Falling Overboard Is a Major Risk on Small Boats. How Can You Reduce This Risk?

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Small boats showcase a heap of advantages over larger options in terms of versatility, maneuverability, affordability, and maintenance. However, the risk of falling overboard is also immensely increased with them. 

According to U.S. Coast Guard research, 75% of boating accident fatalities were caused due to drowning. Falling overboard has contributed to a significant portion of these fatalities. Hence, minimizing risk to the best degree is prudent whenever you take out your boat in the water. This article will cover some steps to reduce the risk of falling overboard in a small boat.


How to Reduce the Risk of Falling Overboard on Small Boats?

Several ways can reduce the risk of falling overboard on small boats. Let us look at them.

1. Wear a Lifejacket

Research suggests that 86% of drowning cases in the U.S. are of those who failed to wear a life jacket. The objective of a life jacket is to prevent you from drowning, and the data backs it up. 

Life jackets come in various options based on safety levels and water conditions. A type I life jacket is the most buoyant and will help you keep your face above water. They are uncomfortable for extended wear; however, the discomfort is worth compromising when your life is at stake. 

Suppose you are not going in deep water. In that case, consider going for Type II or Type IV lifejackets, as they will provide better mobility and comfort while also providing a decent level of buoyancy. 

2. Avoid Alcohol Consumption 

Alcohol is the primary cause of drowning incidents. No matter how protected or skilled you are, a tipsy state disallows you from thinking clearly, leading to falling overboard and eventually drowning. 

Other than the fatal disadvantages, operating a boat while being under the spell of alcohol produces a fine of $1000, and criminal offenses can go over $5000. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum when going on a small boat. If possible, avoid it altogether. 

3. Maintain a Low Center of Gravity

The lower the center of gravity of an object, the more stability it has. If you keep your small boat stable, the risk of falling overboard is reduced tremendously. 

A good thumb rule to maintaining a low center of gravity is by evenly distributing the weight in the boat at all times. You can do this by initially settling all members and accessories evenly. Secondly, you should keep this stable atmosphere throughout your boating journey by remaining seated and as still as possible. 

Looking down into the water can be enticing; however, it can disbalance both you and the boat, resulting in you toppling over into the water. To prevent this, try to keep your shoulders inside of the gunwales. 

4. Keep a Steady Speed 

One should always be wrapped in cotton wool when maneuvering a small boat. Like most modes of transportation, speeding up on a small boat can be tempting. However, doing so can lead to you falling overboard while also risking damaging the boat. As a result, you may be stuck in the water until help arrives or worse. 

Always maintain a steady speed when in a small boat, especially when sailing with other members. If conditions are rougher than you expected, slow down your boat. Also, ensure you have an experienced skipper overseeing speed and other maneuverability aspects. 

5. Install Safety Equipment

Small boats have limited space to install safety equipment. There is only so much you can do, but you can certainly do a lot with what you have. 

For stability and support, you can install handrails, grab handles, and lifelines in the boat. If you are on a motorboat, install a killswitch which can be activated if someone topples over. The killswitch will instantly shut down the engine, enabling other boat members to help the member who fell. 

Here is a detailed video that goes through boat safety equipment: 

6. Go with Multiple Members 

Though small boats have limited space, going in with at least one other person is a clever way to manage it. The other person can assist you with whatever issues arise during your boating experience. 

If you are on a paddle boat, having a partner helps as they can take turns in maneuvering the boat as well as helping you back into the boat if you fall overboard. If all members fall over, do not panic, as that will only exacerbate the problem. 

Remain calm and make sure all members get to safety. If the boat is salvageable, getting back on it is the cleverest way possible. 

7. Follow Safety Guidelines 

Safety guidelines are crucial when going on a small boat. With limited members onboard, keeping yourself safe is a very personal job. If any member onboard is unfamiliar with boating, they need to be guided thoroughly and made to wear a life jacket at all times. 

Assign roles and guide each member to maintain the boat’s stability. They must not move around the boat and remain seated while keeping their shoulders inside the gunwales. Lastly, the skipper must show confidence and calmness and steadily introduce other members to the water. 

8. Take a Boat Safety Course

Boat safety courses are curated to help boaters learn about safe boating practices and regulations. These courses cover everything one needs to know before heading out in the water, including boat handling, emergency management, navigation tips, equipment guidelines, etc. 

Even if you are not going to act as a skipper on your boat, taking a boat safety course will help you build confidence and do the same for other members in case of a panic situation. Moreover, it will set you up for life and also allow you to open up doors to many boating experiences. 

Here is a detailed boat safety guide that will help you understand further:



In conclusion, despite various advantages, small boats are the most unstable and risky as you will likely fall overboard. However, this can be prevented and handled using the tips mentioned in the article above. 


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