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Rescue a drowning victim by boat

From a man overboard to swimmers caught in a rip-tide, boaters should be alert and always scanning the surrounding area. If you spend time on water, you and your crew should know what to look for when people enter the water.

Start with the right equipment

Before you head out on your boat, double-check that you have safety equipment like a man overboard recovery system and a first aid kit. Stay up to date on water safety and consider taking a first aid class to learn CPR. 

Recognizing a drowning swimmer

08_23_16-Switlik-Annapolis-025Drowning begins at the point a person is unable to keep their mouth above water. Unlike what’s commonly portrayed, in an actual drowning, there isn’t much yelling, splashing or calling for help. The person is consumed with the necessity to breathe air. The instinctive drowning may look like:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes open, with fear evident on the face
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back to float
  • Uncontrollable movement of arms and legs, rarely out of the water.

 Sometimes, a victim can be in active drowning before exhibiting instinctive drowning, this is where you would have the yelling and splashing around, trying to stay above water. A distressed swimmer or drowning victim needs help immediately! 

Rescuing the victim

Once spotted, keep a member of your crew locked on the victim. Steer the boat to get close to the victim but don’t point your boat straight at them. Circle around and position the boat on the downwind side. Radio in your location to alert the authorities for assistance and medical standby.

man-overboard-cord-rescueThrow, don’t go

As long as the victim is conscious, don’t be tempted to go in. A drowning victim will tire easily so it is essential to get extra flotation as soon as possible. When throwing a man overboard recovery device, throw it upwind on the victim so it will blow downwind to the victim. Devices like the MOM 8-A will provide flotation with the underarm flotation device, visibility with the 6ft pylon and a weighted sea anchor to keep the victim in place. With the durable lifting straps, getting a victim back on board becomes easy. When brought along side, the victim can be lifted vertically by attaching a halyard or other device to the durable lifting straps and eye rings on the Underarm Flotation Device.

After rescue

Even if the victim seems fine, it is critical for them to see medical help. A victim can still die after rescue if liquid has entered their lungs.  Signs of secondary drowning can be coughing, labored breathing and lethargy, which can happen hours after the incident. A medical professional will check their vital signs and then monitor the victim for a few hours, even if everything seems normal.


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