Boating Basics Online is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

What Should You Do If Your Boat Capsizes? Find Out Now!

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

what should you do if your boat capsizes

Setting out on a boat is a summer staple activity that can be enjoyed year-round. However, there is an important question that you should know how to answer before setting sail: What should you do if your boat capsizes?

In my experience, it can be hard to enjoy yourself when worrying about your boat tipping over, and embarrassing should people take notice. Knowing you’re prepared will give you security, and let you enjoy the activity to the fullest.

7 Important Steps You Need to Help You Survive If Your Boat Capsizes


1. Stay Calm

Keep your composure. You won’t be able to calm yourself entirely, but that’s not what’s necessary. All you need to do is not panic. What is important is that you’re able to think clearly, and calming down will help you do that. Take a few deep breaths and breathe slowly until you get a steady pace.

Even if you don’t think it’s your responsibility, doing your best to stay calm can also impact your group. Panic can spread, so keeping yourself in check is already helping everyone else.

2. Secure Yourself

First, take care of yourself. Check to see if you’re wearing a lifejacket and make sure that it is secure. If you are not wearing a life jacket, look around to see if there is a lifebuoy or anything else that can help you stay afloat.

3. Perform a Headcount

Make sure to check on everyone’s condition; it’s important to know if they are injured, or if they are wearing lifejackets. It’s important to help each other out since your chances of survival will be as a group.

You will probably have to call out to everyone, which is why it is important to know everyone on board. If you’re not acquainted with everyone aboard the vessel, it’s a good idea to at least get their names before setting out.

If anyone needs assistance, try to help them and get everyone to wear a lifejacket or get onto a flotation device. Anyone who is missing may have gotten caught underneath the boat, so try to help them get free.

Also, try to keep track of how others in the group are feeling and how they are handling the situation. Panic can spread, so try to keep each other calm.

4. Stay Near the Boat

Once you have gathered your group, position yourselves near the boat. It will be difficult to spot people in the water, but a capsized boat will allow others to recognize an emergency.

When that rescue comes along, the boat will serve as a marker for the situation, so staying near the boat can mean getting help faster.

5. Try to Get on the Boat

If the boat rights itself, get back on it and try to stay warm. If it is not right, see if you and your companions can correct it. It would be best to get out of the water.

Even if the boat is tipped over, it can still be beneficial to get on it or at least hang onto it. The boat will still keep afloat unless there’s damage to the hull. Just make sure to distribute the group’s weight to keep the boat steady.

Remember that staying in cold water is dangerous, which is why getting out of the water is best.

6. Keep Afloat

If you are not able to get back on the boat, look around to see if there is anything that you can hold on to that can help you stay afloat.

You need to float, not swim. What’s important is to conserve your energy and to stay still. Keep movement to a minimum.

7. Wait for Help

If you have signal flares on hand, now is the time to use them. If you don’t have flares, anything that can be used to call attention to you will do.

Regardless of whether or not you can get back on the boat, try to stay where you are. Help will come, and you need to stay put to be helped. Try not to take any drastic action.

Do not attempt to swim to shore, unless the shore is visible. But even then, it would not be a good idea to be reckless about trying to swim to safety. You will likely be exhausted after going through this whole ordeal.

Survival Tips


  • Wear a lifejacket

Always wear a lifejacket when setting out on a waterborne vehicle. It doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are or how nice the weather is, having a lifejacket on can mean the difference in survival.

In many countries, lifejackets are required by law, but some people may still consider them bothersome. While it can be a hassle, consider the fact that the majority of deaths at sea involve people who were not wearing life jackets.

  • Keep a lifebuoy ring on board

Keep this on hand in case someone falls overboard; it also helps in case the boat capsizes. Even if you have life jackets, having a lifebuoy is essential.

  • Wear appropriate footwear

Getting thrown overboard is a constant danger when out on the water and anti-slip heels can help prevent that.

  • Perform drills

It’s important to know what to do during an emergency, but sometimes it can be hard to recall exactly what is necessary when in the thick of the situation. This is where drills come in.

It can be easier for you to remember what to do if you have gone through the motions. This is much better than just committing things to memory.

  • Prepare quality items and equipment

That goes for lifejackets, buoys, first aid kits, satellite phones or anything else of cabin products. You want items and equipment that work at the right time.

Having good and dependable equipment can give you a better sense of security, and help you keep yourself calm during an emergency.


A lot of preparation comes into getting ready for setting out on your boat, including “what should you do if your boat capsizes”. While it may be a handful, it’s always a good idea to invest in your safety, and knowing what to do during an emergency is just as important as stocking up on food and emergency supplies.

With this guide, hopefully, you will be better equipped to handle such an emergency as a capsizing boat. Even when having fun, you should always remember to keep safe first.

5/5 - (2 votes)