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Person overboard

Feel confident about capsize and person overboard drills with these dry land dramas.

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You’ll need

  • Nautical props (optional)
Scouts practice what to do in the event that someone falls overboard when on the water.

Before you begin

  • Try this activity at your meeting place before heading off on a water activities trip.
  • Make sure all activity leaders have read through the Royal Life Saving Society’s advice on how to rescue someone from drowning before delivering this activity.

Run through the drill

  1. Everyone should sit in a large circle.
  2. The person leading the activity should invite someone to help them demonstrate a person overboard situation: someone’s fallen off a boat into the water and needs to be rescued. They can pretend they are in a double kayak, sailing dinghy or paddle boarding together.

Be clear that the group will need to use their imagination.

  1. The person should pretend to fall in the water (or pretend that their craft has capsized).
  2. Everyone should call out, ‘person overboard’.
  3. One person should look and point continuously at the person in the water so rescuers can see where they are.
  4. The person in the water should swim to the side of the craft and holds on as it can act as a flotation device. They could also look for a buoy or ring buoy.
  5. One person should check that everyone else is OK and holding onto the craft.
  6. The person leading the activity should check everyone understands what happened during this drill before continuing to the stories.
  7. Everyone should know to help others who are not OK. They should remember that they should never put themselves in danger.

Wait for help to come or if near land, call for help and work together to pull the volunteer in and take the craft to safety. If the person in the water is wet, they should change into dry clothes and warm up quickly.

Storytelling time

  1. The person leading the activity should read out the stories below while everyone else acts them out.

One group at a time could act while everyone else watches, or everyone could get into small groups and act them out at the same time. Helpers can remind groups of the different steps and assist where needed. The final story involves the whole group.

  1. Now, everyone should have the confidence, skills and knowledge to complete a person overboard drill in water.

Read out these stories for people to act out.

Use any props available to add to the drama (helmets, paddles, life jackets).

  1. [name] and [name] are paddling down the river in a double kayak. It’s summer and the sun is really hot. They wave to people in other watercraft and can’t wait to get back to dry land and enjoy a delicious picnic. Suddenly a speedboat flies past too fast. The kayak wobbles once, twice, three times and capsizes…

When the story trails off, the actors continue the drama.

  1. A group of friends decide to take their sailing dinghy out on a breezy day. The breeze is a bit stronger than they initially thought. In fact, it tears at their clothes and pulls the sheet out of their hands. The wind grows stronger and stronger and the boom swings round and knocks [name] into the water…

… now it’s up to the team to act.

  1. A group of friends have built a raft and they’re really pleased with it. They decide to test it on the river so one person holds it steady while the others climb on. It’s a bit wobbly so they sit carefully at each corner and paddle together. The raft is fine for at least 30 seconds but then it starts to slowly, slowly sink until the water is up to their knees…

… now it’s up to the team to act. (The actors could steer the sinking raft back to the bank, fall off and swim ashore, check that everyone is OK, and call for help.)

  1. The whole section is off on a kayaking expedition on a large lake. Everyone paddles along together singing a song, being very careful to stay away from each other’s paddles. There’s a fast boat cruising the water and keeping an eye on everyone. Suddenly [name] spots two children who have fallen out of their rubber dinghy…

… now it’s up to the team to act. (The actors could call, ‘person overboard’, alert the coastguard, paddle to the children, help them out of the water, help them hold on to their kayaks or paddles and reassure them that help is coming.)


This activity helped everyone to practise essential skills in a safe environment before they embark on water activities. Everyone had to be brave and calm in the drama situations and think quickly while taking steps to keep themselves and others safe. If anyone has done a capsize drill on real water, they could tell the group what it was like. They should talk about whether were scared or nervous and how they felt afterwards. Do they have any useful tips such as keep calm, hold on to the craft or breathe steadily? Well done to everyone on being ready to take part in water activities.


All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Active games

The game area should be free of hazards. Explain the rules of the game clearly and have a clear way to communicate that the game must stop when needed. Take a look at our guidance on running active games safely.

Contact games and activities

Make sure everyone understands what contact is acceptable, and monitor contact throughout the activity.

Add in extra elements while the actors are acting, for example the wind could push the person further away from the boat, the craft could be further from the shore than everyone initially thought or one of the rescuers could also fall in the water.

Make sure everyone can take part by giving them all specific roles, such as being the person to call for help or the person on the shoreline who spots a vessel in trouble.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

Try this activity just before heading out to do water activities. Link this to the requirements for the Sailing Staged Activity Badge or Water Activities Activity Badge. You could also use props so it seems more real.

You could invite members from a Sea Scout Group or an older section who have completed relevant badges and awards to help out.

You could book a visit from the RNLI to learn about water safety.

The group can make up their own stories and dramas to share.