Water Rescue Rules for Boaters  




Drowning is suffocation that results from being submerged in water or another fluid. 
Near-drowning is the term for surviving such suffocation.


The number of near-drownings in the United States is hard to estimate because not all incidents are reported, but estimates range from 15,000-70,000.  Nearly half of all drownings and near-drownings involve children less than four years old, and 60-90% of drownings in this age group are in home swimming pools.  Teenage boys also face a heightened risk of drowning and near-drowning, because of their tendency to behave recklessly and use drugs and alcohol (drugs and alcohol are implicated in 40-50% of teenage drownings).  At all ages, males are more likely than females to drown, possibly because they are not supervised as closely.

Not all drownings and near-drownings occur because a non-swimmer accidentally ventures into deep water.  Many are a result of some other event such as a heart attack that causes unconsciousness or a head or spinal injury that prevents a diver from resurfacing.  Drownings can occur in shallow, as well as deep, water.  Young children have drowned or almost drowned in bathtubs, toilets, large buckets, and washing machines.  Bathtubs are especially dangerous for infants six months to one year old, who can sit up straight in a bathtub but may not be able to pull themselves out of the water if they slip under the surface.

Human life depends on a constant supply of oxygen-laden air reaching the blood by way of the lungs.  When drowning begins, the larynx (an air passage) closes, preventing both water and air from entering the lungs.  If the larynx stays closed, the concentration of oxygen in the blood drops.  This is called "dry drowning."  In "wet drowning," the larynx relaxes and water enters the lungs, also resulting in a drop in oxygen concentration.  All of this happens very quickly: within three minutes of submersion most people are unconscious, and within five minutes the brain begins to suffer from lack of oxygen.  Other problems that often occur in near-drowning cases are abnormal heart rhythms (cardiac dysrhythmias), cardiac arrest, an increase in blood acidity (acidosis), and a severe drop in body temperature (hypothermia).

The signs and symptoms of near-drowning can differ widely from person to person.  Some victims are alert but agitated, while others are comatose.  Breathing may stop, or the victim may gasp for breath.  Bluish skin (cyanosis), coughing, and frothy pink sputum (material expelled from the respiratory tract by coughing) are often observed.  Rapid breathing (tachypnea), a rapid heart rate (tachycardia), and a low-grade fever are common during the first few hours after rescue.  Conscious victims may appear confused, lethargic, or irritable.

Treatment begins with removing the victim from the water and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).  One purpose of CPR, which should be attempted only by people trained in its use is to bring oxygen to the lungs, heart, brain, and other organs by breathing into the victim's mouth.  When the victim's heart has stopped, a person administering CPR also attempts to get the heart pumping again by pressing down on the victim's chest.  After CPR has been performed and emergency medical help has arrived on the scene, the victim is given oxygen and intravenous fluids and is checked for injuries.

In the emergency department, victims continue receiving oxygen until blood tests show a return to normal.  Patients who have experienced hypothermia are re-warmed.  Comatose patients usually do not benefit from treatment.  Patients who recover can be discharged from the emergency department after four to six hours if their blood oxygen level is normal and they have no other problems.  But because lung problems can develop 12 or more hours after submersion, patients are dismissed only if the medical staff is convinced they will seek medical help if necessary.  Patients who do not recover fully in the emergency department are admitted to the hospital for at least 24 hours for further observation and treatment.

Brain damage is the major long-term problem from near-drowning.  However, most patients who are not comatose when they arrive at the hospital survive with brain function intact.  Death or permanent brain damage are very likely when patients arrive comatose.  Early rescue of near-drowning victims (within 5 minutes of submersion) and prompt CPR (within less than 10 minutes of submersion) seem to be the best guarantees of a complete recovery.

Prevention of drowning and near-drowning depends on educating people about water safety.  Parents should never leave young children in or near water without supervision for even a short time.  Everyone should follow the rules for safe swimming and boating, and adults and teenagers should learn CPR.  Anyone who has a medical condition that can cause a seizure or otherwise threaten safety in the water should swim only with a partner.  People also need to be aware that alcohol and drug use substantially increase the chances of an accident.

Read more: http://www.faqs.org/health/topics/99/Near-drowning.html#ixzz3LQ5h6WTD

Drowning itself is quick and silent, although it may be preceded by distress which is more visible.  A person drowning is unable to shout or call for help, or seek attention, as they cannot obtain enough air.  The instinctive drowning response is the final set of autonomic reactions in the 20 – 60 seconds before sinking underwater, and to the untrained eye can look similar to calm safe behavior.  Lifeguards and other persons trained in rescue learn to recognize drowning people by watching for these instinctive movements.

Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury or death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury related deaths (est. 388,000 deaths by drowning in 2004, excluding those due to natural disasters), with 96% of these deaths occurring in low-income and middle-income countries.   In many countries, drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children under 12 years old.  For example, in the United States of America, it is the second leading cause of death (after motor vehicle crashes) in children 12 and younger.  The rate of drowning in populations around the world varies widely according to their access to water, the climate and the national swimming culture. 


Never try to swim against the current even though it may be the closest to shore or safety.




How Does This Relate To You as a Skipper or to Other Boaters ?


As skipper, you really need to do a briefing with your crew before leaving the dock/launch.  Yes, I know this sounds all well and good, and like no one onboard has ever been on a boat before (well maybe they have not), but it just could save a life.  They need to know where your safety devices are stored AND how to use them.  They also need to know how to operate your boat and VHF radio if a emergency arises.  Also they need to know where your emergency flares are stored.


Then boating PFD's should be worn at ALL times.  This is the time where the inflatable ones become valuable.  If things go from bad to worse, it WILL usually happen FAST, (especially when aboard small boats) giving little or no time to dig under the seats for PFDs.    Keep your deck clear, no sense of having fishing/crabbing gear under foot which could compound a rescue situation.


The Skipper is the one in charge as he/she will be the one responsible for filling out the Coast Guard report.  However, the skipper can defer to someone that may be more experienced in dealing with the current situation, (or weather conditions warrant his sole responsibility to running the boat) but that responsibility needs to be communicated, passed and accepted by all the crew.  Everyone onboard has to communicate with each other, but again the skipper or his designee is calling the shots. 


Everyone onboard needs to be observant while on the water, that crab pot buoy may actually be a overboard fisherman/swimmer in trouble.  Have a plan.  Have throw rings or cushions with enough line attached to reach a in the water person without putting them in danger of your prop.  Do not initially reach over and try to pull a drowning person aboard, wait until things have calmed down a bit, as in their highly exited condition, they will likely pull you overboard instead.  


On small boats it may not be safe to bring a drowning person in over the rear side gunnels because of possible capsizing.  If they are so exhausted they will not be able to assist, it may be best to tie a line around their chest and attach it to the far side of the boat, to give better purchase and at the same time being able to hold their head above water if nothing else until other help arrives. 


A important safety rule regarding drowning victims, when trying to save someone, don't get yourself drowned as well.  You should always extend an object, like a net, a boat hook, or a throwable PFD to a drowning man.  Get them under control, before you risk your own life.  A landing net is perfect, because its long and easy to grab.


Ideally once you have the overboard person near the boat and under control, then getting them aboard will pose a problem, a mounted crab pot davit would probably be more ideal as it would allow the rescuer to be able to pull the person up high enough to help get them into the boat, without exposing the rescuer to the dangers of being pulled overboard.  Another thing that may help would be some sort reasonable easy method (rope/sling) that would help a single person get a man in the water on board.  Maybe even a large snap at the end of a decent rope so the overboard person (or a crew member could easily get it around the persons chest).  If it was just two of you boating/fishing and another guy, and one of you fell in, the guy left onboard needs all the advantage possible to get one another over the edge and safely into the the boat.  Lifting a person aboard who is exhausted, or worse, could become about impossible even for a small boat.  And for some small boats, getting an in the water person who is exhausted can be dangerous of capsizing the boat.  This being the case, then securing them to the side and towing them to safety, or until extra help arises may be the wisest move. 


Or if you have a crab or shrimp pot davit, this may provide a means to help recovery, or at least partial recovery and then finish it by hand over the gunnel.  

Have your throwable PFD easily accessible and not under the seat, instruct your crew it's use.  If you also have a rescue throw bag, again instruct your crew in it's usage.  Have your boat hook and or your landing net readily accessible.  Think things out ahead of time, and set your boat up to make it easier to respond safely in an emergency.

If possible, signal for aid from other boats in the area.   


Read Coast Guard seamanship manuals as to which approach to this person is best under each wind/current conditions.   Take a First Aid CPR Class, better yet, take a refresher every year.

And what if you fish alone, think out your own procedure, as in this case it is YOU who will also be the rescuer.   I personally fish alone much of the time.  I always wear an automatic offshore inflatable PFD that has front D rings.  In these rings I have a ten foot long 1" Nylon strap that is snapped into (using a QD snap that can be opened under pressure) with the other end tied to the off side railing (allowing me more leverage to get back in if need be).  I ALWAYS fish, or at least land a fish off the Starboard side.  And if I am trolling, the kicker's Man Overboard kill switch lanyard is readily accessible from the water.


Also keep extra clothes and a wool blanket or two onboard.



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Originated 12-10-2014, Last updated 10-17-2016
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