What to do if someone falls overboard

On Behalf of | Feb 25, 2021 | Maritime Law

Working on the water clearly carries some risks that you would never face in any other profession. A single accident can quickly turn fatal if a worker falls overboard. This is especially true in harsh conditions, such as when a storm comes up quickly and without warning. 

In situations like these, every second matters. What should people still on the craft do if someone else falls overboard? 

Steps that the crew should take

While some of these steps may feel like clear and obvious solutions, remember that this is a high-pressure, high-stress situation, and it likely happened without warning. It’s important to review these steps carefully from time to time so that workers can act on instinct. They should:

  • Reduce the boat’s speed as soon as possible.
  • Throw them a lifejacket or similar device, if they’re close enough. (Ideally, they’re also wearing one, but this is not always the case.)
  • Come around, with at least one person keeping their eye on the person in the water.
  • Approach while moving into the current or coming from downwind.
  • Turn off the boat’s engine.
  • Assist in pulling the victim out of the water without leaving the boat. Having a second person jump in just puts multiple people in danger and complicates the rescue.

This sounds easy in theory, but it’s hard to execute in poor conditions — at night, in a storm, in choppy seas, etc. If you have been injured on a ship or lost a loved one in such an accident, you need to know exactly what options you have. An attorney with experience in maritime law can help you better understand more.