When you think of enjoying a nice afternoon out on the water, what’s the ideal setting? It’s probably cruising over the lake as the sun sets, enjoying the fresh air and nature at her finest.
We doubt it involves the boat upside down in the water, with you clinging to the hope of rescue. However, capsizing your boat can be a real threat, and you need to know how to deal with the situation should it occur.
Here’s everything you need to know to handle a capsize on the lake or at sea.
- What Should You Do if Your Boat Capsizes?
- Prepare for the Worst-Case Scenario Before You Leave
- The Hazards Involved with Broaching in Open Water
- The Hazards Involved with Broaching in Whitewater
- What Should You Do If Your Boat Capsizes? FAQ
- Wrapping Up – File a Float Plan or Tell People Where You’re Going
What Should You Do if Your Boat Capsizes?
First – Don’t Panic
One element of a capsizing event can cause the biggest loss of life or unnecessary injury – panic. When a capsize occurs, it’s a stressful event. Even seasoned captains may find themselves suddenly overcome by the adrenaline surge involved with the situation’s urgency.
So, it’s understandable that your passengers who have little experience on the water may start to panic. Panic is a killer, and it leads to people making stupid mistakes at the moment that lead to death or injury. Before you go out on the water, it’s important to give your passengers a short safety briefing.
Explain the protocols and procedures if something goes wrong. While they likely won’t help much in a real-time situation, it may be enough to get people to stop panicking and keep their cool.
If people have a hard time controlling their emotions, get them to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Have them inhale and exhale for longer than they inhale. This action activates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping them control the adrenaline surging through their body and mind.
Make Sure You’re As Safe As Possible
After the capsize, attend to your immediate needs first. Secure your life jacket and make sure you’re floating. You can’t help anyone if you are in a precarious position yourself.
There’s a proverb in boating that says don’t try to rescue someone and make it two people that end up drowning. Make sure you’re safe, and then turn your attention to the other passengers as fast as possible.
Look Around for Others and Count Heads
If you’re by yourself in a capsizing situation, then you only have yourself to worry about. However, if you’re on a boat with several passengers, it’s your responsibility to ensure the safety of your passengers. If the boat capsizes, stay calm and review the situation. Start looking around you for your passengers and conduct a headcount as soon as you have your bearings.
Get acquainted with all passengers before you go out for the day. If something goes wrong, you’ll have to call that person by their name to catch their attention. If you notice anyone’s missing, they may be under the boat. If the water visibility is good, start diving underwater to find the missing people.
Once you have everyone accounted for, it’s time to start planning the best strategy to get out of the water.
Keep Close to the Boat or Turn it Over If You Can
After capsizing, the first option is to get your bearings and try to right the boat. Some smaller sailboats, kayaks, canoes, and catamarans can easily turn right-side-up again.
If you can’t manage the turn the boat over, then try to remain as close to it as possible. When the rescue team is searching for you, they’ll discover the vessel, and if you’re not there, they’re likely to think you didn’t survive.
Climb On the Hull
If there’s no way to right the boat, try to make a plan to climb onto the hull. Just because the boat capsized doesn’t mean that it will sink.
Most boats will float upside down in the water, allowing you to climb onto the hull to get out of the water. This strategy is vital in cold water situations. If you float in cold water for more than 20-minutes, it can start the onset of hypothermia and potential loss of life.
Look for Flotation Support
When the boat capsizes, the debris on the deck may spill overboard on the water. Look around you for floating objects to improve your buoyancy.
Once you’re confident you’re afloat, try to make the effort of righting the boat or climbing onto the hull to wait for rescue.
Use Your Whistle and Wait for Help
Life jackets come with whistles attached to the PFD. If you capsize and people are within earshot, blow the whistle once for five seconds for a distress signal.
The key is to remain calm. You never know if someone hears you; they could be on the way to get help already.
However, keep blowing your whistle every few minutes to ensure the best chance of someone hearing you. You could have to wait hours for rescue, depending on the circumstances. So, remain as calm as possible and conserve your energy, especially if you’re in the water.
Prepare for the Worst-Case Scenario Before You Leave
Prepare your safety and emergency gear before you go out on the boat. Make sure you have everything ready to go before you leave the staging area at the launch. The last thing you want to do is hold up the ramp by making last-minute preparations.
Lifejackets are Essential
Every passenger on board your boat needs a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket. The Personal Floatation Device (PFD) may mean the difference between surviving and drowning if the boat capsizes. You could be waiting for hours for rescue, and eventually, even the best swimmers tire.
Keep a Throwable Type IV PFD Onboard
A throwable Type IV PFD connected to a rope is a must-have item for boat owners. These PFDs allow you to reel in people that fall overboard. If the boat capsizes, you can attach it to the boat to prevent you from drifting away.
Wear Anti-Slip Footwear
Anti-slip footwear is more useful than you think. You’ll find there are plenty of occasions where it can save you from a slip that may result in an injury. Choose reef shoes that mold to your feet, offering you a lightweight shoe with as thin a sole as possible.
Perform Safety Drills
You can your passengers need to understand what to do when danger occurs. When you’re in hazardous conditions, you need to be concentrating on the moment, not giving someone a safety briefing. Practicing drills on land will help you entrench the motor skills necessary to respond automatically in an emergency.
The Hazards Involved with Broaching in Open Water
Broaching can occur in heavy wave conditions at sea. Paddling too fast into the wave can push you in front of it and into the back of the wave in front of you. As a result, the kayak turns sideways to the waves, leaving you in a position to capsize the boat when the weave behind you catches up.
The Hazards Involved with Broaching in Whitewater
Whitewater can cause broaching by pinning the boat against a rock or obstruction in fast-moving currents. To make your escape, lean into the obstruction and let the current do the work of dislodging the boat. Strong currents may tear fiberglass canoes and kayaks in half or bend polyethylene kayaks, trapping you in the boat.
What Should You Do If Your Boat Capsizes? FAQ
Q: What is the bulldozing rescue technique?
A: The bulldozing technique for kayaks and canoes involves pushing the boat using the bow of your kayak to move it closer to the boater so they can turn it right-side-up. Bulldozing prevents the boat from drifting away.
Q: What is the boat-over-boat rescue technique?
A: The over-the-boat rescue involves launching the nose of the kayak under the boat, lifting the bow out of the water for easy return to right-side-up.
Q: Is it safe to tow someone else on the back of my kayak?
A: Yes, the person can heave their body onto the rear of the kayak and drag their legs in the water. They grip the edge of the cowling surrounding the cockpit, and that should provide enough stability for the rescue.
Wrapping Up – File a Float Plan or Tell People Where You’re Going
Filing a float plan is one of the best preparations you can make before venturing out onto the water. The US Coast Guard allows you to lodge float plans detailing your voyage. Many marinas also offer this service. If you capsize at sea, someone will notice you’re missing faster if your file a float plan and don’t show up when expected.
If you’re going out onto the lake, there’s nowhere to file a float plan. However, you can always tell a friend or family member where you’re going and when to expect you back. Being capsized at sea is usually a much more life-threatening experience than on the lake.
The lake has defined boundaries, and they’re usually aren’t strong currents or tides—every minute to your rescue counts when stranded at sea. So, filing a float plan just makes good sense.