Your Boat Capsizes but Remains Afloat What Should You Do? (Be in The Know)

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: April 16, 2022
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If your boat capsizes, you need to do everything to keep yourself safe and alive until help arrives. If you were not wearing a PFD, find one and put it on, or hold on to it and have your passengers do the same. Take a headcount, then try to reboard the boat to get your body out of the water.

If All Else Fails
If All Else Fails

You also need to ensure that you stay with the boat if you don’t manage to reboard. It is necessary to keep close to the boat because it is easier to spot a swamped boat, and anyone who sees it can tell that you are in trouble. While still there, use other signals or devices to call for help. You can either use a whistle, a mirror, or a visual distress signal.

This article takes you through crucial information to help you stay safe while boating. We shall look at how to handle different capsizing situations and how to prevent them from happening. Read on!

What to do when you end up in the water unexpectedly

What to do when you end up in the water

More than half of boating fatalities happen under ideal conditions; when the water is calm, visibility is good, and the winds are light. Despite the state, many boats capsize, and passengers fall overboard. What should you do if you find yourself in such a situation? Let’s find out. But before we do, we need to differentiate between capsizing, swamping, and falling overboard.

These three words are sometimes used interchangeably, but they have different meanings.

  • Capsizing- is when a boat turns over entirely or to its side
  • Swamping is when the boat stays upright but is filled with water
  • Falling overboard is when a person falls off the boat and into the water. Most times, falling overboard causes the boat to swamp or capsize.

If you ever fall overboard, capsize or swamp, try your best not to panic so that you can manage to stay afloat and ask for help. If you haven’t worn your PFD, ensure you get it and wear it; if you don’t manage to put it on, hold on to it to stay afloat. Ensure everyone on your boat does the same.

After you get your hand on the PFD and your safety is guaranteed, take a headcount and ensure everyone who was on board is safe. If your boat is still afloat, try to rebound or climb on it to get as much of the body out of the water as possible. If there’s a strong wind and you cannot climb the boat or swim under the boat, or it is unsafe. Doing this will keep you from being swept by the water and ensure you are out of the path of other vessels.

Another helpful tip is to stay close to the overturned boat, and when you do this, it will be easier for the rescue team to find you, and also, you can hold onto it to avoid drowning. If other boaters are within the vicinity, signal for help and someone might come to your rescue.

Avoid treading water because doing this causes your body to lose heat faster, leading to hypothermia.

Ask for help using any method you have at hand, including whistles, mirrors, or distress signals.

What to do if your boat sinks or floats away

What to do if your boat sinks or floats away

Even if your boat sinks, always strive to remain calm and don’t panic. If you’re wearing a PFD, confirm that it is fastened securely and stay calm as you wait for help to arrive.

If anyone doesn’t have a PFD, find any floating item to help them stay afloat; this can be paddles, oars, or coolers. It would also help if passengers stayed together while remaining afloat.

If you can’t find something to support you, stay afloat as you wait for help. In some instances, you might need to tread the water; it is advisable to try and stay afloat in cold water rather than tread to keep hypothermia at bay. It isn’t advisable to try and swim to shore, and this should only be considered as the last resort.

What to do if a passenger falls overboard

If any passenger on your boat falls overboard, you need to slow down and give them a PFD if they don’t have one. Turn your boat around and approach the victim into the current or downwind, whichever is more robust. Stop the engine, pull the victim to the boat over the stern, and keep the boat balanced, especially if it is a small vessel. 

What causes a boat to capsize or swamp?

According to the US coast guard, at least one boat capsizes every thirty minutes on an average day. These statistics are puzzling because they indicate that everyone who boats in US water faces some risk of capsizing. You need to know what causes a boat to capsize to avoid it and be on the safe side. Below are some of the most common reasons why boats capsize:

  1. Improper weight balance

This is the most common reason boats capsize; if your ship has more weight on one side, it is likely to topple to that side. Always ensure passengers’ weight and luggage are distributed evenly on your boat.

  1. Rough waters and stormy weather

A rough sea may cause a boat to capsize and also endangers lives. Avoid boating when the waters are rough and in bad weather to be safe.

  1. Water intrusion

Sometimes, water may come into the boat through a leak that can’t be seen or even from the sides when moving fast or in rough waters. When the ship is filled with water, it destabilizes, causing it to tip over. This type of capsizing is rarely avoidable because it is unforeseen. However, you can ensure you inspect your boat for leakage regularly.

How to prevent swamping, capsizing, or falling overboard

Most times, boating accidents such as capsizing, falling overboard, and swamping can be prevented by taking precautions. It would be best to be well prepared for your trip to reduce these instances. Below are some valuable tips to help you stay safe and afloat on the water.

  1. Always ensure that everyone on board your vessel is wearing PFDs
  2. Attach the engine cut-off switch lanyard to your clothes, PFD, or body; doing this will prevent a boat-strike injury if an operator falls overboard, and you can turn off the engine with ease.
  3. Ensure everyone sits at the designated seating space; never allow anyone to sit on the bow, gunwale, or motor cover when the boat is in motion.
  4. Balance the weight of passengers and gear to ensure you don’t overload your boat
  5. When turning, ensure that the boat is moving at a safe and slow speed
  6. Avoid cruising in bad weather or rough water conditions
  7. Always secure the anchor line to the bow and not the stern.

How to prevent falling overboard on small boats 

Falling overboard is more common on small boats and is the primary cause of fatalities in these vehicles. Boaters of small watercraft need to be extra careful to avoid falling overboard. Here are some of the things you can do to keep you and your crew safe:

  1. Stay centered in your boat and ensure the center of gravity stays low by seating and keeping your shoulders between the gunwales. Never allow anyone to stand in the boat as this messes the center of gravity and may cause capsizing
  2. Avoid moving about the boat and when movement is unavoidable, maintain three points of contact with the ship at all times
  3. Distribute the weight of passengers and luggage evenly within the boat, keeping most of the weight low. For small boats, it is crucial not to overload them.


Boating is a fun and thrilling activity that allows us to enjoy the water as we interact with nature. For the best experience, we need to ensure we stay safe by observing basic safety measures such as wearing PFD. 

Sometimes, unprecedented events are bound to happen on the water, and we need to know what to do in various situations for us to stay alive. If your boat capsizes, you need to ensure you stay afloat and avoid panicking. Signal for help but also ensure you protect yourself from drowning and hypothermia. If your boat is still afloat, try your best to get back on as help arrives. If the boat drowns, wear your floatation device and keep afloat. If you are not far from the shore, you can swim to avoid getting too cold.

We hope you are now well informed about the next boating adventure, and you will be safe as you enjoy your favorite water activity.

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