What Should You Do If Your Boat Capsizes? (Memorize This)

    Boat Capsizing

    Capsizing is the leading cause of boat-related accidents, caused mainly by overloading and inadequate operating skills. It mostly happens in reactional vessels and smaller crafts, making them more vulnerable to bad weather, load, wind, and water conditions.

    Capsizing can be avoided through practicing good seamanship. This means you should avoid overloading your boat and learn to distribute the weight of passengers and gears to achieve balance and stability. Learning to maneuver the vessel at a controlled speed and keeping an eye around also helps you eliminate any boat mishaps. While operating, check around for any wake and waves of other boats. If you notice an upcoming large wave, it’s better to slow down your boat and take it head-on rather than powering through it.

    Safe boating practices are vital to avoiding boat capsizing and keeping your passengers safe onboard. Ensure you have immediate access to proper safety equipment, lights, and communication devices. If you are passing through bad weather, be sure to wear and make your passengers wear a life jacket.

    US Boat Accident Statistics

    What is Boat Capsizing?

    Capsize is a term used when a boat is overturned or floats by its side. It is most likely to happen to smaller vessels as they are more sensitive to sudden changes in sea conditions. The good news is that most boat remains afloat in a capsized position, allowing you to hold onto them till the rescue team arrives. Overloading remains the primary reason behind boat capsizing as vessels are designed to accommodate a specific weight, and anything beyond that will increase the chance of the boat capsizing.

    What to Do If your Boat Capsizes?

    If your vessel is capsized, count all your passengers and instruct them to stay with the boat. Don’t panic or swim towards the shore, making it harder for rescue operators to locate you. Some capsized vessels may recover while some remain afloat. Having an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) installed in your boat. These devices come integrated with an internal GPS and automatic releases system that alerts the rescue personnel for rescue to your precise location.

    If your boat does not have an EPIRB, then don’t worry. The coast guards can locate you through the Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System (SAROPS). It is an advanced technology that identifies a boat’s location by considering the weather condition, vessel’s departure point, patterns of currents, and other available information.

    How to Ask for Help When the Boat Capsizes?

    Start preparing a float plan before embarking on your trip. File the float plan and assign a designated person on the shore with information about your return. If they could not contact you or hear from you, they should alert the emergency services.

    The best way to ask for help is to install an EPIRB or signaling device on your boat that automatically signals your location to the rescue team whenever your boat capsizes. Ensure you are carrying adequate signaling and communication devices before getting on the boat. Using signal flares or smoke flares can help the rescue team locate you from a long distance, especially during the night or in low visibility weather. Try to make yourself as visible as possible by wearing bright clothing and buoys. Another thing you can do is tether objects to your vessel to make it appear larger.

    What Causes a Boat to Capsize?

    There are several reasons for a boat to capsize, of which overloading remains the primary cause. Bad weather and leaks can lead the vessel to overturn.


    Overloading or poor weight distribution plays a crucial role in capsizing. Small-size floaters or old boats are more susceptible to capsizing, but that does not mean big vessels are out of the woods. Sometimes exceeding the limit can capsize your boat even in calm waters. It takes a stiff wind, a large wake, or a slight imbalance in weight distribution to make your boat flip over.

    Although the number of seats in the boat is not always an accurate indicator of how many people you can carry in your boat. Older boats have more chance of poor weight distribution as it is more likely that users have stored more gear in them over the years. Sometimes, a small weight such as a second cooler and an additional person is enough to capsize a boat with cockpit drains. Putting too many people to one side of the boat pushes the gunwale down, allowing water to get inside the vessel. Therefore, you should strictly follow the seating chart provided by your boat’s manufacturers not to upset the balance.

    Some manufacturers mention the number of seats a vessel can accommodate on the upper deck. The weight on the boat above the waterline raises the boat’s center of gravity, making it less stable, leading to capsizing.

    Another crucial factor is not to underestimate the change in the person’s average weight. For instance, the average weight of an American during the 1960s was 160 pounds which has increased to 185 pounds the current time. The extra pounds can put additional weight on boats causing imbalance. While it will appear offensive to ask people to sit based on their weight, it’s better to estimate the weight of the guests before you agree to take a larger group.

    Loading too much weight on one part of a boat can affect its stability despite the vessel being loaded within the minimum capacity. The key is to distribute the weight equally to avoid capsizing.


    Leaking can be a possible reason behind a capsized boat. It may happen due to bad fittings or simple negligence such as forgetting to put in the drain plug. Too much water sloshing around the bottom of the bottom can affect the boat’s stability. As a result, it makes the vessel more susceptible to waves or awake.

    To ensure you don’t forget the drain plug, it’s better to tie it to your storage vessel. Leaky fittings can fill your boats with water, such as inside live wells and bait boxes. Use fittings made from stainless steel, bronze, or marelon, and make sure to close fittings that penetrate the hull.

    Older boats come with low transom cutouts making them susceptible to flooding. A boat with such cutouts can simply flood if you try to slow it down quickly. Meanwhile, newer models are much safer and eliminate the risk of flooding.

    Some boats contain cockpits that collect water into the bilge. In such cases, you will need a bilge pump to remain afloat. However, bilge pumps can only remove nuisance water but cannot keep the boat from sinking. If you have a boat with a cockpit draining into the bilge, keep an eye on the bilge pump.

    Harsh Weather

    As mentioned earlier, overloading or unequal weight distribution can cause a boat to capsize. However, that likely is significantly increased when you are charting in harsh weather. Small boats are more prone to capsize during severe weather. Even if you have taken care of the first two factors, there is still a chance your boat may capsize if the weather is terrible.

    It’s crucial to check the weather forecast before you start sailing. You can use a smartphone app to check the weather, including radar and any possibility of storms. The weather tends to change quickly on the water. If you ever encounter a storm, then make sure to ask your passengers to stay at the boat’s center to maintain stability.

    In Few Words

    Being in the middle of the deep blue sea, enjoying the gust of the wind and the sunset, may make you feel invincible for the moment. While you are entitled to enjoy the best life on your boat, it is also your responsibility to stay careful and keep your passenger safe. Too much weight, uneven weight distribution, leakage, and bad weather are critical factors for capsizing a boat. Ensure to take all necessary steps by encouraging best practices and equipping your boat with the best communication and safety gear.