What Should You Always Do When A Person Falls Overboard

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As a boat owner, the most important thing on every boating trip is the safety of everyone onboard.

The best form of boating safety is to prevent the unwanted scenario of someone falling overboard. However, it is best to know what to do in an emergency if a person falls overboard.

In this article, we will discuss the best steps to take when you have a man overboard. We will also highlight the best ways to ensure boat safety at all times.  

what should you always do when a person falls overboard
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What Should You Do When A Person Falls Overboard?

When someone falls overboard, efficiency and composure are needed to retrieve them from the water effectively.

Speed is needed to prevent them from suffering from hypothermia or even drowning, while composure will help to keep the overboard person at ease.

Alert everyone on the boat

The first thing to do when you have a person overboard is to alert everyone on the boat. The best way to do this is to yell, “Man Overboard .” Doing this helps to keep the person that fell overboard calm, as they realize that the crew is alert to their situation and making efforts to save them.

Besides your boat crew, nearby boats can be alerted to the alarm, providing more people to help the overboard person. Providing information on which side of the boat will help the crew to act faster. So be sure to indicate if it is the port side (left side) or the starboard side (right side).

Stop the boat if it is in motion

The next thing to do is to stop the boat if it is in motion. You do not want to injure the victim by hitting them with the vessel.

After stopping the vessel, press the MOB (Man Overboard) button immediately. Not every boat has a button, but it is useful when you have a victim overboard. The MOB button sets a GPS marker when you hit it, helping you to locate the victim.

Sort out is the safety of the person overboard

Once you have done this, the next thing to sort out is the safety of the person overboard. If they are not wearing a life jacket or PFD, throw them a life jacket.

If you do not have a life jacket, throw them a life ring or other MOB gear, like floating pillows. This ensures that they do not drown before you pull them out of the water.

Assign roles to crew members on your boat

The next course of action is to assign roles to crew members on your boat. One person should be in charge of notifying other boaters about the situation. This will ensure that they avoid the area where the person fell.

Turn the boat around

Once you have done this, you can turn the boat around, making sure to keep the victim in sight. Pull up alongside the person, either downwind or against the current.

Stopping the boat near the victim requires a great amount of caution, particularly if your boat has a motor. This is because propellers can injure the person in the water. Make sure to turn off the boat engine as you get close to the victim.

Get the victim out of the water

Pulling up downwind is a safer option than doing it against the current. Pulling up downwind affords you better control by allowing the wind to carry you toward the victim. Make sure that the victim is in your line of sight at all times, especially if you are in rough waters.

In order to get the victim out of the water, you need an assistive device, which could be a heaving line or boarding ladder. However, if your boat is too small to attach any of these devices, you will have to pull them onboard.

As a rule of thumb, do not enter the water to pull a victim out unless you are a skilled rescue swimmer. Even as a rescue swimmer, be sure that all other options have been tried before getting into the water.

Use your assistive device to get the person over the side of the boat. If your boat is a small one, then you have to pull the victim over the stern.

Getting the victim back on board is quite tricky. This is because you run the risk of getting into the reverse situation in the case that the person mistakenly pulls you into the water. In order to avoid this, it is crucial that you keep a low center of gravity at all times.

In a situation where you are the only one on the boat, hold the victim by the wrists and pull them from the water. It is important to pull them with force in order to get them out smoothly.

If there are other people on the boat, then having two people pull the victim is best. Each person can hold on to one of the victim’s wrists and pull. Slings are needed for unconscious victims in order to pull them.

Give the victim proper care

At this point, you should have gotten the person back on board. Giving them proper care will help prevent further casualties.

For a victim that was dressed, it is important to get them out of the wet clothes. This will reduce the chances of them suffering from hypothermia.

Give the victim a blanket to prevent body heat from escaping if they are conscious. If the person is unconscious, then CPR might be needed to revive them. For victims that need medical attention, you need to use a VHF radio to call for help from the U.S. Coast Guard.

What Should You Do When You Fall Overboard?

Falling overboard a boat is not a death sentence. However, you have to react appropriately in order to come out of the situation unscathed.

Stay calm

The first and most important thing to do after falling overboard is to stay calm. Staying calm in the water helps you to think straight and conserve energy.

Cover your mouth

The next thing to do is to cover your mouth with your hand. This will prevent cold shock that might cause you to inhale water.

Call others attention

Try to stay visible in the water. You need to alert other boaters to the situation, so call their attention by making noise or waving your hands.

It is important that you have a life jacket on. A life jacket has two main functions that will help you in case you fall overboard. It is a flotation device that will save you from drowning. Also, its bright color will make it easy to spot.

Wait for rescue

It is crucial that you stay warm until you are rescued, so pull your knees to your chest. This will help you to preserve your body heat. Getting weighed down might cause you to drown, so remove bulky items such as boots and sweaters from your body.

In addition, it is best to stay in one position. This will make you easier to spot as well as help you conserve energy. Simply wait until you are rescued by the other passengers on your boat.

What Can Cause Someone To Fall Overboard?

A passenger can fall overboard due to several factors. Some of these factors are discussed below.

Excessive Speed: Excessive speed is one of the most common reasons for boat falls. When a boat is moving very fast, it is easy for passengers to lose balance and fall off.

Unsteady Passengers: Certain classes of passengers have difficulties staying balanced in a boat. This includes passengers with health conditions and old and very young passengers.

Alcohol: Sailing or riding in a boat while intoxicated is a recipe for disaster. Always keep it at a few drinks if you intend to drink on a boat.

Uneven Seas: Sailing on rough seas comes with the risk of destabilizing the boat. It is important to be extremely careful.

How To Prevent People From Falling Overboard

Practicing preventive measures will reduce the chances of having a man overboard. Let us look at some tips to prevent people from falling overboard on small boats and big boats.

On A Small Boat

Due to the size, it is best to board one person at a time on a small boat. When boarding the boat, always step into the middle.

Keep your pets from moving about, as this can affect the balance of the boat. Keep the weight in the boat centered and low in order to maintain balance. You can add grip tape or non-skid tape in vital areas of the boat.

On A Big Boat

On a big boat, it is essential to keep the decks uncluttered always. Have a horseshoe buoy or other safety devices in case of emergencies.

Do not sit on the bow, swim platform, or gunnels. Only in designated areas. Double-check your railing devices and lifelines.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, we will answer frequently asked questions about boat safety.

What is the first thing to do if someone goes overboard?

The first thing to do when someone goes overboard is to alert everyone. This is done by yelling, “Man overboard.” Apart from informing everyone on your boat, doing this also alerts other boaters to the presence of a person in the water.

When someone falls overboard, what action should the skipper take?

The skipper of the boat should stop the engine and tap the MOB button.


The safety of the passenger on a boat is a team sport. As such, it is important to look out for each other and be proactive in case of an emergency. Make sure to act fast and call for help if needed.

Daniel O’Neill
Fishing Expert
Meet Daniel, an avid writer and fanatic angler with a deep love for fishing. As a fly fishing guide and instructor, Daniel brings a wealth of expertise to his writing. With a degree in Business Information Technology, his analytical mindset enhances his understanding of the sport. Daniel's fishing ventures have yielded impressive results, including memorable catches like mullet, sturgeon, double-figure pike and atlantic salmon. In Ireland, he excels as a spearo, specializing in targeting pollock and bass. As a writer for Cast & Spear, Daniel combines his firsthand knowledge, educational background, and unwavering passion to create engaging content. His articles provide valuable insights, tips, and techniques, empowering readers to elevate their fishing skills and embark on thrilling angling adventures.
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