What To Do If You Capsize, Swamp, or Fall Overboard

If you should capsize or swamp your pleasure craft, or if you have fallen overboard and can’t get back in, stay with the pleasure craft if possible. Your swamped pleasure craft is easier to see and will signal that you are in trouble. Also signal for help using other devices available (visual signals, whistle, or mirror).

  • If you made the mistake of not wearing a lifejacket or PFD, find one and put it on. If you can’t put it on, hold onto it. Have your passengers do the same.
  • Take a head count. Use the “Reach, Throw, Row, or Go” rescue technique, if needed.
  • If your pleasure craft remains afloat, try to reboard or climb onto it in order to get as much of your body out of the cold water as possible. Treading water will cause you to lose body heat faster, so try to use the pleasure craft for support.

What To Do If You Capsize, Swamp, or Fall Overboard

Reach, Throw, Row, or Go Rescue Technique

  • Reach: Extend a fishing rod, branch, oar, towel, or other object to REACH out to the victim and pull him or her to safety.
  • Throw: If the victim is too far away to reach, THROW the victim a PFD, a lifejacket, a buoyant heaving line, a lifebuoy, or anything else that will float.
  • Row: If you are in a rowboat, ROW to the victim and then use an oar or paddle to pull the victim to the stern. Let the victim hold onto the stern as you paddle to shore. If the victim is too weak, hold onto him or her until help arrives. If using a powerboat, stop the engine and glide to the victim from the downwind side.
  • Go: Persons without lifesaving training should not swim to a victim. Instead, GO for help. If you must swim, take along anything that floats to keep between you and the victim.

What To Do If You Capsize, Swamp, or Fall Overboard