First Action to Take After a Boating Accident

Boating represents a relaxing recreational activity that is usually associated with other leisure activities such as fishing, water skiing, snorkeling or scuba diving. Unfortunately, while accidents are often easily preventable, they also occur relatively easily. Being properly prepared, remaining calm and following a simple basic checklist in the event of a boating accident can save lives and minimize accident-related costs.

Don't panic

The most important thing in the event of a boating accident is to remain calm. Illogical decisions or ones that you haven't thought through carefully can cost lives. The responsibility for directing response efforts usually falls to the boat operator or captain. In the event that the captain or boat operator is incapacitated or killed, one individual has to step up and assume the responsibility of directing and coordinating response efforts.

Check the passengers

The first priority is to check to see if there are any injuries that require immediate first aid. Obviously, the highest priority lies with anyone who has sustained an injury causing heart or breathing problems or who has an obvious injury that is bleeding profusely. While relatively minor wounds may ultimately require attention, others matters relating to the vessel are of more immediate concern.

Check your status

Look for and extinguish any onboard fires that may have ignited. A burning boat is literally a floating bomb looking for a time to explode. If the vessel burns to the point of sinking, rescuers lose the largest landmark they could have used when looking for those on board.

Check the integrity of the hull. If a perforation has occurred, use onboard emergency patching materials to either stop or slow the flow of water. If you are unable to do so, initiate water removal via bilge pumps or manual extraction using a bucket, tackle box or emergency flare bag.

Get help

Contact emergency response authorities via the marine radio or by calling 911 via cell phone if you are in a service area and have cell phone service. Over the radio, use the phrase "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday." Give the name of the vessel (where applicable), the location of the vessel (if known), describe the boat, how many people are on board and the nature of the accident. Wait approximately one minute for a response, and then repeat the entire message.

Abandon ship if necessary

If the vessel is taking on water faster than you can remove it, you will have to make the decision to abandon the vessel. Ensure that everyone is wearing a properly-fitted and secured personal flotation device (PFD). Launch any life boats or life rafts. Load passengers directly into the lifeboat or raft if possible. Make sure to grab any handheld marine radios, emergency first aid kit, signaling devices (flares, lights, mirrors and emergency position indicator radio beacon), and any emergency potable water you may have stored. If there is no lifeboat or life raft, or if the boat is a smaller recreational type, it is important that everybody remains close together when they get into the water. This will make it easier for any potential rescuer to see you in the water. Huddle together to conserve energy. If the boat is swamped or capsized, remain with the boat and use it as an adjunct floatation device.

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