Why is it so dangerous to fall overboard?

On Behalf of | Apr 1, 2023 | Maritime Wrongful Death |

Everyone who works on a ship knows that it is dangerous to fall overboard. This is one of the main hazards in many maritime industries.

However, not everyone fully understands exactly why this risk is so problematic. People sometimes neglect to wear life preservers, for instance, because they are strong swimmers. They believe that they will be able to swim back to the craft, swim to shore, or even simply tread water while the boat comes around and picks them up. They know that it’s a risk, but they don’t believe it is that dire. Let’s look at why this is a dangerous approach and why falling overboard is so incredibly hazardous.

Most falls are not witnessed

First of all, if you’re counting on the boat coming back to pick you up, remember that 57% of incidents wherein someone falls overboard and passes away do not involve a witness. No one sees the person fall from the boat. They may have been working alone at the time. It may have happened during a storm. But even someone who can tread water is not safe because it could take quite some time for anyone on the vessel to realize that they need to come about and begin searching the waves for that worker.

The cold shock response

Those working in cold water also need to understand the impact of the cold shock response. There have been cases where people have drowned instantly due to this involuntary and automatic reaction. It happens when a worker is suddenly thrown into excessively cold water.

The problem is that the body’s natural inclination in this situation is to gasp. This can happen right as the person plunges underwater, causing them to immediately inhale that water. Even someone who would ordinarily be a strong swimmer could start drowning instantly at that point, long before they can be saved. This is why there are drowning incidents where the person is still relatively close to the vessel or even close to land. If not for the cold shock response, they may have been able to swim to safety, but this instinct makes rescue virtually impossible.

Have you lost a loved one?

If you have lost a loved one in a maritime accident, or if you have fallen overboard and suffered serious injuries due to water inhalation or hypothermia, be sure that you are well aware of all of the legal options at your disposal. These incidents are one reason why maritime work is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States and why there are special protections and benefits available for maritime workers.