Going out on boating excursions is a summer pastime enjoyed by thousands of Americans. And while these activities are packed with fun and leisure, the number one priority for everyone on board should be safety. Luckily, boating safety is easy to accomplish by following simple steps for vessel operators and passengers alike. Your summertime boating expeditions can be full of fun and still be safety conscious.
Read on for 17 boat safety tips to implement before you set sail this summer!
1. Be Mindful of Alcohol & Drug Use
Though it might seem fun to pop a cold one on the water, any use of mind-altering substances while on the boat can distract the operator and add unnecessary risk to your voyage. It is crucial for both the operator and passengers to be aware of their surroundings when on the water. Because alcohol and drugs play a major role in boater injuries and fatalities, keep your passengers safe by keeping such substances off the boat or simply limiting the amount each passenger consumes. Consuming alcohol and drugs negatively impacts vision, balance, and reaction times, all hazardous to people on the water.
2. Be Alert
It might be an obvious consideration, but always keep alert when out on the water. Because accidents can happen quickly, with little or no warning, ensure everyone on the boat is on the lookout for potential hazards such as weather changes, other boats, people swimming, rocks, wildlife, lobster traps, etc. A general boating rule of thumb is that the more eyes peeled for dangers or hazards, the better!
3. Prepare for Safe Sailing
Make sure your boat is stocked with enough food and water, as well as emergency provisions. Having methods to protect boat operators and passengers from the sun is also crucial. Don’t forget the sunscreen, hats, and even shade-creators such as umbrellas. Keep the boat stocked with plenty of water to avoid dehydration because a prepared boat is a safe boat.
4. Check Weather Conditions
No matter the experience level of the boat’s operator, the weather cannot be controlled. Obvious weather conditions to look out for include storms, winds, and choppy and dangerous waters. Storms and high winds are not the only problems for boaters to run into—it’s just as important to check the temperature and heat index before heading out. Sunlight reflecting off the water contributes to overheating, sunburn, and dehydration, which are also hazardous to boaters. Check your local weather network before setting sail and pack the necessary equipment in case the weather or water conditions change.
5. Monitor Children
If you have children on board, make sure their safety needs are met. Children always need to wear life jackets and be kept away from the edges of the boat. Keep them hydrated, comfortable, and always in your sight. Always have a parent or an adult chaperone with children, including when the boat is stationary, moving, or during water sports. Create a safety plan in case of emergencies with special contingencies for the children aboard.
6. Have Open Communication Lines
Keeping communication open while on the water is crucial. Communication between passengers and operators and open communication lines to land-based facilities and rescue personnel must be in place. Ensure that you have at least two communication devices that will operate when wet, such as personal locator beacons or satellite phones. Don’t rely on your cell phone when out on the water.
7. Designate an Assistant Skipper
Ensure that an extra person onboard can also safely and completely operate the boat in case of an emergency. The auxiliary operator, or assistant skipper, should be well-acquainted with handling the boat, its operations, and general boating safety.
8. Ensure the Tank is Full Before Setting Out
It’s a good idea to keep your tank full whenever you set out. The last thing you want to experience during a fun day’s outing is to run out of fuel. More than a minor inconvenience, a boat that no longer runs can be carried away by a strong current and is at the mercy of the water.
9. Map Out a Float Plan
Like a flight plan, map out your expected time of departure and arrival, along with the route you propose to follow. You can download the U.S. Coast Guard’s float plan form directly from their website. Keep your float plan updated to show all the latest safety equipment on your vessel, its condition, and any other considerations of the boat itself.
10. Get a Vessel Safety Evaluation
To ensure safety measures, a professional can come down and perform a vessel safety evaluation before you set sail for the season. These evaluations include the condition and integrity of necessary safety equipment, mechanics of the boat, and other physical considerations. Cursory safety evaluations can be a complimentary service or come for a nominal fee, so it’s worth it to book one. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has more information on vessel safety checks.
11. Keep Clear of the Engine
Your boat’s engine is one of the most dangerous areas of the vessel, as it can cause serious injuries via the moving parts, and the carbon monoxide fumes from combustion can be hazardous. So, it’s better to keep everyone clear of the engine area whenever the boat is operating and running to ensure the passengers’ and operator’s safety.
12. Know Your Boat’s Maximum Capacity
You not only need to know the passenger limit but your boat’s maximum load for gear and equipment as well. Overloading your boat can lead to difficulties in handling and can unbalance your watercraft.
13. Know Your Boundaries
Being familiar with what your boat can and cannot handle is an important safety consideration. Additionally, identifying what you are comfortable with as a vessel operator is also key. Stay within safe limits while developing your boating skills and base your judgments on as many inputs as possible. It’s never too late to learn more about boating, but make sure you are comfortable and confident before adding passengers to the mix.
14. Look for Fuel Leaks
One of the highest causes of boating accidents is boat fires, and to prevent these from occurring, it’s important that you can identify what fuel looks like in the water. Always check your boat and surroundings for the signs of fuel leaks—rainbow-colored, greasy marks in the water.
15. Have Proper Safety Items
Though it’s fun to have items like kneeboards, tubes, wakeboards, and water skis onboard, you need to ensure the more essential items are also present for the safety of all people on the vessel.
Emergency Boating Kit
Keep a comprehensive emergency kit on the boat. Either compile your kit or purchase a boating kit at any major outdoor retailer. These kits should include items for most emergencies you might encounter on the water.
Emergency Locator Device
It is crucial to alert search and rescue services in case of an emergency. Two of the most common devices include an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). The former is designed for the vessel itself and is registered to the boat, and the latter is registered to the person and can be functional on land as well.
Make sure there is an available and functional life jacket for each passenger. Always assign and fit each person to their jacket before setting sail and check local regulations for jacket specifications.
Whenever the vessel is in motion, everyone on board should wear life jackets. It might put a damper on sunbathing or other such activities, but for safety’s sake, life jackets are non-negotiable. When the boat is stationary and safely moored, the older passengers can safely remove their life jackets while still following other boating safety guidelines. Anyone under the age of 16 should always wear a life jacket on the boat, as well as anyone participating in any water sports. Refer to the U.S. Coast Guard’s life jacket guidelines for more information.
Sound Producing Devices
Bells, horns, and whistles are important when visibility is an issue on the water and needs to be readily accessible to the passengers onboard. All sound-producing devices need to be audible for a one-half-mile radius for safety.
Throwable Flotation Aids
In the case of a person falling overboard, throwable flotation aids are necessary. Throwable devices include buoyant cushions, horseshoe buoys, and ring buoys. Make sure to attach several feet of floating line to these throwable devices to ensure rescuers can better assist victims in the water, and make sure all flotation devices are U.S. Coast Guard approved.
Visual Distress Signals (VDS)
Always have U.S. Coast Guard-approved day and night signals, electric distress lights, flares, and orange signal flags stocked on your vessel. Additionally, check the condition of these devices before you leave the shore.
16. Do Safe Movements
Keep your movements relegated to the appropriate travel areas of the boat, and ensure that passengers follow a few rules to avoid having to call “man overboard,” including:
- Have all passengers brace whenever the vessel is turning or making tight maneuvers.
- Keep your center of gravity low by not standing or moving when the boat is traveling.
- Make sure all limbs are kept inside the boat whenever the vessel is moving.
- Sit properly, only in areas that are designed for seating.
17. Sign Up for a Smart911 Safety Profile
You can set up a Smart911 profile with your contact and boat information, locations, GPS signaling, and more. This will help first responders immensely during the case of an emergency. The Smart911 profile increases the chances of emergency responders being prompt in responding to any issues a boater may have.