconscious or cannot lift their own weight, you may need to use a life sling to retrieve them. You can also lift the person by grabbing them underneath the armpits.
Avoid entering the water to retrieve the person unless absolutely necessary. If the person is panicked, they could drag the rescuer underwater or cause further injury. Only enter the water if you are a strong swimmer and the water and weather conditions are favorable. Wear a life vest and take a flotation device with you when you swim to the person. Keep the flotation device between them and yourself as you pull them back to the boat.
If the situation seems life-threatening at any point, do not hesitate to contact emergency services. Issuing a mayday will inform nearby boats that there is a man overboard and alert the coast guard or other emergency services that you need assistance. With 658 fatalities and 2,629 injuries caused by recreational boating accidents in 2017 alone, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you are able to rescue the person safely before help arrives, you can simply radio again to cancel the mayday.
Most MOB situations on recreational boats are not caused by rough weather or choppy waters but are the result of irresponsible or careless behavior. By taking a few precautions, you can reduce the risk of someone going overboard. Here are a few tips to prevent passengers from falling off of your boat:
By using these boating safety tips, you can prevent a man overboard situation to enjoy a safe and fun time on the water.
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