We’ve heard stories that reach national news about individuals falling off of cruise ships. At the end of December, our maritime lawyers wrote about a Holland America crew member whose body was found on a Florida beach after he fell overboard.
Yet, while there have been over 200 cruise ship overboard accidents in the past 15 years alone, there is another, equally – if not more dangerous – risk of falling overboard from a personal water craft. Sailors train to avoid man overboard situations, as these situations can be deadly, especially in solo-sailing scenarios. Recovering victims from the water in cases where there are other people on board can also be a challenge if there are rough seas. Sailors are at greater risk of falling overboard because sailboats experience more pitch and yaw than other watercraft, though the risk of falling overboard on any personal watercraft, such as a jet ski, is always present.
Solo watercraft users are more likely to suffer fatal injuries if they fall overboard. Rough water can make it impossible for individuals to swim back to their vessel. If waters are frigid, hypothermia can quickly set in. And, if a victim isn’t wearing a life jacket, especially if they suffer a debilitating injury, there is a huge risk of drowning. While rescue personnel can fairly easily spot a boat on the ocean, it can be much more difficult to spot a person in the water, especially if the victim isn’t wearing a life jacket with rescue features. Currents can sweep a person far from their boat in unpredictable directions.
However, there are rare times when a boating accident victim survives, even under seemingly impossible circumstances. On Wednesday, January 7th, the real risk of what can happen when a person falls overboard from a personal watercraft became evident. The harrowing story is both inspiring and sobering.