If your boat capsizes and floats away what should you do?

Whether you’re taking a weekend day out on the water or want to go fishing with friends, we love boating for a lot of reasons. But, what would you do if your boat capsizes and floats away?

If your boat capsizes and floats away what should you do

Capsizing and watching your boat float away is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences you can have while on the water. Staying calm and being prepared is one of the first things you can do. When you’re calm, it helps your passengers to stay calm too.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the things you can do if you find yourself in the water without your boat.

Why do boats capsize?

Boats capsize for many reasons. Small boats, in particular, capsize more frequently than larger vessels. However, all vessels may capsize for three main reasons.

Excessive weight

For one, a capsized boat may have too much weight or don’t have proper weight distribution. In boating, even an extra passenger or a few heavy coolers or containers can create instability.

Also, counting seats in your boat doesn’t always equate to its capacity. What you can do, though, is to check for an attached capacity plate that indicates how many people your boat can safely board. You need to also make sure that your passengers don’t gather in one spot and not lean over the boat’s side.


Leakage is also one of the most prevalent causes of capsizing. Luckily, some leaks are easy to mitigate, like leakages caused by just failing to re-insert the drain plug. Those leaking fittings you can’t see, such as those in live wells, can be more difficult to locate and control.

To avoid capsizing due to leaks, make sure to keep your boat in tip-top shape. It helps when you winterize it properly and regularly monitor for any leaks prior to sailing.

Changes in weather condition

Weather is unpredictable, making it one of the most common reasons why boats capsize. Even seasoned boaters know this. Waves and boat wakes can quickly overpower your small vessel. This is especially true when loaded and lying low in the ocean.

It’s always best to check the weather report. And if the weather changes suddenly from sunny to windy, try to return to the port immediately to protect you and your boat from a possible disaster.

What should you do if your boat capsizes and floats away?

What should you do if your boat capsizes and floats away

Watching your boat capsizing and floating away may induce these waves of agony. Panicking won’t help, either. Here are some things you can do to help mitigate the problem or at least keep yourself from sinking with the boat.

Stay calm.

I understand that keeping your composure as your boat capsizes and floats away is a hard skill to master. However, when you’re calm and you don’t panic, it is easier to think clearly in such a situation.

If you’re wearing a PFD or personal flotation device, check that it’s securely fastened. You can also look for loose floating objects around like coolers and paddles and use them to keep yourself afloat.

Don’t forget to try your best and help other passengers find something to keep them afloat as well. And if you can’t find anything, try to hold on to the boat and remain afloat until help or rescue comes.

Swim only when necessary.

Swimming should be your last resort if the boat is drifting far away from you. And try not to tread water. If you begin treading water, the cold temperature may cause hypothermia.

If you can’t seem to right your boat and it’s very close, you and your passenger can try to get as much of yourself onto the hull as possible. Don’t swim far away from your capsized boat unless it’s drifting right into a potential hazard.

In case your boat sinks…

All boats can sink. Wind and other forces may cause the vessel to tip at unsafe degrees to the port or starboard sides. The waves on the deck that add weight to the boat may drag it deeper into the water. And waves crashing on the boat’s side may cause flooding. All of which may result in your boat sinking.

Before you set off, make sure to take as much food, water, and survival gear as you can. You can also put an emergency radio in a sealed plastic bag. This radio will come in handy if you need to listen for updates on the weather condition.

When a capsize appears to be imminent, you can turn on Marine VHF Radio to transmit a signal. You may find yourself near the shore but not close enough to swim. In this case, you may call 911 from your cell phone and let the dispatcher know that your boat is in danger.

Maintain your cool and speak coherently. Identify your boat and location, as well as any life-threatening injuries you and your passengers might have.

The easiest way to cope with capsizing really is to avoid it if you can. You can do so by keeping your boat in good condition. And don’t overload it or go beyond its rated capacity, and don’t ever forget to monitor the weather!

Before you go boating, familiarize yourself with your bilge system and the limitations of your boat.

How to keep your boat from capsizing

Capsizing is avoidable if you take the right measures. Being prepared is the key. Before you go out on the water, make sure you have all of the necessary protective gear on board. Here are some safety tips to help keep you safe while boating.

Be prepared.

Preparation is key. When you go boating, you don’t ever want to imagine your boat capsizing or sinking. However, this should never stop you from thinking about it and taking measures.

Depending on your state, make sure to have the minimum amount of safety gear on board. This may include PFDs like removable seat cushions, life jackets or life vests, and other multifunctional floating items.

Make sure that you have the right number of life jackets in different sizes for everyone onboard including children. These floatation devices are very helpful when you experience a condition that causes your boat to capsize and float away.

Check and monitor the weather.

Before departing the dock, make it a habit to check the local weather forecast and water conditions. During your trip, tune in to the weather. Make sure to keep your boat’s radio set to the marine channel to monitor for small boat advisories. A reliable weather app will also come in handy.

Checking and monitoring the weather will help you gauge whether or not it’s a good day to traverse the water. Knowing the sudden weather changes will also help you prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Since weather is unpredictable, prepare for all waves and point the bow into them. When you encounter waves, slow down and approach at a 45-degree angle, letting your boat take it easy and pass the wave instead of hitting head-on. Avoid traversing parallel to the wave because you risk capsizing.

Check for any leakage.

As I’ve said earlier, leaks are one of the main reasons why a boat capsizes. So, it makes sense to check for leaks before leaving the dock. This step is necessary to keep any water from entering the boat. Make sure to double-check that there are no visible leaks before the boat leaves the dock.

Avoid making drastic turns.

Take your turns slowly. The safety of your passengers is in your hand at this point, so you must be conscious of the wave conditions and avoid taking turns too quickly or cutting them short. Doing so has the potential to push your boat over.

For passengers, don’t lean over the side.

While you are responsible for making safe and right turns, your passengers play an important role in ensuring that you all make it safe and sound. Don’t let your passengers lean over the side of the boat. The boat might quickly tip over if they lean too far over the side, though this will depend on the size of the craft.

Make sure to anchor securely.

Check that your boat anchor is firmly attached to the front of the vessel. All boats should always have a suitably weighted anchor on board, securely connected to a long anchor line. You should never put the anchor in the stern of your boat because this may cause the craft to become flooded.

Things that may cause you to fall overboard

Falling over the side of a boat into the water can be inevitable. Here are a few situations that may lead you to fall overboard, so that you understand that it happens whether you’re an experienced boater or not. Make sure to wear your life jacket—these safety gears have saved lives!

Loss of balance

Whenever the boat is cruising, it’s extremely important that all passengers remain seated. But if you must move, you should stay as low as possible. Keep your hands and feet in touch with the boat. High speeds in small vessels can quickly result in a capsize.

Slipping on a wet deck or losing their balance while working overside can also happen to some people. And many have died in boating accidents associated with alcohol. So, don’t become another fatality, and don’t risk injuring yourself or others on board just because you wanted a drink.

Taking the corners too aggressively

It is critical to constantly take corners as carefully and slowly as possible. This way, there will be no jerking movements. To prevent tipping the boat too abruptly, take the turns in a wide sweeping manner.

Take another boat’s wake sideways

This is one of the common reasons you fall overboard. Always be wary that other boats on the water may be causing an unexpected wake. So, make sure to approach the wake head-on, and avoid taking it sideways.


What is the first thing you should do if your boat capsizes?

When your boat capsizes, throw anything buoyant to the passenger overboard. This may be a life buoy or a life jacket. These PFDs will help them remain afloat and indicate their location in the water if they go under.

Should you try to swim to shore or should you just float?

If you are and your boat is 100 meters away from the shore, don’t try to swim. Make sure that you are wearing your lifejacket until help or rescue comes. It’s possible that a capsized vessel may rise on its own, and most trailer-sized boats will stay afloat even if swamped or capsized.

What to do if your boat capsizes and you are still with your boat?

If you are still with your boat, you need to conduct a head count right away to ensure that everyone is safe. The general rule is that all crew and passengers should wear PFDs and signal for help.

For smaller vessels like canoes and kayaks, you usually can hold onto your boat if it’s still afloat.  You can also try to climb aboard or get onto the top and try to get your body out of the cold water. Treading the water won’t help. What you can do is use the boat or board for support.

What is the safest way to float if you capsize?

If your boat capsizes while you’re paddling, simply float on your back with your feet and arms extended. Make sure to float downstream with your feet to function as a shield from rocks. And don’t go against the current. Then, backstroke your way to shore using the current.

Final Thoughts

Knowing what to do in the worst-case scenarios where your boat capsizes and floats away can save you and your passengers.

The key is preparedness and going the extra mile to remedy or avoid the dangerous capsize situation. Always remain calm, and keep all the necessary emergency supplies and safety equipment on board. It also helps if you take a safety education course before operating a boat.

And depending on your location, keep in mind that the US Coast Guard and the police officers or water sheriff’s patrol are there for you to call on for help. Life jackets save lives, too!

There are so many things that could go wrong with a boat. So,  the best course of action is always prevention.

Good luck!

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