Man Overboard! What to Do If Someone Falls Off a Boat

A Royal Caribbean passenger had a miraculous rescue after falling overboard from the 10th deck of a cruise ship near the Dominican Republic last weekend.

The 42-year-old woman, whose identity has not been revealed, was on board the Mariner of the Seas vessel on Sunday, June 25, when she plunged into the ocean. The ship was about 30 miles south of the Dominican Republic, on its way to Willemstad, Curaçao.

The crew quickly launched a rescue boat and began searching for the woman, with the help of some passengers who spotted her in the water. After searching for 45 minutes, the woman was safely recovered and brought back on board.

“The passenger was recovered alive and reported to be in good health,” a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson told media. Royal Caribbean said also in a statement that the woman was being kept in the cruise ship’s medical facility and later transferred to a hospital in Willemstad for an evaluation.

“Our care team is now offering assistance and support to them and their traveling party. Out of privacy for the guest and their family, we have no additional details to share,” the statement said.

The cruise line also praised the crew for their swift and professional response, as well as the passengers who assisted in the rescue effort. The cause of the incident is not clear, but Royal Caribbean said that most cases of passengers going overboard are either due to reckless behavior or intentional acts.

Water rescue experts said that it was a “miracle” that the woman survived the fall from such a height, as well as the immersion in the water and the exposure to the elements.

“For her to have survived the fall, let alone the immersion [in the water], let alone [rescuers] being able to find her and complete the rescue in 45 minutes — it’s nothing short of miraculous,” Gerald Dworkin, the founder of Lifesaving Resources, an aquatics safety training company, told Insider.

Dworkin said that many factors can lead to death or serious injury in such situations, such as trauma from hitting the water at high speed, hypothermia, drowning, dehydration, sunburn, shark attacks, or being swept away by currents.

He said that the woman “overcame the odds and survived — it’s just absolutely miraculous.”

Other Notable Man Overboard Incidents

While the woman who fell from the Mariner of the Seas was lucky to be alive, not all passengers who go overboard on cruise ships have such a happy ending. According to Cruise Junkie, a website that tracks marine accident reports with cited news sources, there have been 556 cases of people going overboard on cruise ships alone since 1995.

Some of the most notable cases include:

  • In January 2019, a 16-year-old boy fell from the eighth deck of Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas while trying to climb into his cabin balcony from another balcony. He died from his injuries.
  • In June of 2023, A seven-year-old boy died after falling overboard off a Stena Line passenger ferry in the Baltic Sea. His mother, who jumped in after in a desperate attempt to rescue him, also lost her life. 
  • In May of 2023, a Louisiana teen jumped overboard on a dare on a Bahamas sunset cruise. His body was never recovered.
  • In November 2018, a British woman survived 10 hours in the Adriatic Sea after falling from Norwegian Star near Croatia. She said she sang songs to keep herself awake until she was rescued by a coast guard vessel.
  • In May 2018, an Australian woman fell from P&O’s Pacific Dawn near New Caledonia. She was not found, despite an extensive search by the ship and authorities.
  • In January 2018, a man jumped from Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas near Singapore. He was rescued by a passing fishing boat after six hours in the water.
  • In May 2016, a British man fell from Navigator of the Seas near Key West, Florida. He was spotted by a Disney cruise ship and rescued after five hours in the water.
  • In March 2015, a Canadian woman fell from Carnival Triumph near Mexico. She was rescued by another Carnival ship after four hours in the water.
  • In January 2012, a man fell from Costa Concordia when it capsized near Italy. He survived by clinging to a piece of furniture for more than 24 hours before being rescued by divers.

Some of the safety measures you can take to avoid man overboard incidents, both as a boat operator, marine worker, and/or leisure passenger, are:

  • Reduce alcohol intake before and during boarding a boat. Alcohol can impair your balance, coordination, judgment, and reaction time, making you more prone to falling overboard or being unable to help yourself or others in an emergency.
  • Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or a life jacket. This can save your life if you fall overboard, as it can keep you afloat, prevent hypothermia, and make you more visible to rescuers. Choose a PFD that fits you well and is appropriate for your activity and water conditions.
  • Boat edges and floors should have good traction. Slippery surfaces can cause you to lose your footing and fall overboard. Use non-skid mats, tape, or paint to provide grip on boat edges and floors.
  • Avoid standing or sitting on unsafe places while the boat is moving. Do not stand or sit on the foredeck, gunwales, engine boxes, seat backs, or transoms of small boats, as these can be unstable and risky. Stay inside the boat and keep your weight low and close to the centerline.
  • Use a tether and jack line if you must be on deck during dangerous conditions. A tether is a strap that attaches your harness or PFD to a jack line, which is a rope or wire that runs along the deck of the boat. This can prevent you from falling overboard or drifting away from the boat if you do.
  • Keep the boat in good performance and maintenance. Make sure the boat is seaworthy, has adequate fuel and fire extinguishers, and does not expose extra fuel containers to direct sunlight. Check the weather forecast and sea conditions before you go out, and avoid boating in bad weather or rocky seas.
  • Observe crew members and passengers and have a man overboard policy and plan. Aboard smaller vessels, make sure everyone on board knows what to do in case of a man overboard situation, such as sounding the alarm, maintaining visual contact with the person in the water, throwing life rings or buoys, marking the spot with GPS, and staying in the location until rescue arrives. Practice man overboard retrieval drills regularly, and assign roles and responsibilities to each crew member or passenger.

We at the Herd Law Firm are proud to fight for maritime workers and passengers in all types of personal injury claims, and never waver in our commitment to help these maritime workers and their families when they are injured.

Charles Herd is a Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife-certified Boater Safety Instructor as well!



  1. Safety Measures To Prevent Falling Overboard a Boat.
  2. Man overboard: prevention and rescue.
  3. Cruise Junkie Cruise Passengers Overboard (

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