What To Do When Boat Capsizes
Nobody wants to imagine the worst happening, but we have to at least entertain the thought so we can properly prepare for come-what-may. You’ve planned a nice time out on your boat, you’re gliding on the waves, and everything seems like it’s going okay.
But the ocean is fickle. One minute it could be going fine, and the next it could be far from it. Waves hit, swells rise, and your boat capsizes—what do you do now?
Let’s discuss that, from the very first objective to the last thing you need to do to get out of it okay.
1. Stay Calm
It’s the last thing anyone wants to hear, but you have to stay calm during a stressful situation if you want it to pan out for the better. Panicking has never made a situation better; only worse.
When you panic, you bring on rapid thoughts that cloud your judgment. You think of every way it could go wrong, or a ton of “solutions” that won’t make anything better. Remaining calm allows you to think rationally, and assess the situation. Ask yourself what the damage is, who is safe, and what the next step is.
Avoid thinking “What if” at all costs. This is perhaps one of the easiest situations to panic in, which is why it’s so imperative that you retain your focus and strong will. You can get out of it if you keep your head.
As part of your preparations, it’s good to have a waterproof backpack on-hand that you can stuff with two waterproof flares, emergency provisions, and a means of shade for when you’re sitting on top of the hull. If you have the option, bring an emergency radio in a waterproof, sealed container, and some dry clothes to switch into so the sun doesn’t beat down on you too hard.
2. Do A Head Count
Speaking of keeping your head, make sure that everybody else’s is there as well. Do a headcount and ensure you have everyone around you. The most likely size of your party if you were out on a boat for recreational enjoyment would be about a dozen.
Call out for names and get replies. If someone doesn’t reply within three to five seconds, there’s a chance that they’re caught in the undertow or stuck beneath the boat. Do your best to help free them from wherever they may be.
Most of the panic that rises up is when you realize someone isn’t there. Your calm and quick actions will make a difference, just remember how panicking won’t help the situation.
If you’re heading out on a boat with your friends, and they’ve brought their friends, get acquainted with everybody’s name before you head out or while you’re casting away from the shore. It’s much more effective to call out somebody’s name when trying to find everyone in the event of capsize.
3. Find A Way On Top
This is the worst scenario to happen to a boat, but every bad situation opens new pathways. The boat is still buoyant to an extent; gather your party on the hull. You’re going to be here for a little while, so get everyone on different areas of the capsized hull so they can evenly distribute the weight across.
You only have so much power during a capsize, so you’ll be sitting here for quite some time while you get to the next step. If anyone was able to grab a bag or backpack with some food and water bottles in it before capsizing, this would be a good time to have it nearby.
4. Stay Near The Boat
Do not leave the boat. When a helicopter or plane comes across the water, they’re not going to see a single person lapping in the waves, getting lost in the gleams off the water. What they will notice is a capsized vessel.
It’s an immediate indicator that someone needs help. They can either call the Coast Guard and give approximate coordinates, or at the very least offer you help. Other boaters will also spot this and immediately jump into rescue mode.
If you try to swim to the shore, you’re going to encounter a lot of problems. While swimming is a low to no-impact sport, you’re still exerting your body in ways that it normally isn’t. You’re going to lose steam rather fast, and not have a waypoint in either direction. It’s a recipe for disaster.
5. Signal For Help
Let’s say that you brought your cell phone, and it’s waterproof or housed in a waterproof case at the very least. Well, that’s better than not signaling anybody, but it’s safe to assume that you don’t know your immediate coordinates.
This is a good way to signal for help, but it’s going to take rescuers a very long time to find you. The coastline is vast, and their forces are only so many. You need specifics. If you can pair this with your other option, you greatly increase your chances of an early rescue.
Have two waterproof flares on board, and make sure they’re in a go-bag that you can strap on when things get rough. You escape the capsize, you and your party get to the hull once it’s flipped, and you need to send off a signal.
Use one flare if you’re near the shore and you can see the horizon. This could be enough to signal aid. If you’re on the phone with the Coast Guard or emergency services, you can time when to use your flare so that you signal a helicopter or rescue boats appropriately.
6. Be Prepared
Don’t let preparations ruin your good time, but don’t ignore them either—plan ahead for the worst possible scenario and you’ll never be caught off-guard. You cannot always control a situation, but you can control how you react to it, which is half the battle. Nobody is expecting you to swim miles to shore: prepare in advance, bring a flare gun, life jackets, time your signals and stay visible at all times.