Reacting to an Emergency
Source: Transport Canada
Overboard Recovery Techniques
In certain weather conditions, and on some boats, it’s a good idea to wear a quick release safety harness and a safety line secured to your boat. This keeps you from falling overboard, unless your boat capsizes. Knowing and practicing the procedures below with your guests will help them stay calm in an emergency.
If someone falls overboard, sound the alarm and then:
- slow down, stop if possible, and throw something that floats to the person (this will also mark the spot if they are under water);
- assign someone to watch the person overboard; and
- carefully put your boat in position to bring the person back on board.
Use a heaving line that floats, or a lifebuoy secured to the boat with a line, and recover the person from the windward side. If needed, you can secure both ends of a heavy rope, chain or cable to the boat and drape it over the side (almost touching the water) as a makeshift step. Remember that if the vertical height that must be climbed to reboard your boat from the water (freeboard) is over 0.5 m (1’8”), you must have a reboarding device, such as a ladder.
Boaters should know of, and be able to use, a few different methods to recover someone who has fallen overboard. They should also be able to decide which method to use based on the conditions of both the water and the person overboard.
Could you get a person out of the water if they could not help you? If you fell overboard, could your guests lift you to safety? When someone’s size, or the freeboard of the boat, makes it difficult to carry out a rescue by hand, it may be a good idea to have lifting slings and rigging on board (if not already required by the size of your boat).
Surviving in Cold Water
Imagine that you are enjoying a warm day on your boat. You get up to grab something. Suddenly, you lose your balance and fall into water that is less than 15°C. Cold water can paralyze your muscles instantly. Sadly, many people do not understand this danger and how important it is to avoid it.
Cold water shock likely causes more deaths than hypothermia. Canada’s cold waters are especially dangerous when you fall into them unexpectedly. For three to five minutes, you will gasp for air. You could also experience muscle spasms or a rise in your heart rate and blood pressure. Worse yet, you could choke on water or suffer a heart attack or a stroke. Even strong swimmers can suffer the effects of cold water shock.
If you are wearing a lifejacket before falling into cold water, it will keep you afloat while you gain control of your breathing and prevent drowning from loss of muscle control. Trying to grab a lifejacket while in the water, let alone putting one on, will be very hard because of the changes your body will be experiencing.
If you survive the shock of cold water, hypothermia is the next danger.
Hypothermia is a drop in your body temperature to below its normal level because of being very cold for a long time. Hypothermia affects a person’s control over their muscles and thinking. Someone who is exposed to cold water and becoming hypothermic might:
- shiver, use slurred speech and become semi-conscious;
- have a weak, irregular or no pulse;
- breathe slowly;
- lose control of body movements;
- behave in ways that don’t make sense;
- act confused and/or sleepy;
- stop breathing; and
- become unconscious.
If you end up in the water, do everything you can to save your energy and body heat. Swim only if you can join others or reach safety. Do not swim to keep warm.
You may survive longer in cold water if you:
- Wear a Canadian-approved lifejacket so that you will not lose valuable energy trying to keep your head above water.
- Climb onto a nearby floating object to get as much of your body out of or above the water as possible.
- Cross your arms tightly against your chest and draw your knees up close to them to help you keep your body heat.
- Huddle with others with chests close together, arms around mid to lower back, and legs intertwined.
If you have warning that your boat may sink, protect yourself from the cold by wearing multiple light layers of dry clothing and a water or windproof outer layer under a lifejacket. Extra protection from hypothermia includes:
- Floater or survival suits: a full nose-to-toes lifejacket
- Anti-exposure worksuits: a lifejacket with a thermal protection rating
- Dry suits: to be used with a lifejacket and a thermal liner
- Wet suits: to be used with a lifejacket – trap and heat water against the body
- Immersion suits: to be used in extreme conditions when abandoning a vessel
Knowing how your safety equipment works, especially in water, is a good idea. Test it in a warm swimming pool or in calm water before you may have to use it in an emergency.
For more information, or to see what really happens during cold water immersion, please visit www.coldwaterbootcamp.com.
Reacting to a Fire
If you have a fire on board, make sure everyone is wearing a lifejacket and use extinguishers to control the fire.
In case of a small fire, activate a fire extinguisher and aim it at the base of the flames. Sweep the discharge nozzle from side to side and for a few seconds after the flames are completely out. Otherwise, the fire may restart and there might not be enough left in the extinguisher to put it out again.
If your boat is moving when a fire starts, position it so the fire is downwind from you and stop the engine if it is safe to do so under the weather conditions.
Even if your boat has an automatic fire extinguishing system, it must also carry the required portable extinguishers listed in the Equipment section. More information on their care and maintenance is available from Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada (ULC) at www.ulc.ca or the manufacturer.