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When Attempting a Rescue, Move Fast and Stay Calm
“Remain calm.” Experts tell us to do that in every emergency, and with good reason. If you are one of the nation’s nearly 13 million recreational boaters, you may at some point experience a passenger falling overboard—a potentially dangerous situation for both you and the person in the water. Preparing ahead of time and making rescue procedures routine can help ensure that if this happens, you’ll know how to get the person back aboard safely. Here is what to keep in mind:
• Remain calm when a person goes over the side, but do not remain quiet. This is one circumstance in which it’s not rude to yell and point. As soon as someone notices a person falling into or ﬂailing in the water, he or she should point to the individual and shout, “Man overboard!” followed by “Port side!” or “Starboard side!” depending on whether the person is on the left (port) or right (starboard) side of the boat. Then keep pointing until the person is rescued.
This is essential in open water where it’s easy to lose track of a person’s position in the water. If you have a marine global positioning system (GPS) on board, chances are that it has a “man overboard” (MOB) button that will help you maneuver back to the original point of loss. But having someone keep watch and point is still vital because a GPS cannot calculate the effects of the current.
Why shout? First, it will alert everyone on board that an individual has fallen into the water and that all of the attention must focus on the rescue. Second, hearing the words, “Man overboard!” assures the person in the water that he or she has been seen and that steps are being taken for his or her recovery.
• As for the rescue itself, here’s where a good catchphrase comes in handy: “Reach, Throw, Row and Go.” This lists the order in which you should try to bring the person in the water to safety. First, swing the stern and propeller away from the person in the water. Then, if the person is conscious, alert, and within arm’s length, REACH for the victim and pull him or her toward the boat. To do this safely, be sure that you’re wearing a life jacket. The boat’s conﬁguration will sometimes dictate your retrieval point, depending on the freeboard and any deck ﬁttings. If you’re trying to reach the victim with your arm, lower your center of gravity and assume a prone position on the deck. Make sure you are holding on to something stable with your other arm. This arrangement can help prevent you from going overboard. It works especially well in choppy water conditions. If the person is farther out, you can extend your reach by using something like a shirt, towel, pole or paddle to pull them to safety. If another passenger is available, have him or her grab hold of your belt, legs or ankles for increased safety.
Too far away? Then THROW the victim something buoyant such as a boat cushion or a life ring, an extra life jacket, or any buoyant object, even an empty cooler. While the person’s life jacket will keep him or her aﬂoat, there’s something about having a buoyant object to hold on to that calms the nerves of all involved. It will also act as a reference point should you lose sight of the person in the water; if a search becomes necessary, emergency responders will have an immediate visual reference on the direction of drift, which can beneﬁt the search operation.
If the person is too far out for a thrown, buoyant object, ROW—or, more accurately, “maneuver the vessel”—over to the person. Always approach from the boat operator’s side so that the person in the water is in view at all times. When you begin to get close, turn off the engine to avoid a propeller strike. Now, throw the individual a buoyant object and help him or her back aboard.