What Should You Do If Your Small Open Boat Capsizes

Going boating and wondering what should you do if your small open boat capsizes? If so, you are in the right place! In this article, you’ll find all the answers to your question and the best advice so that you can take your precautions to prevent your boat from capsizing and also getting prepared to know how to react if it does capsize.

Why Do Boats Capsize

A capsize occurs when a boat rolls onto its side or totally over. In addition, boats capsize when they become unbalanced or overloaded. Three primary causes of imbalance are excessive or unbalanced crew and gear weight; leaky water, which also adds weight; and inclement weather conditions.

Improper Load Distribution

The most frequent cause of boat capsize is improper weight distribution. The 15-19 footers are most susceptible to capsizing because of an uneven distribution of weight, including an additional person or two or a couple of large coolers aboard. Older boats, in particular, may have acquired weight over time due to the addition of gear.


Leaks are the second leading cause of the capsizing. Occasionally, it’s as simple as forgetting to insert the drain plug; at times, it’s as complicated as leaking fittings. Water sloshing about in the boat’s bottom impairs stability, causing waves or awake to tip the boat.

Bad Weather

This is the third leading cause of a capsized boats, which frequently occurs in combination with some of the causes discussed above, such as overloading or imbalanced loads. Small boats are often overpowered by small waves or even a strong wake, much more so if they carry a heavy load and are positioned low in the water. A sudden storm can flip over even larger vessels.

Which Boats Are More Susceptible to Capsize

Smaller boats account for the majority of capsizes. Around 10% of capsizes are 8-footers, primarily dinghies, and these capsize frequently do minor damage. By far, the largest group comprises 15-19 footers, which account for 41% of all capsizes. These are primarily fishing boats, frequently with big, difficult-to-drain cockpits, often out in inclement weather, and usually overloaded. Following that are boats in the 20–24-foot range, which account for 25% of all capsizes, and finally, the largest boats, spanning over 25 feet, which account for 18% of all topples.

Why Do Boats Capsize

How to Prevent Your Boat from Capsizing

There are several things you can do to help prevent your boat from capsizing. Here are some important guidelines:

• Secure the engine cut-off switch cord to your wrist, clothing, or personal flotation device.

• No one should sit on the bow, seatbacks, gunwale, motor cover, and any other area that is not intended for seating. Additionally, no one should sit in pedestal seats when the boat is moving at high speeds.

• Avoid overcrowding your boat. Balancing the load of your crew and equipment is critical.

• Maintain a low center of gravity by forbidding people from standing or moving around while underway, particularly in smaller, less stable boats.

• In small boats, no one should lean their shoulder far beyond gunwale.

• When turning, slow your boat down accordingly.

• Avoid boating in turbulent water or inclement weather.

• Always secure the anchor to the bow, not to the stern, while anchoring.

What to Do If Your Boat Capsizes

After discussing the dangers of capsizing that every boat faces and how to avoid them, it’s critical to understand what to do if the boat capsizes.

• To begin, inspect the passengers onboard and ensure that no one is wounded.

• If you forgot to don a lifejacket or a personal flotation device, locate one and put it on. If you cannot put it on, hang onto it and encourage your other passengers to do the same.

• Following that, conduct a headcount of individuals on board.

• The most critical thing you can do is remain with your boat as long as it stays afloat. This boosts your chances of getting saved by fellow boats or coast guard rescue units considerably. It’s far easier for someone flying overhead in a helicopter to spot an inverted boat in the water than it is for individuals floating in the vast sea.

• Additionally, salvage as many items as possible from your capsized boat, including flares, distress signs, and additional flotation equipment. Tether anything that floats to the boat to provide a larger target for those looking for you. Another option is to toss some bright objects into the water to form a more extensive debris field that will aid spotters.

• If your boat is still afloat, attempt to climb on the hull to avoid being submerged. Water deprives the body of heat faster than air. To stay warm and prevent hypothermia, you and your other passengers must cuddle together to pool heat.• It’s critical to remember that you should not attempt to swim to shore if you’re more than 100 meters from land. It is safest to remain in the boat with your party and wait for help.

How to Ask for Help

The next step is to seek assistance. The most vital thing you can do before your journey is preparing a float plan and select a contact person on shore who will know when to expect your return or contact you. They should contact the emergency services if they are unable to contact you.

Another approach to prepare is to ensure that you have the correct signaling devices on deck in a grab bag. Flares, either signal or smoke, will aid in your rescue. Wear bright attire to maximize your visibility—tether things to the vessel to make it appear larger on the surface. Conserve flares for the time when they are likely to be noticed by rescuers.

Without communication or signaling devices, attracting attention becomes a little more challenging. As indicated above, make yourself and the capsized boat as obvious to rescuers as possible.

What Should You Do if Someone Falls Overboard

• If a crew falls overboard, quickly sound the alarm, move the boat in the direction of the overboard person.

• designate one crew member to keep an eye on the individual in the water at all times.

• Turn your boat around and approach the victim gently, either downwind or into the current, whichever works best in your case.

• Slow down and throw a PFD — preferably a throwable device — to the victim, unless they were already wearing one.

• Turn off the engine.

• Toss the buoyant heaving line behind the victim. Slowly bring the line closer to you so that the victim can grip it. Pull the person to the boat’s side and assist them in re-entering the boat.

• exercise caution when dragging the person into the water — numerous rescuers have ended up being dragged into the water by distressed individuals.

Final Words

If you’ve read the whole article, you should know by now that small boats are more prone to capsize than larger boats.

So, before you go out at sea or rivers, take your precaution, check the weather, don’t overload your boat, and follow the advice listed in this article, this way you’ll minimize the risk of capsizing and you’ll maximize your safety!

Want More Tips?

Sign up for Cruising Sea newsletter to receive every two weeks the latest post straight to your inbox!

Do you know other things to do if you the boat capsize? If so, you are welcome to share them in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “What Should You Do If Your Small Open Boat Capsizes”

  1. Thanks for sharing this article. It was very interesting and informative indeed. I’m not really planning on any boating excursions in the near future. But I think that this is a good thing for anyone to learn really. After all, you never know when you might find yourself in that situation.

    • Hi there,

      Well, in most cases, small boats find themself in this situation. If you are close to the shore, it’s relatively easy to manage. But if you are far away from the shore, you better know how to deal with the situation.

      Let me know if you have any questions. I am always happy to help.

      Thank you for the comment, and I wish you a lovely day.

  2. It is always good to be prepared. I like to have a plan B for these scenarios. I am no boat expert but I always keep an eye on how the load in the boat is balanced. But I learned here that securing the anchoar to the stern is a NO-NO. Thank you for this interesting read. I’ll think about these things, for sure.

    • Hi Abel

      Awesome, it’s always a good thing to get prepared before venturing out on the water:)

      I am glad you’ve found this article useful and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I am always happy to assist.

      Thank you for the comment, and I wish you a lovely day.

  3. Fortunately, in the times I’ve been on the boat, there have been no accidents. But I still read articles like this to avoid it. It is impossible to know what will happen in advance and prepare the most necessary to reduce damage.

    • Hi Kane,

      As you said, we can’t predict what will happen in life. That’s why you need to know what to do if an accident arises and of course, having the right equipment on board is vital.
      Thank you for the comment and if you have any questions, I’ll be more than happy to assist.
      I wish you a lovely day


Leave a Comment