Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Avoid Capsizing

The weight was too high. Wanna bet?


It's wintertime. In winter, the water is very cold. Once you fall out of your boat, you are NOT going to last very long. The number one cause of boating injuries in the United States is capsizing. Most capsizes are preventable. What it takes is a cool head and some mighty quick thinking. But that's not all. The most important thing you need to understand is how your boat is constructed, how it floats, how it balances, how buoyant it is and how it moves through the water. 

So when you take out a boat, it's critical that you already have a plan for what you are going to do in an emergency.

There are four major factors in the majority of boat capsizings.
They are:
More than half the overloaded boats escaping from
Vietnam after the fall of S. Vietnam are believed to

have capsized in rough seas and sank with all hands.
  1. Overloading
  2. Excessive speed
  3. Large waves and winds
  4. Obstructions struck by the boat at speed
Things you should have in the boat or be aware of: 
  • All loose objects in the boat - anything that might shift around
  • Lifejackets, ring buoys, rescue tubes, and floating boat cushions
  • Something to bail with
Here's what you should look out for:
  • Disturbances on the water - In rivers look for billows in the moving waters. At sea look for wave forms that are higher than surrounding waves where they are breaking over shallow rocks, sand bars or other obstructions.
  • Gusts of wind, sudden squalls or suddenly larger waves
  • Narrow channels, oncoming boats or anything that might cause you to swerve suddenly.
  • Objects floating in the water.
  • Sluggish performance, water coming into the boat or slow recovery after turns.
 Staying Upright:
  1. If you are sailing, wind is your biggest threat. Things are a little different in a sailboat when things get rough. First spill wind, reduce sail to reduce speed. This gives you time to think and act defensively. If the wind is becoming dangerous and you're in a small boat, you need to get to safety, so don’t stop moving. Spilling wind gives you time to assess what's happening around you and to your boat. Be prepared to dump wind fast to keep from being blown over. You'll need to have one hand on the mainsheet and one on the rudder. Turn her into the wind as much as possible or, if you need to head downwind, angle downwind. Avoid heading straight downwind in heavy seas as much as possible to avoid tipping forward or driving the bow underwater and swamping the boat.
  2. Move as much loose weight (including people) down low and toward the center of the
    If you are in a canoe have passengers and gear sit flat on the bottom. In a motorboat or fishing boat, get everyone into lower seats. No standing; no sitting up in the fishing chairs. If the water is flat or calm, and the boat is in danger of capsizing, then likely the weight is too high or too heavy for the shape of the hull or the size of the boat. Be sure to get heavy objects down low and secure them so the can't shift around. The lower your boat's center of gravity, the less likely it is to capsize.
    Note the lack of lifejackets. Capsizing happens
    fast. Once you go over there's not time to look
    for a lifejacket and that can cost you your life.
  3. If things get rough, make sure you get life jackets onto everyone. The law requires a Coast Guard approved life vest (minimum Type II) for everyone in the boat for a reason. If things get dicey or you're going fast, make everyone put on their jackets. Capsizes can happen very quickly, separating you from a life jacket and safety. The same wind that blew your boat over will blow away flotation devices faster than you can swim after them in cold water with hypothermia threatening to all kind of wreck your swimming skills.
  4. If water comes in, bail it out quickly. Water is very heavy stuff. If it's sloshing around in the boat, you've got a lot of weight shifting wildly and messing up your center of gravity. Water loose in the bottom of the boat can flip you in a heartbeat. In rough conditions, you want every free hand bailing out water as quickly as possible. Make sure anyone bailing stays low in the boat to keep anyone who is bailing down low in the boat while bailing. Keep everyone from getting excited. People have a bad habit of standing up in the boat when water comes in causing the boat to capsize. Bail water from a kneeling position or sitting if at all possible.
  5. Close up any holes if you struck something. Locate where water is coming in and stuff something bulky into the hole to slow the leak. It may be more effective to stuff something in from the outside if you can safely reach the hole without tipping the boat over.
  6. Took too little action too late...
  7. Head for safety. There are two ways to do this. If you are close enough to shore, work your way into a bay or a sheltered cove or bay if you can get there safely. If you see a squall or wind storm coming up and you can make it to sheltered water, you can weather a storm by anchoring or running your boat up on shoe. Where the wind is strong, turn your boat into the waves and crab your way sideways angling toward shelter. Angle across the wave fronts. You need considerable skills to maneuver this way. If you haven't the skill don't try it. It's better to ride out the storm.  You can rig a sea anchor by tying a jug of water or something bulky that floats to the stern of the boat so that it pulls the bow around to face into the waves.  
Final notes:

Maneuvering is dangerous. This requires some serious skill.  Always take some time to familiarize yourself with your boat while the conditions are calm or you're in a sheltered place. Always know your boat before going out into potentially rough waters.


Andrew Kim Law Firm: Common Causes of Capsizing Boats

The Bass Report; Preventing Capsizing

The Florida Course – Boater Education: Boating Emergencies - What to Do

© 2017 by Tom King