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PA Boating Handbook
Rescue & Survival
No one should ever count on being rescued. Boaters must be prepared for mishaps on the water. Drowning can occur within a few feet of safety. Even those who cannot swim can save a life if they know some basic rescue techniques.


  1. Self rescue: The rescuer should try to talk the person in trouble into self-rescue and avoid endangering themselves unnecessarily.
  2. Reach: A fishing rod, shirt, towel, branch, oar, pole, boat hook or other object can be used to reach out to the victim. If nothing is available and the victim is within arm’s reach, the rescuer should lie flat and extend a leg to the victim, pulling them to safety.
  3. ThrowThrow: If the victim is too far for the reach rescue, the rescuer should throw a rope, life jacket, empty jug, ice chest or gas can, or anything else that will float to the victim. Rescue line bags are excellent items to keep on a boat.
  4. Row: The rescuer may boat out to the victim and extend an oar or paddle. The victim should be brought back onboard over the stern (back) of the boat. They should be pulled onboard as carefully as possible. If it isn’t possible to bring them onboard, the rescuer should have them hold on to the boat, or hold them until help arrives.
  5. Go: Swimming rescues are for trained lifesavers only. A swimming rescue should never be tried until all other basic rescue methods have been ruled out. Rescuers who must swim to a victim should wear a life jacket and take a floating object with them to extend to the victim. Rescuers should avoid personal contact with the victim unless they have had lifeguard training. Even then, it is used only as a last resort.

The method of rescue depends on the rescuer’s training and skill, the condition and location of the victim, the equipment available and what additional support is available at the scene.

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