People go overboard on boats for a number of reasons, including being tipped over by bad weather or falling in due to their own horseplay. Don’t let a relaxing family vacation turn into a tragic accident. If someone has gone overboard on your boat tour or fishing trip, you should know how to rescue them—or at least how to help.

Allow River Adventures to explain how to save somebody who’s fallen off the boat. These safety tips will come in handy long after you’ve left Hells Canyon, so keep them in mind every time you board a boat with other folks.

Shout “Man Overboard!”

The first thing you must do when you spot someone who’s fallen overboard is use your voice. Shout “Man overboard!” so everyone on the boat knows that somebody is in the water and so the person who’s fallen overboard knows you see them. This crucial first step helps get the rescue process started.

If the boat you’re on has a Man Overboard (MOB) button, hit it right away. That button is attached to a GPS and will record the coordinates of the person who’s fallen overboard. This doesn’t account for currents on the river, though, so it’s essential to keep a visual on the person who’s fallen overboard.

Stop the Boat

When the boat captain hears you shout that someone has fallen overboard, they’ll likely stop their jet boat and focus their efforts on the rescue. The sooner they can do this, the closer they’ll be to the person in the water.

If it takes a minute to realize someone has fallen overboard, the captain may turn the boat around and get closer to that person before cutting the engine. The closer they can get to the person in the water, the easier it will be to rescue them. That’s why it’s so important to shout the second you realize someone has fallen in.

Follow the Rescue Process

How should you go about rescuing the person in the water? If your only experience with this rescue scenario comes from movies, you may think about jumping into the water to save them yourself.


Stay on the boat and encourage everyone else to do so as well. There are a few preliminary steps you can take before jumping into the water after the person who’s gone overboard. In fact, unless you are an experienced rescue swimmer, jumping in after them can make the situation worse.

Instead, remember these words in this order: reach, throw, row, and go. This is the correct order of actions to take when someone has fallen off a boat. Let’s look at each of them in greater detail.


Is the overboard person still conscious, alert, and within arm’s reach of the boat? If so, reach your arm out and pull them closer to the boat. Make sure you’re wearing a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket before you do so. All of River Adventures’s Snake River jet boats are equipped with plenty of life jackets and flotation devices, so there’s no excuse for not wearing one!

Brace yourself to avoid letting the overboard person pull you into the water with them. Hold onto something stable on the boat with one arm while extending your other arm to the overboard passenger. Have another passenger hold onto your legs or ankles for extra steadiness.

If the overboard person is just barely out of your reach, extend a pole or paddle to pull them to safety. If they’re too far out to grab it, move on to the next step.


Unable to reach the overboard person with your outstretched arm or paddle? Toss them something buoyant, like a buoy or life jacket. If there aren’t any extras on hand, throw them a boat cushion.

Even if the person who’s gone overboard is wearing their life jacket, throwing them an extra flotation device has a calming effect. Holding onto additional support can quiet a person’s nerves in a nerve-racking situation.

Throwing the overboard person a flotation device also provides a visual point of reference. If the person keeps drifting further out, the bright colors of the life jacket or buoy will give you something to look for in the water.

Is the overboard person too far out to catch anything you may throw? Move on to the next step.


This is simply an easy-to-remember word for “maneuver the vessel in the direction of the overboard person.” On a jet boat, you won’t be physically rowing. Nevertheless, if you can’t reach the person in the water with your arms or a thrown flotation device, you will have to move the boat closer to them.

Stay in verbal contact with your boat captain during this entire process. Let them know if you need to get closer to the overboard person, and always approach that person from the captain’s side. That way, both you and the captain can see what’s going on.

Once the boat is close enough, the captain will turn off the engine again. Now that you’re closer, you can throw a flotation device out and pull the person back on board.

If none of the above steps have worked, or if the overboard person has lost consciousness, it’s time to escalate your rescue efforts. That’s right: it’s time to go.


This step is a last resort because, most of the time, one of the above three steps will succeed in getting the overboard person back on the boat. Additionally, it’s best to avoid having more people get in the water and potentially hinder rescue efforts. The waters of the Snake River can be choppy and unpredictable, and people often think they’re stronger swimmers than they actually are.

However, if the situation has grown dire—if the overboard person is unconscious, or they’re drifting further and further out—then urgent actions are necessary. Have the strongest rescue swimmer on your boat get into the water and swim out to the overboard person.

The rescue swimmer should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket and carry a flotation device as they go out to the overboard person. They will need to place the flotation device between them and the overboard person before bringing the individual back to the boat.

Haul the person back on board using a bathing platform or a sling. If the boat doesn’t have either and the person who’s gone overboard can’t support their own weight, have two people grab under the person’s armpits and smoothly pull them aboard.

If you’re planning a boat tour or fishing trip as part of your Hells Canyon adventure, you should know how to rescue someone who has gone overboard. Even if you don’t get into the water yourself, you can still save the day with the right knowledge and a cool head under pressure.

How To Rescue Someone Who Has Gone Overboard