Boating Risk


With the enjoyment of boating comes inherent risk… collision, drowning, grounding, sinking, fire, capsize, breakdowns medical emergencies and fire. Well prepared boaties seldom have problems, but emergencies can still arise and you need to be ready to deal them.

Common boating emergencies

Capsizes cause more boating deaths than any other type of boating accident.

Contributing factors include:

  • Overloading, or poor distribution of load.
  • Broaching when running with a following sea. Made more likely by the boat not having its bow trimmed up
  • Poor driving technique
  • Swamped on a coastal bar
  • Caught by breakers on days of bigger than normal swell

What to do

  • Stay with the vessel if possible.
  • Safety of your crew and passengers is your first priority. Check that everyone on board is accounted for.
  • Check that everyone has doned a life jacket.
  • Most trailer boats are fitted with flotation to keep them afloat if upturned.
  • If possible turn the boat upright and bail it out. Alternatively, try to get everyone onto the hull.
  • Out of the water you will lose less body heat.
  • Retreive lifejackets and your grab bag of safety gear.
  • Consider  and activate means you have available to get help (flares, EPIRB, whistle)
  • NEVER SWIM AWAY from a capsized boat

Well maintained and serviced engines are unlikely to breakdown.

What you can do if your outboard won’t start:

  •     Check fuel
  •     Check that the air vent clear
  •     Check the fuel line connected and un-kinked
  •     Check battery connections
  •     Check carburettor air intake
  •     Check and/or change spark plug
  •     Check fuses
  •     Ensure kill switch is attached

If you cannot restart your motor anchor to hold your position. If you are in a main shipping lane or fairway try to drift out of the area before anchoring. Call NSW Marine Rescue or your local Volunteer Coastguard for assistance.Unless your boat is drifting into danger or there is another serious problem a breakdown is not the a reason for making a PAN PAN or MAYDAY call.


  • If you do run aground, look after your crew and passengers first.
  • Check for injuries and have everyone don lifejackets as a precaution. You may need to call for medical assistance. Keep everyone calm, well hydrated and out of elements.
  •  Assess the damage. Is the boat leaking? Check propeller for damage.
  •  Lay out the anchor to secure the vessel whilst the tide comes in. Low water brings mud and sand that may be sucked through the cooling system causing the engine to heat up.
  •  If the vessel appears serviceable once you have enough water underneath, push your boat off until clear.
  •  If the vessel is hard aground call NSW Marine Rescue or your local Volunteer Coastguard for assistance.

Fire on board can be terrifying. In the advent of fire on board the most important consideration is for human life, the boat is secondary.

What to do:

  • Raise the alarm and make a head count.
  • Get someone to make a PAN PAN radio call.
  • If possible manoeuvre the boat down wind. Meaning, if the fire in the bow turn the boat down wind so the smoke blows off the vessel and does not encompass passengers and helping to prevent inhaling from toxic fumes. If the fire is in the engine room rear, keep the bow into the wind.
  • Try and anchor.
  • Get someone to take charge of safety gear and move passengers as far away as possible from the fire.
  • If the fire is within an enclosed space, close all hatches and vents to reduce air supply to the fire.
  • Close off fuel lines.
  • Try to put the fire out with extinguishers, fire blanket, buckets or whatever is appropriate.Remember
  • Chemical extinguishers damper and smother fires. Even if the fire is out keep a close eye on it and adjoining spaces, in case it restarts.

Person overboard
Can happen when you least expect it.

What to do:

  • Raise the alarm.
  • Throw over life ring or lifejacket.
  • Indicate in a loud and clear voice to crew and passengers to keep a visual on the person in the water.  Maintain visual sighting constantly.
  • Execute a Williamson Turn. (a maneuver used to bring a vessel under power back to a point it previously passed through, often used for the purpose of recovering a person overboard)
  • Assist the person safely aboard.

Training for emergencies
Boating education and training will provide you with the knowledge and practical skills to help prepare you in the advent of an boating emergency. You will learn to know where you should be and where you actually are. You’ll plan your trips using a chart. You’ll be able to identify  navigation marks and lights.  You’ll know how to use and maintain your safety equipment. And, you’ll be a more confident, competent boater for it.


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