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If someone on your pleasure craft falls overboard, you need to immediately:
- Reduce speed and toss the victim a lifejacket or PFD, unless you know he or she is already wearing a lifejacket or PFD.
- Turn your pleasure craft around and slowly pull alongside the victim, approaching the victim from downwind or into the current, whichever is stronger.
- Stop the engine.
- Use a reaching assist—or a buoyant heaving line or lifebuoy—to pull the victim to the side of the pleasure craft.
- Use a reboarding device to help the victim get into the pleasure craft. If you do not have a reboarding device, pull the victim on board over the stern, keeping the weight in the pleasure craft balanced, especially in small boats.
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What To Do When a Passenger Falls in the Water
When you have a person in the water you need to keep calm. They may panic as well, so you need to keep a cool head. Follow these steps to get them to safety.
- Your first job when someone goes overboard is to alert everyone. Yell “Man Overboard.” This allows everyone else on board to know you have an emergency. Any nearby boats may also be alerted. And it can help calm the person who has fallen overboard if they know you have seen them.
- To make the situation more organized, ensure you alert crew members as to which side of the boat. Port side, starboard side, etc.
- If the boat is in motion, stop immediately. With a powerboat, you do not want to risk a propeller injury. If you are in a sailboat, adjust the sails to slow down.
- Use the MOB button right away. Not every boat has this, but it’s an important safety feature. MOB button stands for Man Overboard Button. This sets a GPS marker as soon as you hit it. It can help you navigate back to the location at which it was first pressed. Navigation in rough water can be hard if you don’t see the victim. The MOB button makes it easier. But you have to press it right away.
- Hopefully, the person in the water has a lifejacket on already. If they do not, throw a PFD or lifejacket to them right away. A life ring or other flotation device is good for this.
- If you have more crew on the boat, have them take on roles. Make sure someone is able to signal to other boaters. Let them know you have a person in the water. This way they may be able to either render assistance or avoid the area.
- Turn the boat around and keep the victim in sight. You need to pull alongside the person.. Depending on which is stronger, against the current or downwind will work.
- This requires caution and patience. Especially if your boat has a motor. You don’t want to put the victim in more danger. Propeller injuries account for some of the falling overboard fatalities.
- Downwind is usually the safest option. This gives greater control. It allows the wind and waves to help bring you and the victim closer together.
- Remember to turn the engine off again once you are close enough.
- Always keep the victim in your line of sight. In rough waters this is especially important. They could go under or even be hit by the boat.
- When you come alongside the victim, you need an aid. A heaving line thrown over the side of the boat, for instance.
- Do not get in the water with the victim unless you have no other option. Anyone who joins the victim should be a skilled rescue swimmer. If you are not, you could make the situation worse.
- Pull the victim back to the side of the boat. You should use an assistive device for this, like a boarding ladder. If your boat is too small for such devices, change approaches. Pull the victim on board over the stern to keep the boat balanced.
- Be careful when pulling the victim in. You don’t want to end up in the reverse situation where they accidentally pull you into the water. Keep a low center of gravity.
- If you are alone, have the victim take you firmly by the wrists as you take their wrists. Pull them smoothly and forcefully from the water if you are able to physically do so.
- If there is more than one person on the boat, work together. You and another crew member can each take one of the victim’s wrists.
- Unconscious victims will require the use of a sling. If one is not available, pull them up from under the armpits.
- If the victim was dressed, get them out of any wet clothes. This will prevent hypothermia. Hypothermia can set in even in water you think is warm.
- If they are still conscious, give the victim a blanket or something to preserve body heat.
- If the victim is unconscious, you may need to perform CPR. It is important that you know CPR if you are taking passengers out on a boat.
- If the victim needs medical attention, use the VHF radio to call the U.S. Coast Guard for help.
- Use the VHF radio if the situation is an emergency.
- Get on Channel 16. This is the channel used for marine emergencies.
- Call out “mayday” three times to alert authorities to an emergency
- State you have a man overboard and provide details. Include GPS coordinates, description of the vessel, and a description of the victim
- There are several situations where you may need to do this;
- You are unable to quickly locate the person in the water.
- The person went overboard in a storm
- You have multiple victims in the water.
- The boat was in an accident and is in danger of capsizing
What Can Cause Someone to Fall Overboard
There are several factors that can contribute to a passenger falling overboard. Be on the lookout for these danger signs;
- Excessive speed. Some speed boats are capable of very high speeds. If you’re travelling fast enough that balance is an issue, slow down.
- Uneven seas. A passenger can easily end up in the water on rough seas. Be extra cautious when the water is rough.
- Unsteady passengers. If you have a passenger with health conditions, pay close attention. Likewise, with passengers who are very old or very young. Anyone who has balance or strength issues may be at risk over going overboard.
- Alcohol. Operating a boat while drinking is obviously dangerous. But being a crew member on a boat with alcohol can be just as dangerous. If people are drinking, make sure it stays within reason.
- Unsafe conditions. A boat that is messy or has debris scattered on deck is a danger. A sailboat with loose lines and unsecured sails could lead to a man overboard situation.