The 6 Seconds Before a Boating Accident

Have you ever made a mistake and then thought about the decisions leading up to it? It’s almost like you’re going through a movie frame by frame – dissecting how you could have done something differently.   After a boating accident, participants, spectators and investigators all wonder how it could have been prevented. Even though you cannot recover the lost seconds, let’s take a look at how those seconds come together.

Man Steering a Boat

Recognition – 2 Seconds

Prior to this stage, you were in complete control of your vessel. At this point, you realize that you’re about to lose control to an oncoming vessel, obstruction, storm, or the ability to keep your passengers on-board. Although this is the first step, some are not fortunate enough to see a boating accident coming and have little time to think about the impending danger. If you do have enough time, your next stage will probably be to take evasive measures to prevent a collision or boating accident.

Panic – 1 Second

Panic is about the only emotion you can feel right before an accident. At this stage, you’re trying to think of a way to avoid the accident. On the outside you may seem frozen as you try to recall what you learned in your boating safety class. Soon, basic instinct will snap you back to reality so you can attempt to avoid the accident or lessen the effects. You know something is wrong, and even if you can’t process it completely – you know you have to do something.

Reaction – 2 Seconds

You are in survival mode. Reactions take different forms. You may grab on to a rail to brace for impact, spin the wheel to try to avoid impact, or throttle down.

Acceptance – 1 Second

At this point, you’re hoping you and your crew can escape with minimal injuries. Acceptance comes with a wave of emotions. You should try to think as clearly as possible to prepare for the impact and its aftermath and to remove yourself and your passengers from further harm.


You've done what you can and once it’s over, accounting for everyone and attempting rescues or administering first aid is the first priority. Calling for help like the boaters in this video did, is the next step. After a boating accident, the emotional and physical impacts set in. Your adrenaline subsides and the reality of your situation becomes apparent.  The recovery phase doesn't have a set time because it varies in each scenario.

Like most problems, the best way to deal with a boating accident is to avoid having one. The Boat Ed boating safety courses teach you how to control your boat and be aware of other boats and surrounding conditions.