Nobody wants to face a “man overboard” scenario, but what should you always do when a person falls overboard? You might want to alert the crew, slow down, throw a personal flotation device to the victim, have someone keep an eye on them, and carefully maneuver your vessel.
Of course, there are many things you can do when a passenger on a small boat (or a large ship) falls into the water. So, please continue reading.
Table of Contents
- What You Must Always Do When Someone Falls Overboard
- 1. Alert the crew
- 2. Slow down
- 3. Keep an eye on the victim
- 4. Maneuver your boat
- 5. Assist the victim into your vessel
- 6. Render aid, as necessary
- What if the Person is Too Far Away?
- What if the Person Fell From a Large Ship?
- The Reason for Falling Overboard
- Tips to Prevent Person From Falling Overboard
- If I’m the One Who Falls Overboard
What You Must Always Do When Someone Falls Overboard
In 2017, the US Coast Guard reported 306 people fell overboard, leading to 179 deaths. This further highlights how important it is for boat crews and skippers to know proper safety protocols to improve a victim’s chances of survival.
So, what action should the skipper take in a man-overboard situation?
1. Alert the crew
As soon as someone falls overboard, your first responsibility is to immediately alert everyone else to the emergency by yelling, “man overboard!”
Shout at the top of your lungs without instilling fear and panic in the crew. This will also help the victim know you’ve spotted them and rescue is near, thus relieving their anxiety.
2. Slow down
The proper method for responding to a man-overboard situation is to slow down your vessel and kill the engine. You do not want to add insult to injury by risking harming the victim with a propeller. Adjust the sail to reduce speed if you are piloting a sailing vessel.
If your boat has a man-overboard (MOB) button, press it immediately to activate the GPS marker and allow search and rescue units to come to your aid. This safety feature is crucial in rough waters because high waves can make visualization challenging.
Check if the victim has a personal flotation device (i.e., a life jacket). If not, throw them one, along with a life ring, to help them stay afloat. It will also help mark the victim’s spot should they go under the water.
3. Keep an eye on the victim
Assign a crew to maintain visual contact with the victim in the water. When someone falls overboard, they might be disoriented or not know how to stay afloat, even with a life jacket. Having someone keeping an eye on the victims can help improve rescue.
Have other crews look for other boats within the accident site. They should radio for help or send distress signals to other boaters for further assistance or to ensure other vessels won’t unknowingly run into the victim.
4. Maneuver your boat
Did you know some MOB fatalities are due to propeller-related accidents? So please be patient and cautious in turning your boat around—the last you want is the MOB victim getting propeller injuries.
Maneuver your boat downwind, relying on natural waves and wind action to bring the vessel closer to the MOB victim. Once you are close enough, you can switch off the engine.
5. Assist the victim into your vessel
Resist the temptation to jump into the water. Forget Hollywood films where the immediate reaction is to jump right in, swim toward the victim, and pull them to safety unless you are a certified rescue swimmer. This action is your last resort.
Secure a boarding ladder on the side of your boat and pull the MOB victim towards it using the life ring you threw earlier.
If your vessel is too small, you can maneuver your watercraft to pull the victim from the water, over the stern (rear), and into your boat. Avoid pulling them from the side, as it may throw the vessel off-balance and overturn it.
Be cautious when pulling the MOB victim off the water because you do not want to fall overboard yourself. Lower your center of gravity to make the task safer and more efficient.
If you have a crew, work as a team to pull the victim into your boat. You might want to reach an unconscious MOB victim to put a sling around the torso or under the armpits.
6. Render aid, as necessary
Hypothermia is the number one concern if you fall overboard into cold water, accounting for 20 to 90 percent of all man-overboard fatalities. Try to keep the victim’s body temperature above 82℉; any lower will result in cardiorespiratory failure and potentially cardiac arrest.
Knowing how dire the situation is, time is crucial. You must remove the MOB victim’s wet clothing and cover them with a thick blanket to conserve body heat. Use a thermal blanket if you have one.
Perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation if the MOB victim is unconscious. Contact the US Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 if the victim requires medical attention. Say, “mayday, mayday, mayday,” and provide them with an accurate description of the emergency.
Calling the US Coast Guard is also a must when you cannot locate the MOB victim in the water because of strong winds or high waves.
A group of people might also have an accident while boating, with the vessel at risk of capsizing. Too many victims in the water need more resources than a single rescue vessel. The Coast Guard can help.
What if the Person is Too Far Away?
Throw a life ring, life jacket, or any buoyant object to the person in the water. This will give the victim something to latch onto, calm their nerves, and help you keep track of their position.
If the victim is so far away that any thrown item can’t reach them, maneuver your vessel near the victim and get them to safety. Ensure to approach the victim in the water from your side and kill the engine. You do not want to injure the victim with your propellers.
Once the victim is within reach, throw the buoyant item.
What if the Person Fell From a Large Ship?
Cruise liners and cargo ships are massive, making passengers and crew look like ants in an immense floating vessel.
If the person falls overboard from a large vessel, the actions are similar to the ones outlined above. However, the most crucial thing here is to keep track of the victim’s location in the water, which can be very challenging in open and rough seas. It is worse at night against pitch-black water.
Moreover, maneuvering a cruise liner towards the victim is not as easy as turning a small boat. In most cases, the large ship must launch a man-overboard boat to rescue the victim from the water.
Time is critical when someone goes overboard from a large vessel. All crew must train their eyes on the water to look for the victim immediately after sounding the MOB.
The Reason for Falling Overboard
Reasons exist why someone keep falling overboard, such as the following.
Intoxicating substances can impair a person’s judgment and sense of balance. Alcohol and similar products reduce peripheral vision, delay reaction times, and impair night vision. These alcohol effects can increase the risk of falling from a boat and into the water.
Boats with planing hulls can reach a top speed of 59 miles per hour. On the other hand, cruise liners have an average velocity of 23 MPH, peaking at 34.5 MPH. Losing balance is highly likely when a boat goes uber fast.
- Rough waters
Just because you are in a lake does not mean you will never worry about choppy waters. For example, waves in Lake Michigan reach four to eight feet, peaking at 22 feet in severe winter storms. Now imagine you are in the open Atlantic or Pacific. It is easy to lose balance in rough waters.
- Medical conditions
Passengers with diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and health problems associated with blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and thyroid glands are at risk for postural imbalances.
- Unsafe boat conditions
Boat clutter, slack cables, and unmanaged vessel components (i.e., sails) can also cause someone to fall into the water.
Tips to Prevent Person From Falling Overboard
The following pointers should help reduce the risk of falling overboard.
- Request passengers and crew to board the vessel one at a time.
- Ensure a clean and organized deck, managing potential fall hazards.
- Help passengers to maintain three points of contact all the time. They must keep both feet on a solid surface, and one hand should hold onto a sturdy object (i.e., railing).
- Ensure everyone has and knows how to use a life jacket and other safety devices.
- Install anti-slip tape on the deck to improve stability when walking. You can also advise passengers to wear boat shoes.
- Avoid serving alcohol onboard. If you must drink alcoholic beverages, it will be wise to party onshore and wait several hours before resuming your voyage.
- Stay updated with the weather and postpone your trip if you anticipate rough waters.
- Request passengers to stay seated when the boat is underway, especially in swells and turbulent waters.
- Wear safety harnesses to improve survival in case of falling overboard, especially when used with a life jacket.
If I’m the One Who Falls Overboard
You already know how to respond to someone falling overboard from a ship or boat. But what if it was you who fell overboard? Here are some tips to remember.
- Muster your inner Zen to calm the nerves. Conserve your energy because you will never know when help will arrive.
- Use one hand to cover your mouth to avoid taking in water when gasping as a natural reaction to cold water.
- Try to make noise and wave your hands when you spot a boater nearby.
- Remove bulky clothing and accessories to keep your body as light as possible and avoid sinking.
- Resist the temptation to swim to improve other boaters’ chances of locating you in your “last known location.” This will also help you preserve your energy.
- Improvise a personal flotation device if you do not have a life jacket. Turning your pants or shirt into a “balloon” should help you stay afloat until help arrives.
Knowing what should you always do when a person falls overboard is every boat skipper’s and crew’s responsibility. You must alert everyone about the emergency, slow down, maintain visual contact with the man-overboard victim, and carefully maneuver your vessel.
Only then can you help the victim onto your boat and render first aid or other forms of assistance. In most cases, contacting the US Coast Guard can help in the rescue.
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What Should You Always Do When a Person Falls Overboard? ›
The person who sees a man overboard should raise the alarm and shout 'man overboard! ' loud and clear to alert all crew members. They should maintain eye contact with the person who has fallen. If the person is close to the ship, floatation equipment should be lowered in his direction.What should you do in case of a person overboard? ›
The person who sees a man overboard should raise the alarm and shout 'man overboard! ' loud and clear to alert all crew members. They should maintain eye contact with the person who has fallen. If the person is close to the ship, floatation equipment should be lowered in his direction.What is the first thing to do if you see someone go overboard? ›
Yell, "Man overboard!" so that everyone on board the boat is aware of the situation, and stop the boat as soon as you realize someone has fallen off the boat. At least one person should maintain visual contact with the victim (also called the swimmer), says the U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Safety.What to do if a crew member falls overboard? ›
- – Crew members shout 'man overboard' until the entire crew is aware of the situation.
- – Press the MOB button on the GPS.
- – Release the lifebuoy to the MOB. ...
- – Assign crewmember to point at the MOB in the water. ...
- – Send a DSC distress alert and a Mayday.
As soon as an incident happens, cruise ship crew will activate a button that pinpoints the place where the person went into the water. The ship will then stop and turn back to that area. The ship and its crew will perform a lengthy search and rescue operation, lasting several hours.What to do if you fall overboard in the ocean? ›
If you do fall overboard, remain calm.
Your life jacket will keep you afloat. Keep your clothing and shoes on. Air trapped in your clothing can actually help keep you afloat rather than sinking.
Float on your back to keep your face above water and conserve your energy. If you can still see the boat, call out, "man overboard." Avoid moving about to keep warm, which could expend more body heat. Pull your knees to your chest or assume a fetal position to conserve your body heat.What is the immediate action for man overboard? ›
Immediate Action is Needed in a Man Overboard Emergency
The person who sees the accident must raise the alarm by shouting “Man overboard!” loud and clear enough to alert the rest of the crew. They should remain in place in order to maintain continuous visual contact with the victim.
RETRIEVE THE MAN OVERBOARD
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.
Marine Insight says you should yell “man overboard” as soon as you realize someone has fallen off the ship. Additionally, you should say whether your crew member fell off the port or starboard side, as well as use the whistle to let the rest of the crew know what happened.
What must we do if someone falls into the water? ›
Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go
REACH - If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope, ladder, or jumper cables to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip on the object and start over. THROW - Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim.
A man overboard case is a unique maritime law consideration and occurs when a person falls off of a cruise ship. These accidents can occur when the ship is in port or when it is hundreds of miles out at sea.What is the best action to take when you have fallen overboard in cold water? ›
Don't panic. Try to get control of your breathing. Hold onto something or stay as still as possible until your breathing settles down. Focus on floating with your head above water until the cold shock response abates.What is the fastest recovery method when rescue a person overboard? ›
The Anderson turn is the fastest recovery method, which is suitable for ships with tight turning characteristics, and is used most by ships with considerable power; however, it is tough to perform for a single-screw vessel and is challenging, as the approach to the site of the casualty is not straight.What should you do when the boat is underway to reduce the risk of falling overboard? ›
Keep most of the weight low. In a boat, keep your body centered with your center of gravity low. Don't allow people to stand up or move around while underway. If you must move, keep three points of contact with your hands and feet.When a man falls overboard Which of the following is the fastest maneuver to recover him? ›
Anderson (single) turn
The Anderson turn (also known as a single turn) is a manoeuvre commonly used to bring a ship or boat with engines back to a point it previously passed through, often for the purpose of recovering a casualty in the quickest time possible.
- Release lifebuoy and maneuver to pick up man, always with respect to the man.
- Call the master.
- Sound alarm and commence Williamson turn.
- Stop engines and place them on stand by.
- Alert by radio vessels in vicinity.
If possible, heading into the wind or current for maximum control. This is the most critical step in a quick recovery. Position the side of your boat within 8 to 10 feet of the person overboard on the upwind side (between the person and the wind). This will help the boat drift toward him or her.What should you do immediately after a fall? ›
The first thing you need to do after a fall is work out if you're hurt. Take a few minutes to check your body for any pain or injuries, then: if you're not hurt, try to get up from the floor. if you're hurt or unable to get off the floor, call for help and keep warm and moving as best you can while you wait.What is the best treatment after a fall? ›
The RICE approach: rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the injured part of our body. Over-the-counter and safe prescription pain relievers. Anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy.
What to do when someone falls on their face? ›
- Wash the injured area thoroughly but gently. ...
- Let the air get to it, if you can. ...
- If the injury is likely to get dirty or you are going somewhere that may have lots of dirt or dust in the air, cover the injury with a plaster (Band-Aid) or sterile dressing.
The first thing to do is raise awareness of the emergency. The person who sees the accident must raise the alarm by shouting “Man overboard!” loud and clear enough to alert the rest of the crew. They should remain in place in order to maintain continuous visual contact with the victim.What is protocol for man overboard? ›
Whoever sees the person's fall is to shout, "Man overboard!" and the call is then to be reported once by every crewman within earshot, even if they have not seen the victim fall, until everyone on deck has heard and given the same call.What precautions should be taken in man overboard? ›
Prevention measures. At night, even in flat sea and when sailing under power, wearing a life jacket and being clipped on to a well-secured jack line is undoubtedly a good safety measure even for those who are simply sitting in the cockpit.What should you do once you ve properly position your boat to perform a person overboard rescue? ›
Position the side of your boat within 8 to 10 feet of the person overboard on the upwind side (between the person and the wind). This will help the boat drift toward him or her. Stop your boat before reaching the person but close enough to reach him or her using a boat pole or by throwing a line a short distance.What is the best maneuver for man overboard? ›
Head into the wind and tack, leave the jib fluttering. Veer off until the boat is at a broad reach. Turn upwind until the vessel is pointing at the victim; at this point the vessel should be on a close reach. Slacken the mainsail until the vessel comes to a stop with the victim in the lee side of the boat.