Picture this: you’re relaxing in your friend’s fishing boat on the Columbia River. You’ve had a few bites and are hoping to bring home some salmon. Just as you’re cracking open a fresh beer, your buddy hooks a big one. He rocks the boat in the struggle and suddenly you find yourself in the frigid water. The boat capsized! It’s sad enough your beer is toast, but what would you do to save yourself?
Be prepared for all kinds of nautical calamities by educating yourself. Here’s how to save your life in a boating emergency.
Prepare for the Worst
First things first: don’t get out on the water until you’ve prepared. Make sure you have enough life jackets for everyone onboard, that they are in good working order, and that everyone is wearing them! That last one may seem like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of excuses—not liking how it looks, thinking you’re such a strong swimmer you won’t need it, overall comfort—that can lead to regret at best or death at worst. Deal with it. Wear a life vest.
The next planning step is to leave a paper trail. A life vest or jacket will keep you afloat if your boat sinks, but how will anyone know to come rescue you if no one knows you’re out there? Make sure your boat is registered with the State of Oregon. Cross the Ts and dot the Is on your fishing license, day-use park fees, and parking paperwork. Let a friend or family member who won’t be on the boat know where you’ll be and when you plan to be back. Promise to check in with them by a certain time. Consider a boating safety course and exam to get an Oregon Boater Education Card.
Caught in the Moment
Now comes the big moment. The chaos of capsizing can be disorienting. Remember these steps:
- If you didn’t put on a life jacket, grab one. Hold onto it for dear life.
- Do a headcount. If anyone else doesn’t have a flotation device, buddy up and share. Find a piece of flotsam and hang on. Keep those heads above the water.
- Once you’ve accounted for everyone and all are afloat, stay near the boat. Your boat will be easier to see by rescue helicopter or boat than you alone in the water will be.
- Beware getting entangled in ropes and lines in the water near your boat. These hazards can pull you down under the boat and cause drowning.
- If your vessel is completely overturned, try climbing on top of the hull. You will lose body heat more slowly out of the water and will be less likely to drown.
- Take stock of potentially useful things you have on hand. A flare, a mirror, a still-working phone—all these can be used to signal for help.
- Anything that isn’t useful but still floating around can be used to make a debris field. A scattering of litter surrounding your overturned boat isn’t very kind to our fishy friends below the surface, but can increase your visibility to rescuers. This is an instance in which it’s absolutely ok to make a mess in the water.
- Lastly, make sure everyone stays close together in the water. This is not just to keep everyone afloat, but also to maintain body heat. The Pacific Ocean and Oregon’s rivers and lakes are cold. COLD cold. Stay as warm as you can.
Hope for the Best
After you’ve taken the steps listed above, your safety becomes a waiting game. You did remember to have someone on land expect a check-in from you, right? While you’re waiting to be rescued, it’s easy to panic and lose hope. Try to stay positive. Reassure yourself that you’ve done all you can to be seen and afloat.
As with all Oregon’s priceless natural resources, remember to leave no trace (unless you’re building a debris field, of course). Happy and safe sailing!