Chapter 5: Boating Emergencies—What To Do
When you go boating, you will encounter hazards and risks. The outcome of
these encounters will be determined by your knowledge, skill, and attitude
toward safety. It's important to make a boating emergency less likely to happen
by taking the proper precautions; but, it's equally important to be prepared
and know what to do if an emergency occurs.
Because most accidents are the result of a simple mistake, nearly all accidents
are easily preventable.
- The best way to avoid having a serious accident is to take a few simple
steps toward accident prevention. The water can be an unfriendly environment
if you don't recognize risks and are not properly prepared for them.
- Risk management is the process of recognizing and acting upon accident
warning signs or minimizing the effects of an accident if it does occur.
- By taking this safety course, you are practicing risk management. You've
already reduced the chance that you will be involved in a dangerous boating
emergency by learning safe boating practices.
- You now know the "rules
of the road" and how important it is to pay close attention
to other boats and potential hazards and to maintain a safe speed.
By practicing these rules, you greatly reduce the chance that you'll
be involved in an accident.
- Developing a habit of wearing your life jacket also
reduces the chance that you will drown should you find yourself in the water unexpectedly.
- Below is additional information to help you understand and minimize the
risks associated with boating and make your time on the water safe and enjoyable.
Increased Risk Due To Boating Stressors
The glare and heat of the sun, along with the motion of the vessel caused by the wind and the waves and the noise and vibration of the engine, have a large impact on your body that you may not even realize. These natural stressors make you tire more
rapidly when on the water—regardless of your age or level of fitness.
Many boaters greatly underestimate the effect these stressors have on fatigue.
While perhaps not fatal themselves, stressors may weaken your body and mind
enough to make the risk of an accident much greater.
Increased Risk Due to Dehydration
A typical boating day in the summer causes your body to generate a large amount
of heat. Sitting exposed in the sun increases your body heat. As you ride in
a boat, your body automatically adjusts to the changing position of the boat.
The exertion of this constant adjustment increases body heat.
The way the body rids itself of increased heat is by sweating. Increased sweating
will cause dehydration if fluids are not replaced. Dehydration will make you
more fatigued and more at risk for a boating accident.
The best way to minimize the risk of dehydration is to drink plenty of water—before, during, and after any water activities. A good rule of thumb while you are boating in warm weather is to drink some water every 15-20 minutes.
Besides thirst, other signs of dehydration are a dry mouth, sleepiness, irritability, weakness, dizziness, and a headache. The first thing you should do if you experience any of these symptoms is to drink plenty of water. If possible, get out of
the sun and rest. Serious dehydration may require medical attention.
Profile of a Typical U.S. Boating Fatality
- Someone not wearing a PFD falls overboard– Over the side or out of the vessel and
drowns or ...
- A vessel capsizes and someone drowns or ...
- A vessel strikes another vessel or fixed object, and the occupants are
fatally injured or drown due to injuries.
Collisions often occur because boat operators are not staying alert and keeping
a lookout for other boats or objects, or are going a little faster than they
should. Although some collisions happen at night when it is difficult to see,
many occur in daylight hours on calm, clear days. About one-third of the time,
alcohol is involved.
You also might be surprised to learn that:
- Typically, victims drown even though there are enough life jackets on the
boat. (Remember, you probably won't have time to put on your life jacket
during an emergency. Get in the habit of wearing it.)
- The vessel is most often a small boat of open design, such as a jon boat,
canoe, or other type of boat with low sides.
- The victims are usually men 26 to 50 years old, who have been boating for
years and likely know how to swim.
Minimize Risk of Boating Accidents—Avoid
The effect of alcohol is increased by the natural stressors placed on your
body while boating. Also, alcohol causes dehydration of your body. It takes
less alcohol, combined with stressors, to impair an operator's ability to operate
safely. Research has proven that one-third of the amount of alcohol that it
takes to make a person legally intoxicated on land can make a boater equally
intoxicated on the water.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, affects judgment, and slows
physical reaction time. Most people become impaired after only one drink.
Alcohol makes it difficult for you to pay attention and perform multiple tasks.
For example, it will be more difficult for you to keep track of two or more
vessels operating in your area. This could become critical if you are placed
in an emergency situation and must make a sudden decision.
Alcohol can reduce your ability to distinguish colors, especially red and green.
Alcohol impairment increases the likelihood of accidents—for both passengers
and vessel operators. Always designate non-drinking boaters to operate the
vessel and to act as an observer if your group plans to consume alcohol. Do
not allow your skipper to operate if he or she is drinking. Alcohol is a major contributor to boating accidents and fatalities.
Drinking while boating is a choice. The best way to minimize the risk of an
accident is to make the wise choice—Don't drink and boat!
Minimize Risk of Drownings—Wear PFDs
Approximately 70% of all boating fatalities are drownings, and most
of those fatalities could have been avoided. Ninety percent of drowning
victims are not wearing a life jacket—drownings are rare when boaters
are wearing an appropriate PFD. One of the most important things you
can do to make boating safe and enjoyable is not only to carry enough
life jackets for everyone on board but also to have everyone wear them!
These requirements for PFDs are both important and the law.
- PFDs must be readily accessible. Better yet, each person should wear a PFD because PFDs are difficult to put on once you are in the water. In most fatal accidents, PFDs were on board but were not in use or
were not within easy reach. If you are in the water without a PFD, retrieve
a floating PFD and hold it to your chest by wrapping your arms around it.
- PFDs must be of the proper size for the intended wearer. Always
read the label of the PFD to make sure it is the right size based on the
person's weight and chest size. It's especially important to check that a
child's PFD fits snugly. Test the fit by picking the child up by the shoulders
of the PFD and checking that his or her chin and ears do not slip through
- PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition.
- Regularly test a PFD's buoyancy in shallow water or a swimming pool.
Over time, the ultraviolet radiation from the sun will break down the
synthetic materials of your PFD. Frequently inspect PFDs for rips or
tears, discolored or weakened material, insecure straps or zippers, or
labels that are no longer readable. Discard and replace any PFD that
has a problem.
- If using an inflatable PFD, before each outing check the status of
the inflator and that the CO2 cylinder has not been used, has no leaks,
and is screwed in tightly. Also check that the PFD itself has no leaks
by removing the CO2 cylinder and orally inflating the PFD. The PFD should
still be firm after several hours. After an inflatable PFD has been inflated
using a cylinder, replace the spent cylinder and re-arm it. Because an
inflatable PFD is a mechanical device, it requires regular maintenance.
Maintain the inflatable portion of the PFD as instructed in the owner's
Inflatable Life Jackets
Some people say they
don’t wear their PFDs
because they’re too hot or too bulky. But
that’s not an excuse anymore. Inflatable
PFDs offer a U.S. Coast Guard–approved
life jacket that is small and lightweight.
Inflatable life jackets come in two styles: a
PFD that looks like a pair of suspenders
or a belt pack that looks like a small fanny
- Some of these PFDs are designed to
inflate if the wearer falls into the water;
others require the wearer to pull a cord.
- Inflatable PFDs are approved only for people 16 and older, and they are not to be worn on PWCs or while water-skiing.
- Read the operating instructions and the approval label before you choose an inflatable PFD. Then be sure to wear it!
If you are on a dock when someone falls in, you should try to "talk" the victim to safety. If he or she is unable to get to the dock, you should:
- Extend a fishing rod, branch, oar, towel, or other object that can be used to REACH out to the victim and pull him or her to safety. If nothing is available, lay flat on the dock and grab the victim's hand or wrist, and pull him or her to safety.
- If the victim is too far away to reach and a boat isn't handy, THROW the victim a PFD or anything else that will float.
- If a rowboat is available, ROW to the victim and then use an oar or paddle to pull the victim to the stern. Let the victim hold onto the stern as you paddle to shore. If the victim is too weak, hold onto him or her until help arrives. If using a powerboat, stop the engine and glide to the victim from the downwind side.
- Swimmers without lifesaving training should not swim to a victim. Instead, GO for help. If you must swim, take along anything that floats to keep between you and the victim.