Updated: April 22, 2020
Despite your best efforts to check the weather report, there’s a good chance a storm will show up while you’re out on the water at some point. Not only is a storm going to make for an unpleasant experience, but it could also put you and your passengers in danger.
What should you do if your boat capsizes? What if it capsizes and floats away? And, how can you prevent capsizing from happening in the first place?
The good news is, many capsizing accidents can be prevented. Even if a storm does come up unexpectedly, knowing proper boating skills and the warning signs to watch out for can go a long way towards keeping you safe.
Properly maintaining your equipment and having the correct safety equipment on-board also plays a key role. Here’s what to do if your boat capsizes plus some prevention tips every boater should know.
What’s the best way to survive a capsizing?
The best way to survive a boat capsizing is to practice proper boating safety from the moment you leave the dock. Everyone in your boat should know what to do and be prepared if they find themselves in the water. That means dressing appropriately and wearing a coast guard approved life jacket whenever the boat is underway.
In many cases, boating fatalities could have been avoided simply by wearing a life jacket. Keep in mind that alcohol not only impairs judgment and increases the likelihood of accidents, but it will also impair your ability to swim, float, or tread water if a capsizing does occur.
What should you do if your boat capsizes?
If the unthinkable happens and your boat does capsize, your first priority is survival. Stay calm and conserve your energy. If the boat is upright and floating, you should try to get back on board. If you can’t get back in the boat, or the boat overturns, do everything you can to stay with the boat.
The best way to stay afloat is to hang onto the boat. The boat will keep you afloat and you won’t have to waste your energy trying to tread water. If at all possible, try to climb up on top of your overturned boat. Getting your body up out of the water as much as possible will help you stay warm.
What should you do if the boat floats away?
If the boat floats away or sinks, try to stay calm. Hopefully, you’re wearing a life jacket. If so, check the fasteners to make sure everything is tight and secure. Stay calm and wait for help to arrive.
If you’re not wearing a life jacket, look for floating objects (such as life jackets, a cooler, or paddles) from your boat that you can use to help you stay afloat. If there’s nothing close by, look for a nearby buoy you can swim to.
If there’s nothing to keep you afloat, you will have to tread water or float on your back until help arrives. If the water is cold, floating instead of treading water will reduce the chance of hypothermia.
If you are on a fast-moving river, the safest way to float is on your back with your feet pointed downstream. If you can find a safe way to get out of the water, do so as quickly as possible.
Tips to Prevent Your Boat from Capsizing
Preventing capsizing, swamping, and many other boating accidents starts before you ever leave the dock. If bad weather is expected or the water is rough, play it safe and don’t go out.
When you’re loading up, always pay attention to the weight capacity of your vessel and never overload it. Gear and passengers should be evenly distributed in the boat to keep the weight balanced
Once you’re out on the water, check the weather regularly to ensure that a storm doesn’t sneak up on you. At the first sign of an approaching storm, head to shore or a sheltered area right away. If you are caught in a sudden storm, have all passengers stay low and in the middle of the boat to help keep it stable.
Anytime you anchor the boat, the anchor should be attached at the bow, or front, of the boat rather than the stern. Adding the anchor’s extra weight to the back of the boat puts you at risk of capsizing or swamping the boat.
Always be sure to slow down appropriately before making a turn. Pay attention to waves and the wakes of other boats. Always take them head-on from the bow to prevent the boat from becoming swamped or tipping over.
Many times, when a small open boat capsizes or someone falls overboard, it’s because someone leaned over the side or sat in a place not designed for safe seating. Never allow anyone to lean out of the boat or sit on the backs of seats, the motor cover, bow, or gunwale. The same goes for pedestal seats when the boat is going faster than idle speed.
Leaks are another major cause of capsizing. Having water sloshing around in the bottom of the boat creates instability. Tie the drain plug for your boat right to your keychain so you always remember the plug. Ensuring that leak fittings are properly installed is also very important.
Many capsizing accidents can be prevented if the safety tips in this article are followed. However, if you do find yourself in the water, wearing a life jacket will keep you afloat until rescue comes.
All passengers must wear a life jacket when the boat is in motion. It’s the single most important thing you and your passengers can do to ensure survival if your boat capsizes!