Did You Know: Overboard Precaution

In 2021, the United States Coast Guard reported 4,439 recreational boating accidents nationwide. The fatality rate totaled 5.5 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. Overboard accidents make up for 10 percent of all recreational boating accidents. 

What Makes Overboard Accidents So Dangerous?

A person who falls overboard has a greater chance of suffering from additional danger once they fall. The person is at risk of drowning, suffering from hypothermia, being attacked by predatory animals, or essentially becoming a missing person. Depending on the direction in which the boat is traveling, a person can also suffer injuries from the boat itself, to be hit by the boat and knocked unconscious, propeller strike, carbon monoxide poisoning. Any of these accidents can result in catastrophic or fatal injuries

Risks of falling overboard precautions:

  • Drowning: The most immediate and severe risk when someone falls overboard is drowning. In a panicked situation, even strong swimmers can struggle to stay afloat in open water, making it crucial to act swiftly and calmly.
  • Hypothermia: Depending on the water’s temperature, cold shock and hypothermia can set in quickly after falling into the water. These conditions can lead to loss of consciousness and, in severe cases, death.
  • Separation: In a boating emergency, the person who falls overboard may become separated from the vessel. This can make rescue efforts more challenging and time-consuming.
  • Injury: Impact with the water or the boat can cause injuries, including head injuries and broken bones, which may be exacerbated if the victim isn’t wearing a life jacket. 

Common Causes of Overboard Accidents: 

  • Failing to provide the proper safety gear. Boaters are required to carry equipment like life jackets aboard their vessels. Life jackets must be the right size and type to be effective.
  • Failing to check the weather conditions. An overboard accident can be prevented if boaters avoid traveling in dangerous conditions. Staying alert for weather updates can help keep all boaters and passengers safe.
  • Inadequate training. It takes a specific amount of training to safely operate a boat and keep all of the passengers safe. Boaters who lack the appropriate training can make a delicate situation like an overboard accident worse with inexperience.
  • Alcohol use. Some boaters consume alcohol before, and even during, boating. Just like car and truck drivers should never operate vehicles while intoxicated, it is illegal to operate a vessel while under the influence.
  • Slow reaction times. Every second counts when a person falls overboard. Failing to react quickly to an accident can result in a fatality, especially when other boaters do not follow the correct protocols in case a person falls overboard.
  • Crashing into another object. Boater inexperience can also lead to a more serious accident. The inexperienced operator can collide into another boat or object and the impact from the crash can cause one or several boaters to fall overboard.
    • Hitting a wave. When a boat hits a wave, the impact can be strong enough to knock other passengers overboard. Federal and state laws require boat operators to remain on the lookout for potential hazards that can affect the boat. However, there are other factors that can determine whether a boat operator will be liable for an overboard accident caused by a wave.
    • Hitting a submerged object like a rock or land. If a boat operator does not practice precautions while out on the water and hits a submerged object, they may be held liable for a passenger’s injuries. 

Essential Overboard Precautions:

  • Wear life jackets: The most fundamental precaution when it comes to boating safety is wearing a life jacket. Everyone on board should have access to a properly fitted life jacket, and it should be worn at all times. Life jackets save lives by keeping individuals afloat, even if they are unconscious.
  • Educate passengers: Inform your passengers about the location of the life jackets, emergency equipment, and how to use them. Instruct everyone on board about the dangers of leaning over the edge and remind them to stay seated while the boat I in motion.
  • Install safety equipment: Boats should be equipped with lifebuoys, throwable floatation devices, and safety ladders to assist in overboard rescue. Check that this equipment is in good working condition before each trip.
  • Maintain a sober captain: Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not only illegal but also highly dangerous. Impaired judgement and reaction times increase the risk of accidents, including falling overboard.
  • Designate a spotter: Have a designated spotter onboard who can keep an eye on everyone and alert the captain if someone goes overboard. Quick response is vital in such situations.
  • Practice man overboard drills: Regularly practice man overboard drills with your crew to ensure everyone knows how to respond efficiently. This includes stopping the engine, throwing a lifebuoy, and maneuvering the boat to reach the person in the water. 

How Can Boaters Avoid Overboard Accidents?

Some of the actions that boaters can take to avoid overboard accidents include:

  • Using the buddy system. Do not leave any boater or passenger alone and unattended.
  • Being prepared. Boaters should check the condition of the boat and ensure that all safety equipment is present.
  • Keeping all passengers in line of sight. If someone falls overboard, always maintain visual contact until help arrives.
  • Sounding the alarm. Inform the Captain and other boaters about all passengers that have fallen overboard.
  • Safety lanyards. Also known as an engine kill switch prevents the vessel from accidental open throttle. 

The importance of safety lanyards:

An essential safety that often is overlooked is wearing a safety lanyard. A safety lanyard, also known as an engine kill switch, is a simple yet vital safety device that connects the operator to the vessel’s engine kill switch. When worn properly, it ensures the engine shuts off immediately if the operator is unexpectedly separated from the controls. This can prevent accidental throttle openings, which can lead to a loss of control over the vessel. Accidental throttle openings are often caused by sudden movements, heavy waves, or unexpected jolts, and they can result in dangerous situations, collisions, or ejections from the vessel. 

One of the most significant dangers when operating a watercraft vessel is the risk of propeller injuries. If an operator falls overboard, and the engine is still running, the spinning propeller can cause sever harm. By wearing a safety lanyard, the engine will cut off as soon as the operator is separated from the kill switch, reducing the chances of propeller-related accidents.

In situations where an operator falls over board or is incapacitated, an unmanned and runaway boat can be a major hazard. A vessel without an operator at the helm can cause collisions, damage to property, and even endanger the lives of others on the water. Wearing a safety lanyard ensures that the engine stops running if the operator is no longer in control, preventing the boat from becoming a runaway vessel.

The simple act of wearing a safety lanyard can significantly enhance overall safety while operating a watercraft vessel. It acts as a fail-safe mechanism that can prevent a wide range of accidents, including collisions, grounding, and capsizing. With the lanyard in use, operators can feel more confident knowing that they have an added layer of protection in case of unexpected events on the water.

In many places, wearing a safety lanyard while operating a watercraft vessel is not just a recommended practice, but a legal requirement. Authorities recognize the importance of this safety measure in preventing accidents, and failing to wear a lanyard can result in fine or penalties. Always check local regulations and ensure compliance with safety laws.