How to Respond Properly to Emergencies on the Water

Boating accidents come with frightening news, and it can be difficult to know what to do or how to respond. Knowledge of steps to take if involved in a boat mishap can help save your life and others. On Sunday, November 24th, 2019 authorities reported of a local boat capsize that occurred on Wednesday, November 20th, 2019 at Amuwo-Odofin area of Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.

Reports from the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Bala Elkana indicated ‘two people feared dead and 11 others rescued’. Consequently, the wooden boat capsized and the passengers got into the water.

No one wants to get into a boating accident but then again mishaps happen. In the face of one, Safe Boater recommends strategies and procedures that will help you respond properly to emergencies on the water.

Overboard & Recovery

Forty percent of all boating fatalities are a result of people falling overboard. Pleasure boat operators must know the proper procedure to recover someone who has fallen overboard.

Review and practice this procedure with your regular guests and crew so they become familiar with both the equipment and the procedure that must be used, including how the pleasure craft must be maneuvered.

Assign specific responsibilities to your guests and crew in the case of an overboard situation.


To aid in overboard recovery you should have onboard buoyant heaving lines, lifebuoys and/or an adequate reboarding device. The Equipment Regulations will give you the minimum required equipment.

  • When a person falls overboard, whoever sees the accident should shout OVERBOARD.
  • Throw a buoyant object like a life ring or lifejacket, to help mark spot and assist the person in the water.
  • Assign one person to keep sight of the overboard person. Use a flashlight at night.
  • Turn the boat and approach the person in the water with the boat facing upwind to help use the wind to slow the boat for better maneuvering and to ensure you do not run over the victim. The wind will help blow the victim to you.
  • Switch the engine off to avoid the danger of it accidentally being put into gear.
  • In a small boat recover the person over the Emergency Preparedness & Response stern, which is the lowest part of the boat.
  • Boats must have a reboarding device if the freeboard is greater than .5 meters. This can be a ladder or swim platform.


There are many flammable materials on board boats and many areas where a fire could begin. Ensure you have the correct combination of fire extinguishers on board.

In the event, you cannot stop a fire use the extinguishers to open a path of safety.

  • Use fire extinguishers to try to stop the fire.
  • Aim at the base of the flames
  • Ensure everyone dons their lifejackets.

Sinking – Capsizing

Most boats, even when they sink, will remain partially afloat. If the boat is lost it is also possible that pieces of debris will continue to float.

If your boat begins to sink, or if it capsizes:

  • Everyone must don lifejackets and PFDs.
  • As you abandon ship to take your emergency kit, emergency signaling devices and anything else that floats.
  • Account for everyone on board
  • Stay with the craft as appropriate. You have a better chance of finding floating debris to help get you out of the water and the boat is easier for rescuers to spot than people in the water.
  • Use your emergency signals as appropriate to attract attention.