Water Recovery Safety Devises You Can Use or Make






Be Prepared ; As skipper you really need to do a orientation session before leaving the dock.  Along with it being a CYA situation, it is really to acquaint your passengers for the day on where your life saving devices are, how to wear them along with the other many things  (some small) that they may need to know if things start going downhill fast.   Where is the bilge pump switch?  Which VHF radio frequency do you normal stay on and what is the US Coast Guard's frequency?  If they are contacted, they will want your boat ID number.  Write it down next to the radio.  Where are the throw rings?  Where are your bumpers/fenders kept?  Where is the boat hook stored?  Where is your intended fishing area?  When do you expect to return?  Who watches for floating debris or crab pot buoys?  If you have a watch person, explain to them how to call out a location to you, like the hour hands of a clock, (floating log coming up at 9 O'clock).  Direct them to not move around in a small boat while under weigh as this shifts the balance and can be devastating at the wrong time.  Put on your inflatable PFD before you leave the shore/dock.


You may be called upon to assist a person that is in the water.  You as a skipper need to think ahead, what do you need to carry on your boat, or do to be able to assist in any type of water recovery that you might be called upon to do?  The size of your vessel will also determine how you carry out this process as a 14' skiff will be a lot different than a 20' or even larger boat that may have a rear door to a near water level platform.  Do you try to recover the person over the gunnel or move to the stern?  You do not want to capsize your boat while trying to recover someone else.  Do not put yourself in danger, either water conditions or limitations of the recovery boat itself.  At times, it could even be advantageous to bring the person alongside and motor slowly to a safer location to do the recovery.


Good communications of everyone onboard is essential, shout out what you are doing and or want done.  This lets the in the water person AND your crew know what is being done and how to react.


It is best to keep a tidy ship.  Do not leave a lot of fishing gear laying around, but when you are finished using it, stow it.  Keep your tackle boxes stored in locations where they are not underfoot.  Keep the spare rods stored out of the way.  Crab pots stored and secured best possible.  If someone falls overboard, YOU do not want to stumble at the wrong time during this recovery and you also go into the water.


Initially my own thoughts were more leaning toward me falling overboard as I often fish alone.  With this in mind, I have made up a 1" Nylon tether strap about 10' long with loop on one end and a quick release snap on the other end.  My inflatable floatation vest is an offshore version with harness straps and Dee rings in front that I snap the strap snap into while attaching the other end to the boat.  This 10' distance gives me enough length to move around in the boat.




But, what if you come upon someone else in the water?  Do you have a plan on how to get them safely into your boat?  If they have been in the water very long, they may not have enough energy to assist you in pulling them in, even if you have a helper, this my be a chore.  It is much different in assisting a active person in who can at least help some, than a very exhausted person, especially one who is of any large size at all.


All sport boats are required to have a throwable device onboard which could be a cushion or ring.   Attached to this needs to be a recovery rope which is recommended that it be at least 50' long as seen in the photo on the left below.  This cushion's home is stuffed between the back of the cooler and the inside of the boat.  Illustrated here the rope is out in the open, normally it is It is stuffed behind at 180 degrees shown. 


It is also recommended to have a throw bag onboard in a readily accessible location utilizing a quick disconnect buckle as seen in the right hand photo below.  For those of you who do not know what a throw bag is, it is a small bag with a built in hand grips on both ends, containing small float and about 50' rope.   The end of the rope that is not stuffed into the bag has a loop on it's exposed end.  This loop is for the thrower to slip their hand into and retain it on their wrist, retaining that end, and holding onto the attached hand grip, do the throwing.  It is designed to be thrown underhand and the rope unravels as it goes out.  The recipient can then grab the floating grip of the bag, and can then be pulled in.


Another thing to use if the person is closer that all salmon fishing boats have on board, is a landing net.  These provide enough gripping area for those in the water


Throwable yellow cushion Throw bag



Be sure that all of your deck ropes float (some don't).  If for some reason none of these may be used in a water recovery and when thrown out, it sinks, that does not help moral.




Options ;  If your boat is large enough and you have a crab/shrimp pot puller, you may consider making a 2" wide Nylon web sling with eyes sewn in both ends and 6' long, that can be utilized to slip over the persons upper body and under their arms which may allow you to assist in lifting them out of the water.  It is a whole lot easier to pull the rope down than up.  Here the looped ends are snapped into a LARGE D type Karabiner snap, which also gives a handhold for either the rescuer or the one in the water.


hand powered pot puller used as a recovery aid 


There is also a commercial safety ladder available that is in a bag attachable to a railing, that has a jerk cord that drops a rope type ladder into the water.  This is sold by Cabelas online for about $60.


Or if your plan is to bring them in over the transom if you have one side open, then consider building a shelf over your sonar transducers and making it stiff enough to function as a step.  In addition to this tie off a 1/2" nylon rope so that it drags in the water off the outside of that stern side.  Tie knots in it at about 6" intervals so that it can be used to assist hand holds from slipping in conjunction to the previous mentioned step so if YOU go overboard while alone.  In actuality on my boat, it is not deployed unless I am fishing alone, or if we would be in the process of a rescue type recovery.


Here is a metal deflector over the transducers diverting water spray away from the motor.  It is also reinforced enough to make it usable for a step that may be used to help an overboard person regain entry into the boat.



Do not go in the water to rescue a person, unless there is someone to rescue you and then only with a tether attached to yourself.

Carry a change of clothes and wool blanket or two onboard to use after you have them aboard.





Take a First Aid class, and have a fully stocked First Aid kit onboard.  Learn to evaluate/recognize a hypothermia effected person.



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Originated 06-20-2015, Last updated 10-26-2016
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