Emergency Situation

5.3 Emergency Preparedness and Response

Even after careful planning and maintenance, problems can occur on the water.

The proficient pleasure craft operator is prepared for any and all emergencies.

In this section, strategies and procedures are discussed that will help you respond properly to emergencies on the water.

Mobile Guests

It is your responsibility as the operator of the pleasure craft to ensure the safety of your guests. If your guests are mobile and causing concern:

  • Stop the boat in a safe location.
  • Remind them noise, sun, motion, wind, and sound will affect their balance, coordination, reflexes, judgment, response time, eyesight and hearing. Remind them these are also operator stressors and you need to concentrate.
  • Advise them the most common injury on board boats results from falls.
  • Especially in a small boat, remind them to not stand up and to not move about without keeping their weight low and in the centre. Remind them to hold onto the gunwales.
  • Insist they wear life jackets.
  • If they will not follow your directions, abort the trip.

Overboard & Recovery

Forty per cent of all boating fatalities are a result of people falling overboard. Pleasure boat operators must know the proper procedure to recover someone who has fallen overboard.

Review and practice this procedure with your regular guests and crew so they become familiar with both the equipment and the procedure that must be used, including how the pleasure craft must be maneuvered.

Assign specific responsibilities to your guests and crew in the case of an overboard situation.

To aid in overboard recovery you should have on board buoyant heaving lines, lifebuoys and / or an adequate reboarding device. The Equipment Regulations will give you the minimum required equipment.

  • When a person falls overboard, whoever sees the accident should shout OVERBOARD.
  • Throw a buoyant object like a life ring or lifejacket, to help mark spot and assist the person in the water.
  • Assign one person to keep sight of the overboard person. Use a flashlight at night.
  • Turn the boat and approach the person in the water with the boat facing upwind to help use the wind to slow the boat for better maneuvering and to ensure you do not run over the victim. The wind will help blow the victim to you.
  • Switch the engine off to avoid the danger of it accidentally being put into gear.
  • In a small boat recover the person over the Emergency Preparedness & Response stern, which is the lowest part of the boat.
  • Boats must have a reboarding device if the freeboard is greater than .5 metres. This can be a ladder or swim platform.


Hypothermia is caused by cold and it can kill. It is a drop in the core body temperature below normal and can be caused by immersion in cold water, exposure to cold air and wind in watersoaked clothing and prolonged exposure to low air or water temperatures.

Some areas of the body lose heat faster than others as shown in the diagram. The red areas are heat loss areas.

Signs & Symptoms

A person will exhibit the following muscle and mental symptoms as hypothermia progresses. The symptoms become more pronounced until death occurs.

  • Shivering and slurred speech. Conscious but withdrawn at the early stage.
  • Slow and weak pulse. Slow respiration. Poor co-ordination. Irrational, confused and sleepy at intermittent stages.
  • Weak, irregular or absent pulse or respiration with loss of consciousness at the final stage.

Actions to Recover

If someone on your pleasure craft suffers from hypothermia, quick response by you will save their life.

  • Remove the person from the source of the cold.
  • Provide a dry shelter.
  • If possible, prevent a further decrease in body temperature and warm the person's body gradually by:
    • replacing wet clothes with dry clothes
    • wrapping the person in a blanket
    • placing dry coverings over the person
    • covering the person's head and neck
    • apply warm, dry objects at 40 to 45ºC. Do not apply heat greater than this.
  • If asked for, give warm liquids.
  • Do not give alcohol, or hot stimulants.
  • Do not rub or massage the surface of the person's body extremities. This could force the coldness in their extremities into the body cavity and induce more problems.
  • Use or exhibit signals to indicate distress and need of assistance if necessary.

Protection - In the Water

In the water, people who are wearing lifejackets or PFDs can help slow hypothermia in one of three ways.

Adopting the HELP or Heat Escape Lessening Position. Cross your arms tightly across your chest and draw your knees up close to your chest.

If you are alone, climb on top of a nearby object to get yourself as far out of the water as possible.

In a group, use a huddle by getting the sides of everyone's chests close together with their arms around the mid to lower back and legs intertwined.


To prevent hypothermia, people can don additional layers of clothing and specially designed protective gear.

To prevent hypothermia, people can don additional layers of clothing and specially designed protective gear.

Any of the following can be used to help prevent hypothermia:

  • Dry suit
  • Wet suit
  • Immersion suit
  • Survival suit
  • Exposure coveralls
  • Multiple layers of dry clothing
  • Water or wind-proof outer layer


Seasickness can be identified by a loss in balance and coordination, impaired judgement and response time; perhaps eyesight and hearing problems and possibly nausea.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is identified by its symptoms of headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, possible nausea and a rosy skin colour. Loss of consciousness and death can occur.

You should have a first aid kit on board and you should, as a competent skipper, have first aid training. You can be a long way from help on the water.


In cases of breakdown, the pleasure craft operator should use his resources to attempt to repair the problem before making an emergency call and possibly initiating a search and rescue effort.

A well-maintained vessel should never experience such problems.

A well-equipped vessel will have spare parts and manuals for all equipment.

  • Alter speed as appropriate to the circumstances, or better still, lower the anchor as appropriate to the circumstances.
  • Investigate the problem.
  • Repair the problem.
  • If it can not be repaired, use emergency signals to attract attention and help.

Hull Leak

A small hole in a boat can admit an enormous amount of water into the hull in a short period of time. If your boat begins taking on water:

  • Make sure all guests have their lifejackets on as you,
  • Locate the source of leak.
  • Stop the leak or reduce the flow.
  • Empty the boat of water using all means possible including hand bailers, pumps and electric bilge pumps.
  • If you can not stop the flow or reduce it enough to safely get underway to a safe location, prepare to use distress signals to attract assistance.

Pleasure boat operators should have a supply of items on board that can be used to plug leaks. These could be everything from softwood plugs for through-hulls fittings, to plywood patches that can be attached to the hull with underwater sealant and screws, to towels and rags. Larger holes can be plugged with cushions and blankets roped into place.

In a pinch, raw potatoes can be mashed into small holes and broken through-hull fittings.

In the event of a leak, check the obvious first: plug out of drain hole, through-hull fitting broken, engine hose loose or off, defective bilge pump or self bailer, worn outdrive boot.

Collision - Running Aground

The Collision Regulations state you must maintain a proper lookout at all times. Paying attention at all times should help you avoid collisions and groundings.

In the event of a collision follow these procedures:

  • Make sure all guests have their lifejackets on as you,
  • Account for all persons on board.
  • Check the bilge for water.
  • Inspect the hull for damage.
  • Prepare to use emergency signals if needed.

Poor Visibility

In periods of poor visibility you must operate your boat appropriately.

  • Proceed at a safe speed only if possible.
  • Keep a sharp look-out and assign another pair of eyes to aid you.
  • Raise your radar reflector.
  • Turn on your navigation lights.
  • Use required sound signals.
  • Prepare to leave the traffic lane and anchor.


There are many flammable materials on board boats and many areas where a fire could begin. Ensure you have the correct combination of fire extinguishers on board.

In the event you can not stop a fire use the extinguishers to open a path of safety.

  • Use fire extinguishers to try to stop the fire.
  • Aim at the base of the flames
  • Ensure everyone dons their lifejackets.

Sinking - Capsizing

Most boats, even when they sink, will remain partially afloat. If the boat is lost it is also possible that pieces of debris will continue to float.

If your boat begins to sink, or if it capsizes:

  • Everyone must don lifejackets and PFDs.
  • As you abandon ship take your emergency kit, emergency signalling devices and anything else that floats.
  • Account for everyone on board
  • Stay with the craft as appropriate. You have a better chance of finding floating debris to help get you out of the water and the boat is easier for rescuers to spot than people in the water.
  • Use your emergency signals as appropriate to attract attention.

Accident Report

Accident reports must be filed after boating accidents.

  • In the event of a collision, you are required to stop and identify yourself, your vessel, your home port, your ports of origin and destination and you are obligated to render assistance to people on board the othervessel, provided it can be done safely.
  • If there has been property damage as a result of your actions, and the damage appears to be over $1,000, or the seaworthiness of the vessel is affected, you are required by law to report the collision even if there are no injuries.
  • In the event of a collision involving death or personal injury where the injuries require more than first aid treatment, you are required by law to report the collision to the local law enforcement agency.

PWC Operation

The operation of PWC calls for special considerations to avoid emergencies.

  • PWC are not lighted for night time operation and are not recommended to be used at night.
  • Ensure careful operation in periods of low visibility and when there are people or other objects or boats in the water.
  • Ensure the ignition lanyard is attached. In case of an overboard situation the PWC would stop, or if it was new, it would circle slowly.