What is Most Likely to Cause Someone to Fall Overboard?

Traveling by sea to knock a few locations off your bucket list might sound like a great idea. However, along with planing different activities, do not forget to plan for unforeseen circumstances. Out of which, falling overboard can be one.

But before knowing how to prevent it, you’ll need to understand what is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard?

Standing up or moving in a smaller boat while it’s on the waters can most likely be the cause for someone falling overboard. It might also result from the boat swaying from a wave or wake, ultimately causing people to lose balance.

In larger boats, such instances are rare, but one should always consider the possibilities.

What are the potential risks of falling overboard?

We all know that falling overboard is the most undesired thing to happen. However, it is associated with certain risks that you should be aware of.

Although the below-discussed threats depend on the situation, yet knowing them all is necessary.

The cold water

When your body accidentally falls in cold water, you might start wheezing to let the air out of your body as a natural reaction. Consequently, you can take in water, causing you to choke.

You might also face difficulties swimming and staying afloat, thus failing to keep your head up, which may cause you to drown. Similarly, the shock of cold water can be fatal as well if you’re not rescued in time.


The possibility of survival of a person who has fallen overboard heavily depends on the temperature of the water. For instance, if you have fallen in the water that is normal in temperature, there are more chances that you will survive. However, falling in ice-cold water declines the brain and muscle functioning, causing death.

You can face the following symptoms in hypothermia:

  • Rigid joints
  • Shivering
  • Slow pulse
  • Uncontrolled bladder
  • Bloated face


Let’s assume that you were lucky enough to land in warm water. The chances are low that you’ll be lucky enough to survive the sharks as well.

Sharks are only present in slightly warm or normal water and not in ice-cold water. However, even if you see a shark or some other water animal, do not panic. Aquatic animals are usually not the first ones to start the ‘killing game.’ As long as you are not harassing or bothering them, they will not want to eat you up.

Which means you are safe? I do not think so. This is too early to decide.

If you get an injury while falling overboard, the sharks will quickly find the traces of your blood, and you know what is next.

The plunge

Some bigger boats come with built-in decks, a bit higher from the surface. The height of your fall can be increased from dozens of meters to even more. With that, the position and angle of your fall also vary. For example, if you fall in the water in the wrong position, you might break your bones. Similar to this, falling in water from a considerable distance can be the same as falling on a rock.

How to Prevent Someone from Falling Overboard?

Now that you know all the possible risks attached to it, how can you prevent yourself from falling overboard? Here is how:

Trigger warning: Do not copy any scenes from Titanic

Neither you are Rose nor Jack from Titanic. Therefore, do not try to recreate the most famous scene from the movie. After all, a few good shots are not worth your life.  

Wear safe shoes

By safe shoes, I mean non-slip ones. I get your point that you have to wear heels on your boat date, but try avoiding them. Use any shoes that are equally good for wet and dry surfaces.

If the weather is bad, stay inside

It is better to stay inside and reschedule your fishing/boating ventures if the weather is not favorable. There is no science behind this one. Simply, the strong winds can blow you away.

Drunk? Limit yourself to the cabin

It is not a good idea to roam around in the boat if you are overly drunk as it increases the risk of losing balance and ultimately falling overboard ten folds. Therefore, take some rest in your cabin until you are sober.

How to rescue an overboard passenger?

If you are present there and have seen the person fall with your eyes, take quick actions. Because, if delayed, even the right steps won’t work.

First off, access if the person has fallen into the warm water or cold water. Then, take these actions:

Call for help

Call other passengers of the boat to help to immediately alert them. If needed, the other passengers might help you in calling u.s. Coast guard.

Keep your eyes on that person

After one of you falls:

  • Do not lose sight of that person.
  • Keep tracking the person, and if you cannot, tell any other passenger to do it.
  • If they have landed in the cold water, make sure that they are conscious all the time.

Throw a life jacket

In order to help the person stay afloat, throw them a life jacket or a Type IV PFD. You can also alternatively use a reaching pole. Just make sure that they have something to grab before the waves throw them out of sight.

Stop the boat

For the small boats, you will have to reverse or stop the boat to save the victim. For the large boats that cannot be stopped easily, a small boat is present to rescue the passengers in such circumstances. So, without delaying a moment, get into the waters using that boat. This will prevent propeller injuries, increasing the chances of survival.

Carefully pull the person onboard

If you have happened to save the person while pulling them on the boat, do not put a lot of pressure on one side. It will cause the capsizing of the boat, and now someone will have to rescue you.

What to do when you fall overboard?

Assume for a second that you fell off the boat. Now what?

Stay calm and breathe

As long as the victim is not panicking in the water, everything is under control. Keep in mind that if anyone else is offering you help, listen to their instructions carefully.

Get all your senses together and actively control your breathing mechanism.

Remain positive

Now, if you start thinking about dying and all once you fall overboard, it will cause you to die eventually. However, if you stay resilient in the face of circumstances, think about survival instead of death, you will be able to stay longer in the water.

Do not swim; float instead

If you are away from the shore, I will not suggest wasting your energy in swimming. Because retaining your energies is highly crucial for staying conscious until help arrives. Also, when you are floating, it gets easier to catch breathe and stabilize your body.

Important: Before you are planning a trip through the water, make sure that you have gotten some basic training on how to cope with such situations and how to stay afloat calmly. Without that, it might not be safe to go by sea.

You can simply opt for the “starfish float” technique. Here is how you can do it:

  • Simply lay on the water surface with your back facing it.
  • Spread your arms and legs apart.
  • Stay calm and maintain your momentum

If you follow these guidelines closely, a higher chance is that you will get rescued, safe, and sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the first thing you should do when someone falls overboard?

First of all, you should make other people on board aware of the situation by saying out loud, “Man Overboard.” Then, without wasting a moment, you should throw a PFD towards the person overboard. A Type IV PFD can make the best option in such cases.

How to prevent an overboard fall?

Although I have discussed this in detail in the sections above, yet the two straight rules to prevent falls are:

  • Never unnecessarily stand on the boat or move while you are on the waters.
  • Do not overload the boat and distribute the weight on it equally.


Especially if you’re a newbie in the world of boating and fishing, knowing what is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard and preventing the undesired incident from happening is essential for you to understand. This is why I have compiled all the information here under one roof.

However, even after taking the precautions, if the inevitable occurs, raise the alarm in your boat, stay calm, keep your eyes on the person and try your best possible to save them.  Remember, panicking would not help anyone.

 Finally, I hope you never have to use the information mentioned in this article.

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