Overboard Rescue Basics

lifesaverAs your yacht insurance company, we care about your safety and the safety of those on board; but we are usually only able to help after a mishap or accident. Thus, we want to share some important information to prevent a serious incident on the water.

Do you know the proper rescue procedures for someone who falls overboard? It is surprising how many people, even avid recreational boaters, don’t have this knowledge. They might have a vague idea, but they haven’t done safety training – or they’re a bit rusty.

Our best advice is take a boating safety course and run through the procedures; getting certification often reduces the cost of coverage through your yacht insurance company.

Until you can take a safety course this boating season, here is what you need to know now about an overboard rescue:

Immediately shout, “man overboard” – Make sure everyone knows that someone has fallen over – and most importantly – don‘t lose sight of the person in the water while you get others to respond. Yell until others know and cut the engines or drop sail. If your yacht or boat is speeding away and you have a flotation device handy, throw it toward the victim to not only offer assistance, but to help mark the person’s location.

Keep an eye on the victim  – This is crucial. Someone has to act as spotter and keep a focus on the victim in the water, pointing to the spot. It is extremely easy to lose sight of someone in a lake or ocean waters, especially if the waves are big. Don’t switch this role unless the person taking over has clear sight of the person. If the accident happens at night, yell for someone to set off a flare to illuminate the sky and mark the spot.

Start the rescue effort – Move slowly toward the person overboard. (Most boaters will cautiously circle back to approach the victim from the rear or the side. Never back up or the engine propeller could be deadly.) When close enough, throw a personal flotation device (PFD) or lifeline  - it gives the person who has fallen overboard something to swim toward. In nearly 85% of boat fatalities due to drowning, the victims were not wearing life jackets.

Rescue procedure – Tow the victim back to the boat slowly. Do not jump in to rescue a conscious victim: if the person panics it can be dangerous. The only way to attempt a rescue is if the rescuer wears a life jacket and is firmly connected to the boat by a lifeline. If the victim cannot climb a swim ladder, have two people pull the person up back into the boat.

Assess the victim – It is possible that the victim was knocked overboard. Is there a head injury, cut or other abrasion? If the water is very cold, hypothermia is a consideration and can be identified by a slow pulse, bluish tinge to the lips and extremities, shivering, and impaired speech. Warm the victim immediately by removing wet clothes and wrapping them snugly in anything available – bedding, towels or blankets – while covering the top of the head to prevent heat loss. Reassure the victim, continue to perform first aid, and seek medical help as soon as possible.

It is also vital to prevent boating tragedies by ensuring that everyone knows what to do if they fall or get knocked overboard. Here is what to do to survive being man overboard:

  • Wear a life jacket onboard – kids and adults – if you want to beat the, as it decreases risk.
  • Protect your head and face as you go overboard.
  • Tread water – especially important if you aren’t wearing a life jacket – or float to conserve energy, and keep your head above water. Find out how to do the survival float (also called the dead man’s float).
  • If the water is cold, the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP) will protect the core of your body by retaining as much heat as possible.

The Global Marine Insurance team wishes you a fun and safe boating season.  Please call us if you would like a spring review of your current yacht insurance policy.  Our specialists are available extended hours for your convenience.

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