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.
According to news sources, former Miami Dolphins fullback, Rob Konrad, survived a boating accident by swimming nine miles to shore. The 38-year-old was fishing alone off the South Florida coast when he fell from his 36-foot boat and was unable to re-board the vessel. He was later found on the beach by police and contacted rescue officials himself when he finally reached shore. Konrad apparently spent 10 to 12 hours in the water following his epic ordeal. When Konrad failed to meet friends for dinner as planned, they called the Coast Guard to begin a search. But despite search efforts, it was Konrad himself who called for his own rescue when he finally made it ashore at around 4 AM.
Konrad is extremely lucky that the currents didn’t prevent him from reaching land or that he didn’t run into other dangers, such as sharks, as he reportedly swam through shark-infested waters. He’s also fortunate he was able to swim in the right direction to reach the shore – a miraculous feat considering he was swimming in the middle of the night – and was also fortunate that the cold waters didn’t lead him to suffer hypothermia, though he was treated for potential hypothermia in the hospital and later released.
The best thing a person can do in a situation where they fall overboard is to stay with the boat. This makes it more likely that the victim will be visible to rescue parties. If the boat sinks, however, treading water and floating may be a person’s only option. Swimming to shore may be the best way to have a real chance at rescue, but if injuries are sustained, if the shoreline is too far off, or if the victim is not a strong swimmer, this can be a huge challenge. This is why it is always vital to wear a life jacket while out at sea.
A former football player has much more endurance than your average individual, but even then, the most experienced, athletic person can face an array of difficulties following a boating accident that can render them incapable of swimming to shore or even staying afloat long enough for rescue teams to arrive. In these circumstances, a life jacket is the only protection a victim has to increase their chance of survival. No matter how close a boater, jet ski user, or any other personal water craft operator may be to shore, it is crucial that they wear a life jacket at all times.