What is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard

What is Most Likely to Cause Someone to Fall Overboard?

The most common cause for someone falling overboard is simply losing their balance. This typically occurs during rough weather, when the boat is heeled and a crew member loses his or her footing and falls overboard.

Boat accidents happen every single day. Unfortunately, these accidents can affect the life and safety of you, your family, and the entire community. According to US Coast Guard’s recreational boat statistics, in 2019 there were 299 boat accidents involving people falling overboard. 63% of these accidents resulted in death.

Falling off a boat can be dangerous at any time. This is why it is recommended for all boat owners to have a life preserver, emergency radio beacon, and personal floatation devices (life jackets) available.

The fisherman lost his balance
The fisherman lost his balance

Falling overboard is often a result of not having tactical awareness (careless movement). Everyone who will be on the boat, whether they are family members or crew members, needs to know that they should always have their eyes on the boat, regardless of what activity they are doing at that moment.

What is Most Likely to Cause Someone to Fall Overboard?

The main reason for falling overboard is if you stand up on a moving boat. People can easily lose their balance because of the boat’s movement. Standing up on a boat is very dangerous. So if you are planning to stand up while the boat is moving, then you should hold on to something.

Standing up on a boat during rough waters can make you fall overboard. When a boat is moving, it is more likely to be swayed back and forth by boat waves or rough water.

A second reason for someone falling overboard is being hit by a wave. When a wave hits the hull of a boat, the boat often heels over, which means the boat leans to one side. If you stand on the deck and lean toward the side where the boat has tipped over, you can get pushed off the boat. It’s important to avoid standing near the edge of the boat.

Thirdly, a person can get thrown off the boat as the boat is coming into other objects such as debris, boats, etc.

Things That Can Contribute to Falling Overboard

Boat stability

It’s not just the waves that can cause you to fall overboard. If your boat is listing hard on one side, it could be difficult or even impossible for you to keep your balance on board.

The balance of the boat can affect your stability. If you’re walking or standing on a listing boat, it’s possible that one side may create an angle that could cause someone to fall overboard.

The list reduces of boat's stability
The list reduces of boat’s stability/ Image source: Northern view

Wind and wave

It’s easy to get caught up in the power of wind and waves when you are on a boat. If there is not enough room for someone or something, then they can easily be pushed overboard by either one.

Whether it’s a sudden gust of wind or an unexpected wave, the power that these natural forces have over you and your boat cannot be underestimated.

Alcohol consumption

There are many reasons to fall overboard, but one that is very common (and completely preventable) is alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption can make navigation difficult because it impairs judgment and reflexes.

So before you start operating heavy machinery or climbing up ladders while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other substances—remember that if something goes wrong then it will likely be too late for regrets.

Feeling tired or sleepy

One of the most common causes for people to fall overboard is feeling sleepy while onboard a boat. If you are tired, it is important that someone else on board be awake and aware in case anything happens to you. This way if one of you starts to fall overboard then there will be a second person who can save them before they go underwater for too long.


If you’re bored, it may be tempting to do something like read a book while standing on the deck. If you don’t have a secure hold on the boat or your balance point is not over the center of gravity of the boat, you could lose your balance and fall overboard.

So, when you’re feeling bored on your boat or looking for a way to pass the time while fishing in deep water, be sure that you have a secure hold on the boat and are standing over the center of gravity. Don’t forget about how easily even experienced fishermen can lose their balance if they aren’t careful.

Standing too close to the railing

People are always looking for new ways to have fun on a boat. But, if you’re not careful, being too close to the guardrails or railing can cause you to lose your balance and fall overboard.

boat railing
Boat railing

Slippery decks or wet surfaces

Did you know that slippery boat decks or wet surfaces can make it hard to keep your balance? Slippery decks are often caused by rainwater, oil, grease, lubricant, or other liquids like chemicals.

Slippery decks
Slippery boat decks

Unfamiliarity with the vessel

Another common cause of someone falling overboard is unfamiliarity with the vessel. An experienced sailor knows their boat inside and out, but a novice might not be as lucky if they are unprepared for what may happen during an unexpected storm or rough seas.

Being distracted

It’s a sad but true fact that many people have been distracted by their electronic devices while on the boat, leading them astray and into danger. While we can’t stop you from using your phone or other devices onboard a boat, please be aware of your surroundings so you don’t end up being one of these statistics.

Things You Should Do to Protect Someone to Fall Overboard

Avoid boat deck during rough seas

Boat decks are not always the best place to be when it’s windy out. If you’ve ever been caught in a storm at sea, then you know how powerful the waves can be. Even if you know how to swim, being thrown overboard can lead to serious injury or death.

If your boat is rocking back and forth during a storm or just because of high winds, don’t stay on deck for too long it’s easy to fall off. Take precautions before getting out there by putting on non-slip shoes with a good grip if possible. And always have someone help you while you’re out on deck.

Rough sea
Rough sea

Wear a life jacket

The most common way people die in the water is by drowning. It’s important to wear a life jacket that fits well and is the right type for your activity. If you don’t have an inflatable one, make sure it has straps or other features that will keep it from slipping off.

Life Jacket
Life Jacket

Don’t consume alcohol

It’s not safe to consume alcohol if you are going to be operating a boat. This is because it can lead to lapses in judgment, which could result in accidents that put your life and the lives of others at risk.

Don’t get distracted

At anchor, it can be easy to lose track of what’s happening because you’re busy with another activity. People have drifted into the water while doing other things at anchor, such as reading or sunbathing. When working on the deck, it is essential to always be aware of where your balance point is over the boat and what’s happening around you. At any moment, if a wave hits you unexpectedly, you need to be prepared for that knockdown.

Use safe route

If you’re working on deck and need to move across the boat, it is important to make your way back as quickly as possible. Take a route that keeps you close to the boat at all times. This helps ensure that you don’t get knocked down.

Keep your distance from railing

As a general rule of thumb, it is best to stand away from the railing or guardrails when on deck. If you are standing too close and need to move closer for some reason, be sure that your feet are firmly planted on the floor before taking any steps forward. Losing your balance this way could result in an unfortunate fall overboard.

Clean deck area

It’s always a good idea to be careful on slippery decks or wet surfaces. Always keep your boat clean and dry to avoid any slip hazard. To avoid falling overboard, make sure you’re wearing shoes with a good grip on the soles. You can also use non-slip adhesive strips to be extra safe.

Take proper rest and ask for help if needed

If you’ve been feeling stressed, upset, or depressed, this can affect how you respond in an emergency situation. A small lapse of judgment could lead to a serious injury or even death if your mental state is compromised due to stress and depression. Knowing when you need help is the first step towards getting back on track- so don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Things You Should Do When Someone Falls Overboard

When someone falls overboard, the moment is usually filled with fear and panic. But don’t worry. There are some things you can do right away to help save your fellow sailor’s life.

Grab a life ring and throw it to the victim

You must throw a life ring towards the person who has fallen into the water. This will allow them to catch onto something that won’t sink or drift away from their grasp. They can then use this opportunity to catch their breath before trying to swim back on board the ship.

Lifebuoy and or lifejacket can save a drowning man
Lifebuoy and or lifejacket can save a drowning man

Summon for help

If someone falls overboard, call for help immediately so that others know about their situation as soon as possible. The Coast Guard is the primary agency to contact in this case and they should be contacted by dialing a number from a cell phone.

In addition, you can also use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio or via an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB). When making these calls, make sure to provide your name and boat location (GPS location) along with any other relevant information such as how many people fell overboard.

VHF radio
Use VHF radio

Keep an eye on the overboard victim

If you see someone going overboard, do not stand there and watch. It can be quite easy for any person to get lost in the water if they are not rescued quickly enough, so it’s important to keep an eye on them until help arrives. You want to make sure that a victim is spotted by the crew, and can be rescued as soon as possible. Use Binoculars if needed.


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