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What To Do When Your Boat Capsizes

May 07, 2021

Safety Tips & Facts About Capsizing Vessels 

Many experienced boaters operate under the misimpression that they will never experience capsizing of their vessel. After all, if you operate a vessel properly with due regard to the power of the sea and the unpredictable nature of weather on the water, capsizing is unlikely.

Modern boats come with navigational equipment, including real-time weather forecast updates and otherwise, which arguably reduce the likelihood of capsizing. The vessel operator’s experience also plays a key role in his or her diligence and adherence to a safe vessel operation. Still, as the saying goes, accidents happen, and vessels large and small capsize.

Louisiana Commercial Vessel Capsized – Six Bodies Recovered

Just last month, a large commercial vessel capsized off the coast of Louisiana, prompting a major search effort by the United States Coast Guard. After a week of searching six of the crew members’ bodies were recovered in a search that covered a vast area of more than 9,200 square miles. Eight were never found.

Although this involved a commercial vessel, it is an important reminder for recreational boaters that any vessel can capsize. As we approach the summer boating season, boaters should be aware of basic measures needed to prepare for emergencies on the water.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, basic safety equipment on your boat should include:

  • Life Vests
  • Flares
  • Air Horn
  • VHF Radio
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • First Aid Kit

In the event you find yourself in an emergency, these items could help save your life. In this circumstance, it is most important that you and others remain calm and do not panic. Make sure everyone is accounted for and stays with the vessel. Attempting to swim to shore, especially in rough seas, could prove to be a fatal mistake. Simply staying with your boat and wearing a life vest can save your life.

Weather Dangers for Vessels at Sea

The cause of the recent incident in Louisiana is reported to be inclement weather. Wind gusts were recorded at up to 90 miles per hour and seas measured seven to nine feet. South Florida is home to some of the most diverse waterways, beaches, and sandbars in the world and provides many options for boaters.

However, South Florida is also notorious for severe weather and the Atlantic Ocean can be especially unforgiving throughout hurricane season, during the summer months. And, as any South Floridian knows, our weather can change on a moment’s notice.

What Causes Boats to Capsize?

Although weather is a common reason for vessel emergencies, accidents happen for a multitude of reasons. Summer 2021 is forecasted to bring an increase in recreational boating. 

Some attribute this to increased sales late last year, while others may feel that last summer was lost due to boat ramp closures and social distancing restrictions. The increase in boat sales will likely mean an increase in new, inexperienced boaters on the water. Vessels can capsize for many reasons including: operator error, inexperience and negligence of other boaters. 

One common cause of capsizing is wake put out by other boats. Generally speaking, a vessel is responsible for its wake in any damage it may cause including violently rocking or capsizing another vessel. 

What Should I Do if My Boat Capsizes?

If you suffer capsizing of your vessel following these suggestions may save your life:

  • Put on a life preserver
  • Ensure children and others have on their life preservers
  • Determine if anyone is injured and provide first aid if possible
  • Radio the Coast Guard on Channel 16 and put out a mayday call for all vessels. If you do not have a VHF you can call the Coast Guard. For South Florida area sector of the United States Coast Guard the emergency telephone number is 305-672-8204
  • Stay with the capsized boat
  • Stay together with other passengers
  • If you have a handheld VHF secure it
  • Flares, a mirror and horn will all help attract attention if you can gather them
  • Try to gather drinking water if available
  • If possible take pictures and document the cause of capsizing.
  • After everyone is safely ashore. Be sure to identify potential witnesses and obtain their contact information.

The attorneys at Mase Mebane Seitz are well-versed in maritime law and have represented both Plaintiffs and Defendants in these types of cases throughout the country. Should you or a loved one have been injured or lost as a result of a boating accident, do not hesitate to contact us at (844) 627-3529.

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