What Should You Do If Your Small Open Boat Capsizes

A fine sunny afternoon in the lake can turn anytime into an unlikely event that you have never expected. 

Capsizing is the worst of fears when riding your small open boat even though you have followed all the instructions. A smooth breeze can turn into a stormy wind in no time. So, it is always better to know what should you do if your small open boat capsizes. 

Capsizing can easily turn into a life-threatening incident if indecision kicks in and you burst out of panic. There are a group of steps; if taken properly, you can make the incident a less hazardous one. Let us guide you through a few steps to make sure you survive a boat capsize. 

Possible Reasons Why Small Open Boats Capsize? 

Among the recorded boat capsizes and accidents, small open boats have the majority of shares. Few possible reasons for small boat capsizing: 

  • Overloading
  • Losing balance
  • Lack of skill
  • Bad weather
  • Strong wind or waves, etc. 

What Should You do If Your Small Open boat Capsizes 

If your boat capsizes, the first thing on your head should be surviving. Reaching the shore would be your second thought. Try to follow some proven steps to survive a capsizing boat. 

Stay Calm

Panic is the last thing you can afford when your boat is capsized. It’s your worst enemy. Try to keep calm and think of a survival plan. 

Check on Other Members

Make sure everyone onboarded with you is ok. Do a headcount and affirm the members to stay calm and stick together.

Wear life Jacket

Ensure everyone wears a life jacket and fits it tight with their body. If there are life-saving buoy, make sure it aids your people. 

Don’t Try To Swim

Even if you are the strongest swimmer in the group, don’t just start to swim. Jumping into the water and being thrown into the water is an entirely different scenario. The panic and stress involved might easily lead you to wear out quickly and drown you halfway to the shore. 

Save Energy

Conserving your energy should be your most important priority. Try to lean or put your weight on the boat and avoid water or swimming as much as possible. 

Stick to the Boat

It is very important to stick to your boat even if it has turned upside down. There is a myth that the boat will sink you with it. It is not true. The boat will usually stay afloat, and it is your best chance to stay afloat and be rescued. For rescuers, it is easier to detect a boat rather than an individual man floating. 

Look for a floating object in the boat

Grab and hold larger objects of your boat that are floating in the water. It is for additional safety if anything goes wrong; these objects might aid you in safety.  

Ask For Help

Try to reach out to the shore. If any of your phone or radio is working, try to send a message onshore. Light a flare or create a flag-like object with the help of a paddle to draw attention.

Which Boats Are More Susceptible to Capsize?

Usually, small open boats, kayaks, canoes, and sailboats are more susceptible to capsizing. As the boats are smaller in size, they can barely balance against strong wind or giant waves. A slight change in weight balance can easily overturn these small boats. But unlike big boats, these small boats stay afloat even after capsizing, leaving a higher chance to be rescued.

How to Prevent Your Boat from Capsizing? 

Follow a few simple steps to prevent your boat from capsizing:

  • Have someone expert in sailing onboard.
  • Do not overload.
  • Maintain a proper weight balance throughout the ride.
  • Check for any available leaks in the boat.
  • Get a motor to pump out the water.
  • Ensuring you are traveling in the calm weather.
  • Mind the waves and the wind.
  • Take life jackets and proper life-saving gear.

How to Ask for Help?

When a boat capsizes in a sea or a lake, you better follow these help-seeking tips for faster rescue:

  • Call on the emergency helpline.
  • Send an emergency signal if there is any radio.
  • Call anyone onshore nearby(if phones are not dead).
  • Scan the nearby area for any available people or boats.
  • Try to get their attention.
  • Light a flare.
  • Use the paddle or shipping rod to make a flag, and wave it.

Hopefully, in a while, you will be rescued unharmed with your crews. 

The Safest Way to Float if Four Small Craft Capsizes

If the unthinkable happens and your boat capsizes, here are a few guidelines to stay afloat safely:

  • Try to stay close to your boat.
  • Take the boat’s help to stay afloat. 
  • Wear a life jacket if you hadn’t previously. 
  • Grab floating objects, relatively big ones for assistance.
  • Try to be least submerged in the water.
  • Float on your back, spreading your arms.
  • Try to float on the upstream side of your boat. 

What if Your Boat Capsizes and Remains Upside Down? 

Unfortunately, if your boat remains upside down, you can increase your chance of survival by doing the list of following things.

  • Absorb the shock and stay calm.
  • Stay close to the boat. No worries, it won’t drown easily.
  • Keep your life-saving vests on.
  • Be wary of hypothermia.
  • Try to ask for help. 
  • Wait patiently; you will be rescued eventually.

What Should You do if Your Boat Turns Over or Gets Swamped?

If your boat gets swamped or turns over, you should:

  • Get your life jacket (if not worn) or lifebuoy.
  • Stick to your boat or get on it.
  • If the boat sinks, stay afloat on your back. 
  • Find and grab floating items. 
  • Conserve energy as much as possible.
  • Try to get help.


Here are a few capsizing-related questions answered for your convenience.

What should you do first when a vessel capsizes?

Stay calm and make sure none of your crew are injured or missing. Tell the members to stay calm and stick together for help.

What type of report must be filed if there is an accident while boating?

You file a boat accident report to the state reporting authority if there is an accident while boating.

What should you always do when a person falls overboard?

Immediately turn the boat towards the person and throw a life jacket or a lifebuoy at the person. Stop the engine, throw a rope attached to something and pull the person close to the boat. If that’s not possible, carefully take the boat to the person and get him on board. 

What is the first thing you should do if your boat starts taking on water?

Quickly try to stop the leak or reduce the water inflow. Try to drain out as much water as you can manually or by using a pump.

What type of boating emergency causes the most fatalities?

Collision of the boats and falling overboard causes most fatalities. 

A passenger on your boat falls overboard. What should you do first?

Throw the passenger a life jacket or a lifebuoy. Immediately pull over the boat to that passenger.

What if a boat capsizes 100 meters from shore?

Don’t decide to swim. Stay with the boat. Seek help and try to steer through the waves to the shore slowly without panicking. 


In 2020 alone, a record number of 727 deaths and 3,191 injuries were recorded resulting from boating accidents. It includes capsizing, collision, falling overboard, etc. reasons.

No wonder capsizing can turn out to be a catastrophic experience of your life if the situation isn’t handled carefully.

So, you better be well prepared about what should you do if your small open boat capsizes, before your next ride.

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