Basic Rescue Tips for Water

Activities (Refer to Chapter 1)


Water rescue is similar to any rescue situation. You should be trained, careful, and responsible when attempting to help others.

Always be ready to help others, but do not take needless risks. To help in emergencies from a boat:

^ Approach an accident scene cautiously. Watch for victims in the water. Check the area for possible risks to yourself and other rescuers. Turn the engine off before picking up victims—as long as you don't need it on to maneuver against winds or currents.

^ Communicate with people in the water. They can tell you if they're all right, if other passengers are with them, and help you to choose your first rescue steps.

^ Whenever possible, use equipment such as line, life preservers or floatable objects to save lives.

^ Toss lifesaving devices to those who do not have them.

^ Do not jump into the water to help a victim unless it is your only choice and you face no risk to yourself.

^ Give help first to anyone who seems to be seriously injured or is having trouble staying afloat.

^ If necessary—and if your boat can safely hold additional people— help victims by pulling them aboard over the stern. In heavy seas, it may be safest to rescue the victim over the side of the vessel near the stern.

Things you should know:

To help in emergencies from the shore:

♦ Reach: First try to reach the person. Use your hand, or anything else you can hold onto, such as a stick, rope, towel, oar, or a fishing pole, to reach the person. Make sure that you have a firm grip on a solid object or another person on shore before reaching. Keep a low center of gravity by keeping low to the ground and get ready for the weight of the person you're rescuing before you reach. You don't want to be pulled into the water.

♦ Throw: If you cannot reach the victim, throw something that will float, such as a ring life preserver with a line attached so you can pull the person to safety. If a ring life preserver is not available, throw any object that will help the victim float until help arrives.

♦ Row: If the person is too far away and you know how to swim, you can row out to them on something that will keep both of you afloat. For example, you may use a small boat, raft, large inner tube, or surfboard. Remember to put on a life jacket before rowing to the victim, and carry an extra PFD in case the victim needs one. Help the victim climb aboard or have him hold onto the float while you paddle back to safety.

♦ Go: If you can't reach, throw, or row, go for help or call 9-1-1. Give the location information to lead rescuers to the emergency site.


You should not enter the water to rescue someone unless you have been trained in lifesaving skills.


Case Study: A family was having a picnic in late Spring on a beach next to a river. Their ten-year old daughter was swimming in an eddy just upstream from the beach. She suddenly found herself in the fast downstream current. The father grabbed a loose branch from the beach and extended it toward his daughter. When his daughter grabbed the branch the added weight pulled the father into the swift current. They were both quickly swept downstream and out of view. The mother quickly alerted the park ranger. The park staff was trained in swiftwater rescue and was able to pull the father and daughter to shore. Both sustained some bruises but were otherwise OK.


1. Identify the mistakes that the people made, and also their proper actions.

2. What could these people have done differently to prevent this accident?

3. What steps could you take to rescue the victims and/or make the situation better?

Capsizing or Sinking (Refer to Chapters 1, 2, 4)


Capsizing or sinking can result from severe weather, water conditions, an overloaded boat, poor judgment in operating a vessel, or faulty equipment.

HELP Positions

OR SEE WEBSITE: resourc.htm and click on "Safe Survival"


^ Constantly check the weather and water for conditions that may cause hazards.

^ Do not carry more people or weight on your vessel than the capacity plate says you can.

^ Distribute the weight of passengers and gear evenly.

^ Check the automatic bilge pump in your boat (if it has one) to see that it is working properly.

^ Check the drain plug.


^ If your vessel leaks, bail out the boat continuously and head for a safe shore as soon as possible.

^ Do not stand up or change seats in small boats. If you have to change position, tell the operator, hold onto the gunwales, and have other passengers move to counterbalance the shift in weight.

^ Engine failure places motorboats at greater risk of capsizing. Maintain the engine and battery. Carry spare parts, and learn to do simple repairs.

O Do not attempt to swim ashore unless it's safe to do so. Be aware that distances are hard to judge accurately on the water. The shore may be farther away than you think. Stay with the boat until help arrives. A boat is far more visible than a person in the water.

O Hold onto the nearest floating object.

O Put on a life jacket if possible.

O Count the number of people to make sure that no one is missing.

O Check and treat serious and life-threatening injuries.

O If possible, right the boat and bail out the water.

O If you can't right the boat, climb onto the hull and signal for help. Use signaling devices to tell rescuers you are in danger. You can also wave your arms and yell.

O Avoid hypothermia by preventing heat loss. Keep your head out of the water, climb up on the boat's hull as far out of the water as possible. If you cannot get out of the water, curl into a ball or huddle with other passengers and limit your movement (HELP—Heat Escape Lessening Position).

O Blow a whistle, yell or wave your arms to get attention.

SAILING Introduction

Many of the prevention and rescue techniques discussed here also apply to sailing. But you should know a few techniques specific to sailing.


✓ If the sailboat is going to capsiz^ ✓ Know how to sail and use your let the sail all the way out, push equipment in strong winds and the tiller away from you or steer stormy weather.

into the wind, and get to the high side of the boat.

✓ Be sure to check weather and wind conditions constantly. You may need to adjust your course and sails to adapt to changing conditions.


O If the boat capsizes, search the area to make sure everyone is accounted for. Look for injuries and be sure that no one is having difficulty staying afloat.

O Once righted, immediately free the lines so the sails do not "catch" wind and cause the boat to capsize again.

O Help other passengers climb aboard if necessary.

O Throw a flotation device to anyone overboard.

O If the boat is small enough, release sails, stand on the centerboard and, holding on to the gunwale, use your weight to right the boat (this procedure should be practiced in a calm, supervised setting, such as a boating class).

O Begin bailing out the boat after it has been righted and secured.

O If you cannot right the boat, climb onto the hull to get as far out of the water as possible.

River Signals:

Stop & Pull Over

River Signals:

Stop & Pull Over

Are You OK? Yes, I'm OK
Help or First Aid Needed
Pointing Positive "A Safe Place to Go"


Paddling on whitewater requires skill and experience. The added danger of moving water makes capsizing very dangerous.


^ The crew should check the water flow and weather conditions before starting out.

^ Be sure to have the proper life jackets and clothing for the weather and water conditions.

^ Carry a throw bag and other safety equipment and know how to use them.

^ Do not carry too many passengers on the raft or boat.

^ The crew should be familiar with the basic rules of river safety.

^ Do not paddle on rivers that are too swift or dangerous for your abilities.

^ Know and practice the procedures for prevention of a "wrap." This technique is known as a "highside."

^ Know hand signals.

^ Know and practice the swimmer's position, and swimming to an eddy.


^ If your boat capsizes or you fall overboard, stay on the upstream end of the craft. This prevents your chance of being pinned against obstacles in the water.

^ Hold on to your boat unless it threatens your safety.

^ Float on your back, feet-first downstream, to the nearest eddy or calm area. Keep your toes up out of the water. This position allows you to push away from obstacles and prevents your feet from getting caught in anything under the water.

^ You may need to turn onto your stomach and swim hard to an eddy or the shore to avoid upcoming rapids, or if help is not nearby.

^ Do not attempt to stand in swift water. If your foot gets wedged in the rocks, the force of the water can push you over and hold you under.

^ You should avoid strainers if you can. If you are swept into a strainer, then you should swim hard toward it and vigorously climb your way to the top as you hit it.

Assisted Rescue

^ If someone falls overboard, crew members will "point positive" toward a safe place.

^ The swimmer in the water should listen for instructions from the guide.

^ A paddle or oar can be extended to the person overboard if he or she is close.

^ You must use a throw bag if the current is swift, or the victim is too far away. To use a throw bag:

♦ Clearly yell the person's name to attract his or her attention.

♦ Throw the bag so it hits the swimmer or lands slightly upstream.

♦ The swimmer should grab the rope and bring it over his shoulder. This keeps the person in swimmer's position with his or her face out of the water.

♦ The swimmer should not grab the bag because the remaining rope will continue to be pulled out and he will be carried farther downstream.

♦ Rope should never be wrapped around an arm or wrist. This could cause serious injury.

♦ The rope thrower should be prepared for a jolt when the rope tightens.

♦ Pull the swimmer toward shore or the boat.

♦ When pulled back to the boat, you can lift the swimmer aboard by grabbing the shoulder straps of his or her PFD. Do not pull the victim by his or her arm or wrist.

^ Paddlers should never put themselves in danger to rescue another.

^ Helping swimmers is the first priority. Saving equipment should wait until after all swimmers have been helped.

Seek help from passing boaters if an accident happens. Most commercial rafts have guides who know how to handle emergencies. On remote sections of a river, stay on the riverbank. Chances are, help will come to you faster than you can find it.

If you must leave an accident site to seek help, follow the riverbank to the closest available help. Do not try to go overland unless you're familiar with the area.



Weather and water conditions can change very quickly and with little warning. Be ready for the unexpected.


^ Do not overload the vessel.

^ Check and monitor weather and ocean conditions.

^ Do not go out when conditions are worse than your skills or your equipment can handle.

^ Carry the proper safety equipment and wear the right clothing for the water temperature.

^ Get training in the techniques used to right a sea kayak or other paddle craft. Practice these techniques in a calm and supervised setting, such as a boating class.

^ If you are paddling in open water you should know and practice open water rescues. These can be rescues for one or more boats.


O Try to right the boat if possible.

O Once the boat is righted, climb back in and begin bailing out the water.

O Count the number of people to make sure that no one is missing.

O Check the group for signs of hypothermia and take necessary actions.

O If you're unable to right the boat, climb on top of the boat and signal for help.


Case Study: The operator had overloaded his small row boat and was allowing his passengers to ride in an unsafe position on the gunwales and transom. As a prank, all the passengers moved to the stern of the vessel at once, swamping and sinking the vessel. During the crazy scene that followed, two of the passengers drowned. The operator and many of the passengers were under the influence of alcohol.


1. Identify the mistakes that the people made and the proper actions they could have taken.

2. What could these people have done differently to prevent this accident?

3. What steps could you take to rescue the victims and/or make the situation better?

Passenger Overboard (Refer to Chapters 3 and 4)


People can fall overboard or leave their boat for a variety of reasons, but most often because of heavy seas, not holding onto something solid when moving on deck, or sitting on the gunwale or other dangerous location.


^ The operator should not overload the boat.

^ In a small boat, passengers should be careful and limit movement while the boat is operating. If you must move, be sure to inform the captain of the boat so he or she can get ready for the weight shift.

^ Passengers should not ride on the gunwales or the bow.

^ You may not be used to being on a moving platform, such as a boat on the water. You should take time to get used to balancing and moving safely on a boat that is in motion.


O Even if the person overboard knows how to swim, toss the victim a PFD, floating cushion, or other floatable object with a line attached.

O If the boat is under way, the operator should immediately slow the boat. You should be careful maneuvering when someone is in the water. Avoid hitting a person with the boat or propeller.

O Whoever spots the person overboard should never take his eyes off of that person, unless another crew member is assigned to watch the victim. Point toward the victim to help guide the operator.

O At night, direct the best possible light on the victim.

O Warn approaching boats.

O Approach the victim from downwind or into the current.

O Judge the situation to see if you need to get help from somewhere else.

O When trying to rescue the victim, put the engine into neutral and keep the victim away from the stern of the boat. If there is no wind or current that would require you to maneuver the boat, you can turn the engine off. Bring the victim aboard over the stern while keeping the boat balanced. These steps will prevent serious injury from the boat's propeller.

O If the victim has (or might have) a spinal injury, a person trained in lifesaving procedures may need to enter the water to help the victim. Keep the injured person in the water until a trained rescuer arrives.


Case Study: A passenger on a sailboat was sitting on the gunwale of the boat when a sudden shifting of the boat caused him to fall overboard. The operator of the boat panicked and took a wide turn while trying to come about and lost sight of the victim. The victim came into view momentarily but the boat passed by quickly as it was picking up speed from the wind. The victim was not wearing a PFD and drowned.


1. Identify the mistakes that the people made and the proper actions they could have taken.

2. What could these people have done differently to prevent this accident?

3. What steps could you take to rescue the victims and/or make the situation better?

When a collision is about to happen, take steps to avoid it.

The stand-on vessel must maintain course and speed. The give-way vessel must change its course and/or speed to avoid a collision. If the give-way vessel does not take proper action, the stand-on vessel must take action to avoid a collision. All boaters have the responsibility to avoid collision.

Collisions (Refer to Chapters 2, 3 and 4)


Collisions can be two or more vessels crashing into one another, or a vessel colliding with another object, such as a dock, pier or shore. You can prevent most collisions easily.


^ Keep a sharp lookout on all sides for boats and other obstructions, such as piers, docks, buoys, shorelines and floating debris. Beware of tunnel vision—don't just look straight ahead.

^ Follow the rules of the road.

^ Be aware of things that can act as stressors, such as overexposure to sun, wind, motion, noise, and vibration.

^ Don't drink alcohol and operate a boat because it can impair your judgment and depth perception. The effects of natural stressors are made worse when you use drugs or alcohol.

^ Slow down when approaching a landing, such as a shore or dock. Be extra careful.

^ Maintain a safe distance between your boat and other boats. Be aware that two boats approaching each other head-on can close the distance between them very quickly.


O If a collision happens, people may have fallen overboard or your vessel may be capsized or severely disabled. Take needed actions that are outlined under CAPSIZING and PERSON OVERBOARD.

O If you're not involved in the collision, or if your vessel is not seriously damaged, you should stand by to offer help.

O If you need further help, use a radio or signaling device to call for help.

O Be sure to warn other boats when people, debris or flammable liquids are in the water.


Case Study: An inexperienced personal watercraft operator (on her second trip) was riding alongside a friend on another personal watercraft. The friend was slightly ahead of her when he suddenly slowed down. She let off the throttle, trying to slow down, but instead lost control of her craft. She slid sideways into her friend. He sustained a fractured spinal cord, and was paralyzed from the waist down. He also had serious head and chest injuries. She was thrown into the water. The fall left her unconscious, but her life jacket kept her afloat.


1. Identify the mistakes that the people made and the proper actions they could have taken.

2. What could these people have done differently to prevent this accident?

3. What steps could you take to rescue the victims and/or make the situation better?

Fires (Refer to Chapters 2 and 3)


An unexpected fire can burn a vessel down to the waterline if the boat operator and passengers are not prepared for this type of emergency.


✓ Use safe fueling procedures as described in chapter three.

✓ Check fuel lines and connections for leaks. Make any repairs before launching.

✓ Clear gasoline vapors from the bilge by using the power blower for at least four minutes.


O Stop the boat and have all passengers put on a life jacket. Everyone on board should move away from the fire area.

O Keep the fire downwind.

• If the fire is in the stern, turn the bow of the boat into the wind

• If the fire is near the bow, turn the stern of the boat into the wind.

• If the engine catches fire, turn off the engine and turn the bow of the boat into the wind.

• Use a paddle to keep the boat turned with the fire downwind. O Shut off all fuel supplies and sources of electrical power.

O Get your fire extinguisher and aim it at the base of the fire, sweeping back and forth. (Remember PASS) Repeat if the fire flares up again.

O Do not use water on a flammable liquid or electrical fire.

O Call for help using your VHF radio or cell phone.


Case Study: The vessel operator had just finished fueling and attempted to start the engine. Suddenly there was an explosion that started an engine fire. The fire spread and completely destroyed the vessel.


1. Identify the mistakes that the operator made and the proper actions that could have been taken.

2. What could this operator have done differently to prevent this accident?

3. What steps could you take to rescue the victims and/or make the situation better?

Grounding (Refer to Chapters 2, 3 and 4)


Grounding at high speed can seriously damage a boat and throw passengers overboard or into solid objects on board. You can prevent grounding easily by learning about the area beforehand, and by using caution in shallow areas.


^ Always be alert to your surroundings.

^ Learn to "read" the water surface. Ripples, boils, and coloration can indicate shallow water, reefs or shoals.

^ Know the expected tide levels and times. Consult a tide book. You may have good water depth in an area during a high tide, but the area may be dangerous at low tide.

^ Know the area where you will be boating. Check charts for possible shallow areas or other underwater hazards before boating.

^ Use caution rather than convenience. Don't just guess about the depth of the water.



First, check the damage to your

O Waiting for a higher tide may be

boat's hull. Make sure you are not

the solution if you ran aground

sinking or taking on water.

because of a low tide.


Identify the cause of the ground-

O If there are obstacles that may

ing (sand, rock, sharp objects, a

increase damage to the hull, or if

wreck, etc.).

you have serious hull damage, call


If it won't damage the hull,

the local law enforcement agency

reverse engines and attempt

or U.S. Coast Guard for help.

to back off.



If there is an emergency and you are out to sea or in an isolated area and have a radio, hail the Coast Guard over VHF Channel 16 using the standard "Mayday" call.



Case Study: The operator of a vessel was traveling in the early morning darkness in ocean waters. He thought he was familiar with the area, so he was not using any navigational aids. He lost his bearings and struck rocks just offshore. Then, his engine stalled. He tried to drop anchor, but it was too late and he was washed against the jetty, which destroyed his vessel.


1. Identify the mistakes that the operator made and the proper actions that could have been taken.

2. What could this person have done differently to prevent this accident?

3. What steps could you take to rescue the victims and/or make the situation better?


and click on Grounding

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Boating Secrets Uncovered

Boating Secrets Uncovered

If you're wanting to learn about boating. Then this may be the most important letter you'll ever read! You Are Going To Get An In-Depth Look At One Of The Most Remarkable Boating Guides There Is Available On The Market Today. It doesn't matter if you are just for the first time looking into going boating, this boating guide will get you on the right track to a fun filled experience.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment