What should I do if my boat capsizes but remains afloat?
In the unfortunate event that your boat capsizes, but does not sink, it is important to quickly assess the situation and take appropriate action. If lots of water has entered your boat and you believe that it will capsize again soon, abandon ship. This does not mean leaving the boat entirely; rather you should jump into the water with any equipment that could be salvaged and use your life jacket as a flotation device.
By staying close to where the boat is sinking, you may be able to save supplies such as food or medicine or important documents from being lost at sea or destroyed by an oncoming storm.
If your boat remains afloat, you need to determine your location. If you don’t know where you are, it may be difficult to determine how far from shore you are – that is why knowing the location of the nearest land is so important. Once you know where to go, continue drifting and take frequent bearings on objects such as the shoreline or rocks to try to get a rough idea of how far away they are. When determining how close you are from shore, consider the wind direction and distance that it takes for waves to reach shore (the “wave length”); this will give a rough estimate of how much ground can be covered by one wave.
It is helpful to determine whether there are other boats around you, especially those that have been damaged and are in distress. As the life rafts and other flotation devices become more widespread, the chances of encountering others who may be in need of assistance increases.
As it becomes dark (which should be sooner rather than later) it is especially important that you find a safe place to spend the night. Do not make camp where you can be easily spotted by others; stay close to land and in a heavily wooded area where debris does not wash up and may look like natural litter. The next day, try to determine where you are by getting oriented with your surroundings by walking as much as possible. There will be landmarks or even a house nearby, and it is important to get off the water at the earliest convenience. If you are in an area where there has been a hurricane, leave only if there is an area of safe land ahead.
When you reach land, it is important to determine the safest way back to your boat. After consulting with others who may have experience with such things, use the following procedure:
Stay out of sight. Avoid attracting attention by wearing clothes that blend into the surroundings as much as possible – stick to those clothes that are torn, stained or ripped in any way. Try to be as non-threatening as possible. Keep a low profile, stay out of sight and try not to engage anyone in conversation unless it is clearly safe to do so. (It may be possible to take whatever supplies you can salvage from your boat before leaving.)
If possible, secure the boat by tying it up or staking it down to try to prevent it from moving in heavy seas. If you leave all the life jackets onboard, they will float with your boat and make it easier for you to find them in the future.
If possible, follow the shoreline to know where you are going. Again, try to remain inconspicuous and avoid being spotted by those who may be in a position to do you harm. If there are any roads nearby, avoid them altogether; people commonly look for other signs of life after a disaster. Stay out of sight as much as possible.
By following these guidelines, your chances of survival increase drastically!
*Source: International Life Saving Federation International Boating Safety Course Manual
The information provided here is only meant to supplement traditional nautical charts and other navigational tools; it is not intended to replace traditional knowledge and skills regarding safety and navigation.