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Boating Basics

Other Boating Emergencies

A safe boater knows how to prevent and respond to other boating emergencies.

Falling Overboard

To prevent persons from falling overboard:

  • Don’t sit on the gunwale, bow, seat backs, motor cover, or any other area not designed for seating.
  • Don’t sit on pedestal seats when underway at greater than idle speed.
  • Don’t stand up in or lean out from the boat.
  • Don’t move about the boat when underway.

If someone on your boat falls overboard:

  • Reduce speed and toss the victim a throwable PFD.
  • Turn your boat around and slowly pull alongside the victim, approaching the victim from downwind or into the current, whichever is stronger.
  • Turn off the engine. Pull the victim on board over the stern, keeping the weight in the boat balanced.

Capsizing or Swamping

To reduce the risk of capsizing or swamping:

  • Don’t overload your boat. Balance the load.
  • Slow your boat appropriately when turning.
  • Secure the anchor line to the bow, never to the stern.
  • Don’t boat in rough water or in bad weather.

If you capsize or swamp your boat, or if you have fallen overboard and can’t get back in:

  • Stay with the boat.
  • Try to reboard or climb onto it in order to get as much of your body out of the cold water as possible.

If the boat sinks or floats away, don’t panic.

  • If wearing a PFD, remain calm and await help.
  • If you aren’t wearing a PFD, look around for one or for other buoyant items to use as a flotation device.
  • In cold water, float rather than tread.


If you are boating in cold water:

  • Dress in several layers of clothing under your PFD or wear a wetsuit or drysuit.
  • Learn to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia. Symptoms begin with shivering and bluish lips and nails, and progress to a coma and, ultimately, death.

To reduce the effects of hypothermia:

  • Put on a PFD if not wearing one. It helps you to float without excessive movement and insulates your body.
  • Get as much of your body out of the water as possible.
  • Don’t take your clothes off unless necessary—clothes can help you float and provide insulation.
  • Don’t thrash or move about. Excess motion consumes energy and increases loss of body heat.
  • Draw your knees to your chest and your arms to your sides, protecting the major areas of heat loss.
  • If others are in the water with you, huddle together with your arms around their shoulders.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that can be deadly. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, keep air flowing through the boat and take extreme caution when running a generator at a dock or at anchor.

Whenever people are using a swim platform or are in the water close to the stern, turn off all gasoline-powered generators with transom exhaust ports.

Swimmers should never enter the cavity between the swim platform and the stern of the boat.

When boating, be careful running downwind as exhaust gases may blow back on board. On cabin cruisers, be aware that exhaust gases can blow back into the stern when traveling into the wind.