Boat safety: Man overboard

A boat trip is a wonderful way to unwind and relax, but even with utmost precautions, accidents can still happen and someone can still manage to fall overboard. What should you under these circumstances?

You’re probably thinking something like: “jump in after them, duh!”

Surprisingly, the National Parks Services of the United States strongly advices against this! According to the United States Sailing Association (US Sailing), the three stages of rescuing someone who has fallen into the water are:

Reacting: Yell, “Man overboard!” so that everyone on board the boat is aware of the situation, and stop the boat as soon as you realise someone has fallen off the boat. At least one person on board should maintain visual contact with the victim. Turn the boat 180 degrees while having the person focused on the swimmer call out the victim’s proximity to the boat. Throw in as many flotation devices as possible to help increase the visibility of the swimmer’s position, as well as provide them with safety gear.

You should not jump in after a person who’s fallen overboard, as this puts another person at risk. It may be inevitable sometimes, if the victim is a child or appears to be injured, and someone needs to jump in to help. They should be wearing a life jacket, and the  US Sailing recommends that a rescue swimmer be tethered to the boat.

Returning to the victim: As the boat returns to the victim, it should approach from downwind or down current from the swimmer. This should help with manoeuvrability and will help prevent the boat from drifting too close to the victim. Keep the boat at a slow, controllable speed. Once you are close enough to the victim, throw a flotation device, such as a life ring or throw cushion, with about 50 feet of line attached to it. Keep in mind that overthrowing is better than not having the device within reach, as the swimmer can still grab the line.

Recovery: Once the victim has a hold of the line or flotation device, shift the boat out of gear and start pulling him in by attaching the boarding device, such as a hook-style or rope ladder if possible. Grab the victim under the arms as soon as possible and hoist them unto the boat. Get the victim dry and warm and call for help immediately if they need medical assistance.

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