Your Boat Capsizes but Remains Afloat What Should You Do?

"This image" by Mike Prince is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Boating is a fun activity as long as things are going your way. But we are all aware of the unforgiving nature of water, and even a slight shift in conditions can quickly turn a pleasant outing into a dangerous situation. Other factors, such as adverse weather, mechanical issues, or unexpected incidents, can make things unpleasant for the boat operator. 

A report indicates that over 68% of boating accidents are attributed to inexperienced and inattentive operators. Among the most dangerous scenarios is a capsized boat, where the vessel flips over on the water, and passengers are thrown into the water.

Although undoubtedly a terrifying situation, with the proper knowledge and actions, it is possible to navigate a capsized boat and restore safety. The following article will outline the necessary steps to take should your boat capsize while remaining afloat. 

While we sincerely hope you never find yourself in such circumstances, this guide will prove invaluable if you encounter such a situation.

Let’s get going.


The Course of Action

1. Stay Calm and Assess the Situation

Fear and uncertainty are natural responses when faced with a sudden life-threatening situation. It’s essential to remain calm and composed, as panicking will hinder your ability to think clearly and respond effectively.

Assess your situation and determine if you can grab onto a piece of wood or rope from the boat’s side before it sinks. If the boat has capsized and you find yourself floating in the water, try to find a way to stay afloat. 

If you’ve had sailing training, you may be familiar with how the centerboard functions as a lever, which can help you regain control of the small boat. You can rely on it to steady yourself and steer the boat back on track.

Next, evaluate the situation at hand. The initial focus should be on the well-being of the people on board. Conduct a headcount and assess any potential injuries among passengers. If assistance is required, make it your priority. Once everyone’s safety is confirmed, it’s time to plan the next steps forward. 

If you are on board, grab a life jacket and distribute it to anyone you can. Assess your distance from the shore and try to swim. There you can also ask for help. If your boat is still afloat, keep it as low and close to the center as possible to maintain stability. 

It’s vital to remain composed and believe in your decision-making abilities in such a situation. You may not always have ample time to deliberate, so rely on your expertise and knowledge to assess the circumstances and set the priorities accordingly.

2. Try to Slow Down the Boat

If the boat is partially capsized but still moving, try to slow it down immediately. It will reduce the impact force with the water, minimizing potential damage and lowering the risk of injury. 

Additionally, a stable boat can allow you to regain control and implement necessary adjustments, providing a greater possibility of proceeding with your journey.

3. Stay Close to the Boat

If you find yourself thrown into the water and the shore is too far to swim down to, it’s imperative to stay in proximity to the boat to avoid being lost in the surroundings. Also, keeping other passengers together in a group will increase the possibility of being located and rescued. 

In this situation, keep an eye on nearby traffic and use anything you can to make an alarming signal to get yourself noticed by others. At the same time, it’s critical to maintain a safe distance from the half-turned and unstable boat as it may cause serious injuries or life-threatening circumstances. 

In case you are trapped in the middle of the capsized boat, make a distress call so that nearby boats can hear you. 

4. Get Back on Board and Try to Stabilize the Boat

If stable, try to climb back using the capsized side of the boat as a step and pull yourself up onto the opposite side. Once you’ve safely returned to the boat, remain alert for any distress calls and try to locate any missing passengers.

Subsequently, evaluate the extent of damage to the boat and determine whether repairing it is feasible for sailing back to shore.

While on board, if you have the energy and assistance from other passengers, you can attempt to stabilize the boat. Gather everyone, explain the action plan, and assign roles and responsibilities.

You can shift weight to the opposite side or try eliminating water from the capsized side to stabilize the boat. If flotation devices or life jackets are available, distribute them around the capsized side to help stabilize the boat.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that not all plans may be successful in such situations. Additionally, being on the water for an extended period can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and other physical challenges. Be prepared to face failures. Ultimately, it all comes down to your judgment skills, assessing the situation, and determining which action is worth taking. 

5. Make the Distress Call

In situations like boat capsizing, requesting assistance should always be your foremost priority. If you can swim to the shore, inform others about the situation, boat’s condition, number of people, etc., and request immediate assistance.

This may involve using your cell phone to dial 911 or broadcasting a distress signal over the radio or other means. Regardless of the method you select, it’s essential to contact someone who can provide aid quickly.

Here is a helpful video guide explaining the necessary steps to take when your boat capsizes:



Capsizing Boat: Prevention Is the Key!

It is often said that prevention is better than cure. You can take strict measures to avoid such a situation or at least minimize the chances of a boat capsizing. 

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Check the weather forecast before going out on the water
  • Ensure that your boat is adequately balanced and loaded
  • Avoid overloading the boat with too many passengers or gear
  • Know your boat’s weight capacity and stay within its limits
  • Wear life jackets or flotation devices at all times
  • Stay seated and balanced while in the boat
  • Be aware of other boats and waves in the water

Furthermore, below is a compilation of essential items to ensure boating safety:

Life jackets A flotation device that keeps you buoyant in the water
Flares A signal device that can be seen from a distance
First Aid Kit A kit containing essential medical supplies
Fire extinguisher A device that can put out a fire on board
Mobile phone/Radio A communication device to call for help in case of emergency



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