Types of boating emergency

How to prevent and respond to common emergencies and incidents on board a vessel.

Many emergencies on board a vessel can be prevented with regular maintenance and safe operating procedures.

Find out more about who to contact during and after an emergency.


You may have a collision with another vessel, a submerged or a fixed object while boating.

What to do if you have a collision

  • check your passengers to ensure any injured are given first aid
  • check your vessel and make sure there are no leaks
  • if you require urgent assistance, make a distress call using your marine radio on channel 16 for VHF, channel 88 for 27MHz or 4125 HF
  • if you have a collision with another vessel you are legally required to stand by and, if safe to do so, provide assistance and exchange details with the other vessel operator
  • if you collide with a navigation aid or a submerged object, call the WA Water Police on 9442 8600 and advise them of the hazard. 

Find out how you can prevent collisions while boating.


Capsizing can be caused by poor weather conditions, poor driving technique, uneven load distribution or overloading your vessel.

What to do in a capsize


Regular maintenance will help to prevent your vessel breaking down.

What to do during a vessel breakdown

If you are unable to restart your vessel’s motor:


Most trailer boats have flotation to cope with flooding, and rarely sink. Larger boats without flotation usually take some time to sink.

Be prepared for sinking by:

  • having lifejackets and other safety equipment easily accessible
  • storing emergency provisions in a watertight drum
  • storing extra water in a floating container.

What to do when your vessel is sinking

Before abandoning the boat:

  • use your marine radio to send a distress call
  • put on your lifejacket
  • do not remove any clothing - put on more if you have time.

Once in the water:

  • activate your EPIRB or PLB
  • adopt the huddle position to keep everybody together and to conserve body heat
  • stay with the boat for as long as possible if it is still afloat.


Grounding is when a vessel makes contact with a reef or sea bed.

Grounding can result in vessel damage, sinking, injuries and environmental damage.

You can prevent grounding by:

  • keeping a good lookout
  • planning your trip using a nautical chart, making sure you will have enough water depth throughout
  • make sure you can identify and understand navigation marks, and keep in mind that not all of them have lights at night
  • slow down if you’re in doubt about your position or the meaning of a navigation mark or aid.

What to do if your vessel is grounded

  • If you vessel is outboard or sterndrive powered, raise the leg and check for propeller damage.
  • If the vessel appears serviceable, check the water depth by probing with a boat hook or getting over the side.
  • You may be able to push the boat clear, but you may need to wait for the tide to rise.
  • If the boat is unseaworthy or hard aground, call for assistance over you marine radio.
  • Coming to a sudden stop can cause injuries. Check your passengers and call for medical assistance if necessary.

  Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas produced when carbon-based fuel is burnt, such as diesel, petrol, or propane.

Vessel engines generators, stoves and heaters can produce carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide can build up in confined, poorly ventilated spaces and cause harm to people on board.

Carbon monoxide poisoning due to inhalation can cause death in minutes. Symptoms include:

  • headache
  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • irritated eyes

How to treat carbon monoxide poisoning

If you suspect someone on board has carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • move them to a well-ventilated area immediately
  • call for medical assistance.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

To prevent carbon monoxide build on your vessel:

  • make sure all fuel burning appliances and generators are operated correctly and installed and serviced by a qualified technician
  • maintain proper ventilation and air circulation throughout the boat, particularly in confined spaces such as the cabin or canvas enclosures
  • direct exhaust fumes away from a vessel’s cabin or accommodation spaces
  • install carbon monoxide alarms in the engine room and the main cabin
  • do not use an onboard stove or oven for heating
  • do not sit at the swim platform while the engines are running
  • avoid leaving your vessel engine running when berthed or rafted with another boat.

Dangers of carbon monoxide when boating


To reduce the risk of fires on board:

  • maintain your vessel and check for leaks in fuel and gas systems.
  • ensure electrical, fuel and LPG systems are installed and serviced by a qualified professional.
  • store and dispose of any flammable material properly.
  • take care when using gas stoves.
  • keep compartments ventilated.
  • take care when refuelling.
  • clean up any oil or fuel spills immediately.
  • keep the bilge and engine room clean.
  • maintain and check your fire extinguisher and make sure it is easily accessible.

What to do in a fire

If a fire starts on your vessel:

  • raise the alarm and make a head count
  • use your marine radio to make an Mayday distress call
  • close off fuel lines and gas lines
  • move the passengers as far as possible from the fire
  • Ii the fire is within an enclosed space, close all openings to reduce air supply to the fire
  • try to put out the fire with an extinguisher, fire blanket, water buckets or whatever is appropriate
  • if safe to do so, throw the burning item over the side into the water
  • keep a watch on the area once the fire is out, as fires can restart
  • put on lifejackets and abandon ship if required and safe to do so.
Page last updated: Fri Aug 4 2023 12:12:36 PM