Boating is a very popular pastime for many individuals looking for a way to relax, spend time with family and friends, soak in the sun and good weather, cool off, and enjoy the water. However, even the most prepared and experienced boater knows to expect the unexpected as we never know what can happen once we are out on the water.

Accidents happen quickly and how we react often has to happen even quicker. So, do you know how to react properly if a passenger falls off your boat and goes overboard? And do you know what to do if you find yourself to be the passenger that has gone overboard?

These tips will ensure you and all of your passengers are well prepared for an incident of an overboard passenger and help keep you safe in the event of a passenger falling off your boat.


The first key point in boating activities is to keep the safety of all passengers in mind. If someone jumps overboard into the water to help rescue the person that has already gone overboard on accident, then you now have two passengers who will need to be pulled back into the boat. It is best for anyone on board to remain on board the boat and focus their attention on rescuing the overboard passenger if possible.

But, there are still situations in which the overboard passenger is injured, and it is necessary for another passenger to go overboard into the water to help rescue the injured overboard passenger. If this is the case, you will want to make sure the rescuing passenger is wearing a life jacket and is attached to a lifeline.


The key here is to make sure you make yourself as visible as possible. You want to do anything you can to draw attention to yourself including:

  • Splash around. Attention is naturally drawn to something moving around in the water.
  • Take advantage of colorful clothing if you are able to. Pulling a colorful hood or shirt over your head if you are wearing one will help make you stand out in the water.
  • Use clothing wisely. You can also use your clothing to trap air and increase your buoyancy in the water; but you will want to remove any heavy items that could pull you down like boots, sneakers, or a coat.
  • Make noise towards the boat. Whistling works well, but make sure it is loud enough to be heard.
  • Remain in place. Energy is important in any rescue and survival situation; don’t waste your energy by trying to chase after the boat, instead use your energy to help draw attention towards yourself.
  • Stay warm. This one can be really difficult especially when you’re in cold water but do as much as you can to try and keep warm including keeping your head above water and covered with a hat or hood if you have one.


As soon as you realize you have a passenger that has gone overboard you will want to announce “man overboard” so any other passengers on the boat will be aware of the situation and can help keep an eye on the passenger in the water. If you have a “man overboard” button on your boat’s GPS device you will also want to press this to alert others.

Here are some additional tips from the Boat U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water:

  • Stop the boat. You should do this as soon as you realize a passenger has gone overboard to help avoid potential contact with the propellers and to keep the boat from drifting further away from the passenger.
  • Keep the victim in sight. There should always be at least one person making sure visual contact is kept with the passenger overboard.
  • Use a floatation device. Toss it out to the overboard passenger to use until the boat can get back close enough for a rescue. If the boat is close enough to the overboard passenger use a floatation device that has a cord attached to the boat.
  • Bring the boat back towards the overboard passenger by approaching from downwind. Coming from this angle will give you more control and help you reach the overboard passenger quicker.
  • Pull the passenger in. Once you are close enough to the overboard passenger, help pull them back onto the boat by using a ladder, lifeline, or swim platform.


If at any time the situation for the overboard passenger appears to become life-threatening, The Boat Owners Association of The United States suggests you use a marine VHF radio’s Channel 16 to announce “mayday” three times, then announce, “man overboard” and include descriptions of your location, the boat, and the overboard passenger three times. The Association says you can simply cancel the call for help if the passenger is returned safely to the boat. Remember it is better to be safe than sorry.


Obviously, it is best if you can prevent a passenger from going overboard in the first place. A few tips to help prevent anyone from going overboard and keeping all passengers on the boat include:

  • Let only one person board the boat at a time.
  • Avoid sitting on the bow, swim platform, or top edge of the boat.
  • Make sure everyone keeps at least three points of contact with the boat at all times – both feet and at least one hand should remain holding on.

Now you are fully aware of what to expect and what to do in the event of a passenger accidentally going overboard on your boat. Be sure to keep this information in mind and to share it with all of your passengers before heading out on the water so they will be prepared as well.

Have a great time out on the boat!