What Is Most Likely to Cause Someone to Fall Overboard?

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With so many people on the water each year, there are bound to be accidents. One unfortunate accident that occasionally happens is when someone falls overboard. What is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard?

On smaller boats, such as smaller sailboats or motorboats, the most likely cause for someone to fall overboard is simply standing up while the boat is moving. This is even more likely if the boat is swaying hard and the person is not prepared or did not anticipate the situation. On larger ships, like a cruise ship, being intoxicated is often the cause.

To avoid this situation, use your common sense and judgment to avoid getting too close to the edge of a moving boat, especially when you are intoxicated, or the boat is moving in rough seas.

Read on to learn more about what is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard?

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What Is Most Likely to Cause Someone to Fall Overboard?

Boats have a general rule for someone not to fall overboard, and that is to keep at least one hand on the boat when standing or moving. If you are careless and not cautious while on board, you could fall overboard. Many boats have handholds dotted in several places for you to hold on to as well as toe rails and lifelines to keep you safe.

For a person to be secured while onboard, we suggest not to go on deck, especially if it is too windy or when the boat is caught going through bad weather. If it is necessary to go on deck, it is ideal to be hooked to a harness that is fastened to jack lines and follow the ‘one hand on the boat’ rule.

Know that boat decks can be unsafe, especially in sailboats while they are in motion. To avoid unwanted situations, you should always be conscious of your surroundings, stay calm, steady, and sober.

Falling overboard is usually triggered by not holding on, not paying attention, and not being sober. 

What Happens When Someone Falls Overboard? Potential Risks

Falling overboard in the open sea is one of the most awful things that could happen to anyone traveling on the ship. There are a number of risks involved, and the chances of rescue are limited, depending on the situation.

The Plunge

Large boats have decks that are considerably high from the surface of the sea. In that case, the height of the fall will be much higher – at least a few dozen meters or more. The danger of physical harm can be based on how the person fell into the water or the position when they land.

Falling on water from an acceptable height is not that far different from falling on rock-hard ground. That’s why divers go in low as possible and a straight, pencil-like fashion to carefully break the surface of the water without harming themselves.

With that being said, a person who falls in the water in a bad position could possibly endure broken bones and other injuries.

The Chilling Water

When a person’s body unexpectedly becomes submerged in cold water (such as falling overboard in the sea), they unwillingly let out all the air inside their body and try to wheeze and absorb as much air as possible. This can lead to accidentally swallowing water. Also, the shock of the cold water is a common cause of death from unexpected immersion in very cold water.

In very cold water, you will fail to move your limbs fast and may not be able to swim well. It’ll be hard to keep your head raised above the water, increasing the possibility of drowning.

The Strong Current

One of the other likely causes of falling overboard is being too near to the edge of the ship and being thrown around by the strong sea currents. If it’s a giant ship, a person won’t be drawn under the ship or dragged into the propellers but would most likely be tossed away by rough water around the vessel. This can make it difficult for those on board to track the fallen person.


The probabilities of a person’s survival will depend immensely on the temperature of the water to which the person falls. Falling into water that isn’t that cold (like the Caribbean waters) would be okay for a moment, but the aftermath of falling into ice-cold waters (like the Arctic ocean) will be loss of brain function and death in just a matter of minutes due to hypothermia (a state where the body drops more heat faster than it can absorb triggering a seriously low body temperature or below 95 degrees).

Here are the symptoms of hypothermia:
• garbled speech
• rigid joints
• loss of dexterity
• slow pulse
• intense shivering
• failure of bladder control
• bloated face
• mental mix-up


Sharks only tend to be in warm waters, not in frigid cold water. Do not be too scared of sharks or other aquatic animals because they are not really violent to human beings, and they don’t typically attack without harassment. But they are great at detecting their target and will attack if they sense traces of blood in the environs (even a small amount of blood).

Ways to Rescue an Overboard Passenger

how does someone fall overboard

An overboard passenger can perhaps survive depending on how fast someone recognizes that they already have fallen overboard. When somebody on the boat sees the passenger fall overboard, they should instantly raise a ‘Man overboard!’ alert and then keep their own eyes stuck on the man overboard to monitor him in the water.

It is very important to keep track of the exact position of the man overboard. The surface of the water in open seas is hardly ever calm; hence, the man overboard might quickly become out of sight due to the intensifying waves and the irregular surface. Situations like this can worsen during nighttime because you can only see pitch-black water, except if the person overboard is wearing something glowing or shining.

When a person overboard is located, people on the boat should toss a life ring or anything that floats close to them so that they have something to hold on to until rescued. Furthermore, the tossed life ring or any floating material can help spot the victim’s exact position.

After validating a ‘man overboard’ alert, the boat can turn back to rescue the victim through a ‘man overboard rescue turn’ (a marine operation typically applied promptly after MOB validation).

Huge ships like aircraft carriers cannot directly navigate a U-turn and pull out the fallen passenger. So, rather than turning around a huge vessel, a smaller staffed boat (identified as the MOB boat) can be used to save the victim.

What Should the Overboard Passenger Do?

What the person who fell overboard can do, as much as possible, is to keep calm, be relaxed, stay positive, be hopeful, and float rather than swim. This can make a big difference in life and death situations. When you are floating, get your senses together and control your breathing. You should also restrict your movement to conserve your energy.

To save more energy, lie down flat on your back with your head above the water. Just bend your back, spread your arms to the side and let your legs hang up in a stretched position.

You can also perform the dead man’s float. Here’s how:

  1. Take a big breath, then place your face in the water.
  2. Relax your body and let it hang.
  3. When you need to take in some air, lift your head and breathe in, then move your limbs slightly to keep you afloat.
  4. Inhale and exhale deeply and then repeat.

Often, someone who falls overboard has been rescued successfully because they stayed calm and carefully followed the rescuers’ instructions.

If you’ve heard about the MOB story of a man on a tour boat in the Indian Ocean, you’ll know how long a man can survive if he just stayed calm and hopeful. This man overboard stayed afloat in the Indian water for roughly 29 hours straight! He withstood dehydration, sea creatures, deliriums, and storms!

Ways to Prevent Falling Overboard

To stay planted on board and enjoy your cruise, you must avoid the following:

  • Avoid copying Titanic’s Rose and Jack in a selfie session.
    You are not Rose or Jack. Do not copy that famous scene from the Titanic movie and have some selfies. If you must do this, you’ll put yourself at risk of falling overboard.
  • Do not go near the edge when drinking or after drinking.
    When you drunk too much, stay away from the edge of the boat. If you are dizzy, lie down until you are sober and have collected your wits.
  • Stay inside during foul weather.
    When your ship gets caught in bad weather, stay inside your cabin and do not go outside. The deck will be slippery, and the harsh wind might blow you away.
  • Wear non-slip shoes.
    You might have a date on your tour boat and want to wear high heels. That’s fine…. on dry land. It is best to wear boat shoes that are ready for wet and dry floors.
  • Do not argue near the edge of the boat.
    When you are caught in a heated argument, go to a safer place, like inside your cabin. When caught up in emotions, stay away from the edge of the boat.

Conclusion – What Is Most Likely to Cause Someone to Fall Overboard?

So what is most likely to cause someone to fall overboard? The main cause of someone falling overboard is being careless. On a smaller boat such as a smaller sailboat or speed boat, standing up and not holding on while the boat is moving fast is a common cause to go overboard.

A boat is a moving vessel, and it sways through the waves of the water. Therefore, if a person stands on the boat without following the general rule of keeping one hand on the boat, then falling in the water is a great possibility.

For large ships like cruise ships, falling overboard is rare. But when it does happen, it often involves alcohol and carelessness while drinking.

To avoid falling off the boat:

  • Do not fool around near the edge of the boat.
  • Do not drink alcohol and go near the edge of the boat.
  • Stay inside the cabin during foul weather.
  • Wear non-slip shoes.
  • Do not argue near the edge of the boat.

The best thing you can do to prevent falling overboard is to simply stay away from the edge and railings on the decks of the boat, especially when you are drunk or when no one is around. Because once you fall in the water, no one can rescue you right away.

Follow the tips in this article, and you will have a safer (and drier) boating experience.