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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 type IV device.
  • 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.


Hypothermia is defined as the lowering of the core body temperature. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it produces it and can cause death. It can occur anytime an individual is exposed to cold, wet, or windy weather.

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 if you do fall into or must enter cold water:

  • 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.

Huddle together in the water to help prevent hypothermia.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas. CO can make you sick in seconds. In high enough concentrations, even a few breaths can be fatal.

Early symptoms of CO poisoning include irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. They are often confused with seasickness or intoxication. Move anyone with these symptoms into fresh air immediately. Seek medical attention—unless you’re sure it’s not CO.

Sources of CO on your vessel may include engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, and space and water heaters. Natural air flows can suck fumes forward into the vessel.

Never launch your boat by yourself.

Swimmers should never enter areas under swim platforms where exhaust outlets are located—even for a second. One or two breaths of the air in this area could be fatal.

Never launch your boat by yourself.

To protect yourself and others against CO poisoning while boating:

  • Keep fresh air flowing throughout the vessel at all times.
  • Keep your vessel at least 20 feet from a vessel that is running a generator or engine.
Another vessel's exhaust
  • Know where your engine and generator exhaust outlets are located, and keep everyone away from these areas.
Never launch your boat by yourself.
  • Never sit on the back deck, teak surf, or hang on the swim platform while the engines are running.
  • If exhaust fumes are detected on the vessel, immediately ventilate.
  • Install and maintain CO detectors inside your vessel. Replace detectors as recommended by the manufacturer.