5 Tips How to Handle Boating Emergencies


As safe as it seems, boating has its own risks you need to be wary of. These emergencies can occur at any given time, the only way you can possibly avoid them is by preparing beforehand. There are instances when you have no other option but to deal with these emergencies even though you may have not prepared for them like the way you should have. Here are some tips for five common boating emergencies:

Man Overboard

There are times when you or your fellow passengers may not have taken the risks of boating seriously. Travelling miles away from land has its perils. People mostly ignore rules and regulations that have been recommended for people at sea. As ‘boring’ as they may seem, they are there for a reason. If you ever find your fellow passenger or yourself overboard, what would you do? You will actually need to follow some established protocols to survive.

It would be wise to head out to sea only after you have all the required equipment on board. Personal flotation devices can prove the difference between life and death situations. On the other hand, throw bags can come in incredibly handy to keep an individual afloat.

In case such a situation does arise, you or any other person on the helm needs to yell, “Man overboard!” as loudly as you can. After alerting your crew and the others around you of the predicament, the boat needs to be brought in close to the victim. However, it is important to keep the propeller of the boat away from that person. You can then throw a personal flotation device. If you do not have one, throw something that will keep the victim afloat as you close in.

It’s easier to track the victim in the water with the GPS by selecting the M.O.B. option. At the same time, it is just as important for you to not lose sight of him/her. Designate someone to keep an eye on the victim and to point you in the right direction. If things are getting out of hand, it would be wise to alert the authorities by putting out a Pan-Pan or Mayday on VHF Channel 16 using the radio you have on your boat.

If the victim is well and conscious, it would be safer and easier to reel in the victim to the boat rather than closing in on him/her. You can recover the person using a life ring with a rope attached to it. A life sling device is just as effective. On the other hand, if  the victim is unconscious, someone will need to get into the water to assist the individual. The rescuer needs to wear a lifejacket and has to swim towards the victim with a life ring or life sling with a rope attached to it. The idea here is to make sure the rescuer does not drown.

When you’re closing in, you need to stop the boat at a distance from the person. You will then need to take the boat out of gear. For boats with twin engines, you need to shut down the near-sided engine.  Getting the victim back onboard can be tough. If the sea is calm, consider using a boarding ladder or swim platform. In rough seas, avoid using the platform entirely as it could do harm than good. Emergency ladders can be used instead as you will be able to get the victim onboard without having to worry about injuring them.

Engine Stalls

While you are making the necessary repairs, it is important for you to stay low. Stay calm and pay attention to your surroundings. Engine problems will be the least of your concerns if you go overboard. Diagnosing the problem is not as easy as it may seem. You will have to start with the obvious.

Does the boat have enough fuel?

Has the engine overheated?

Are the fuel lines damaged?

If you’ve come across a broken drive belt and you do not have a spare one, use a small line to fashion one instead. You must take great care while replacing the drive belt. The ends need to be tied together tightly.

If your boat is losing engine oil, you need to find the leak as soon as possible. Once you’ve found it, find a container and use it to store the leaking oil. Continue pouring it back into the engine until you’ve found a solution to the problem.

It is quite common to come across broken pipes or hoses. Do not panic. Find a t-shirt to tie around the hose or pipe with duct tape or a belt.

In case your boat is taking on water, find the source immediately. If you’ve found a small hole or a hull opening from where the water is coming from, clog it with an appropriate plug. If the damage is greater than what you initially expected, use a blanket or a pillow to stuff the hole.

Fire at Sea

Nothing is as frightening as a fire on a boat. On land, your primary goal would be to stay away from the flames and help others on your way out. However, at sea there is no place to escape to. Your only protection is to be prepared. You need a sufficient number of fire extinguishers onboard, and ensure they are easily accessible at the same time. Rather than storing it in a dock box, place them in the brackets located on the bulkhead.

Everyone should know where the fire extinguishers are. Most importantly, each person on the boat should know how to use one. If there is a fire, the steps you have to follow are:

Ensure everyone wears a personal flotation device in case the boat needs to be abandoned.

Position the boat in a way so that the fire is downwind.

If the engine is on fire, cut off the fuel supply immediately.

The fire extinguisher has to be aimed at the base of the flames as you sweep back and forth.

Unexpected Storms

Leaving the dock without checking the weather forecast could prove costly. It is just as important as planning your trip.  You need to pay close attention to the weather as it could make the difference between having a pleasant day out at sea and a potential disaster. If a storm is approaching, consider the following tips:

Proceed with caution and reduce the speed.

All ports and hatches need to be closed.

Head for the shore immediately.

Keep the boat dry and pump out any water that may have come aboard.

Loose items that could toss around need to be secured right away.

All electrical equipment needs to be powered off and disconnected if there is lightning.

Set off the appropriate sound signals if you are caught in fog.

Seek shelter in advance thus minimizing the risk of having your boat struck by lightning. If you’re trapped in open waters during a thunderstorm, stay in the middle of the boat and do not stand up.

Abandoning Ship

No boater wants to abandon ship. This is one of the reasons why most boaters do not even expect to be faced with a scenario where they need to abandon ship. When a boat is sinking, there is not enough time to react. Your only chance of survival is preparation and practice.

Abandoning ship is not as simple as it seems. If your boat starts sinking, the situation will end up getting chaotic. People mostly try to keep the boat afloat. Initially, you may focus on firefighting, stopping the damage from getting out of hand and redirecting the flow of water. But when the time comes, it will be tricky to abandon the ship. Regardless of the circumstances, you will need to stay calm, organized and focused at all times while performing the following tasks:

Use your radio to issue a distress call on VHF Channel 16.

Switch on the PLB.

Get the flare kit and the boat’s ditch bag.

In case you have a life raft:

Prepare yourself and others to deploy the life raft.

Until or unless everyone has boarded the life raft, secure the raft to the boat to prevent the draft from drifting away.

If your boat is on fire, deploy the boat on the upwind side. This way, the flames will not blow on to the people on the raft.

It is important for you to understand that you should not deploy the raft unless there is no other option. It is difficult for rescue teams to locate smaller targets from the air. Moreover, the boat can also contain essentials which could help you survive.

Individuals who are physically fit should board the raft first. This way, they will be able to help others board the raft with ease.

Avoid jumping on to the raft as you may end up injuring others or yourself.

Even though the boat has sunk, if it stays afloat, secure the raft to it.

Keeping these factors in mind, you can prepare accordingly. Follow these tips and you will be able to handle almost all major and minor boating emergencies.