Heading out on the water? If you spend a lot of time boating, hopefully by now you have a pretty solid grasp on boating safety. But if not, here are some tips which can help to ensure that you, your passengers, your boat, and other vessels remain safe while you are out. If you’re a skilled boater, a refresher never hurts—so read on. Whatever your level of experience, you can never be too safe.
1. Check the weather before you go. Familiarize yourself with unusual location conditions.
Even if you checked the weather yesterday, check it again today if you are planning to set sail. Weather forecasters make plenty of mistakes, and you cannot afford to let those mistakes endanger your vessel, your life, or your crew. NOAA is a good source of information. You may even have access to NOAA data on the same radio that you are bringing aboard your vessel.
Also make sure you have a broader understanding of the local climate. Are there unusual winds in the area or other strange weather patterns you should be aware of? Are there special measures you need to take to keep your vessel safe?
Only head out if you are certain you have the skills to handle the weather. Otherwise, wait for another day.
2. Have a checklist you follow before you depart.
A pre-departure checklist is an absolute must for ensuring safety on the water. If you forget a single important procedure, it could put everyone onboard at risk. With a checklist, you have everything right in front of you, leaving nothing up to chance.
3. Know the rules in the area where you are boating.
Just as each area has its own unique climate considerations and its own distinct currents and sea conditions, there are specific rules and regulations for every region as well. Make sure that you look these up and have a thorough understanding of them before you head out.
4. Designate a second-in-command and a lookout.
What should happen if you become disabled in some way when you are out at sea? Who will be able to handle the vessel properly, ensuring that everyone is able to return safely home? Make sure at least one other crew member knows how to operate the boat and is familiar with all safety rules. That way they can take over as skipper for you if necessary.
You also should have a lookout designated. This person can help you keep an eye out for other vessels and obstructions throughout your trip. If needed, several crew members can take shifts at this job.
5. Never go out on the water without telling someone where you are going.
Before you go out on a boat, you need what is known as a “float plan.” This should be given either to a friend or family member, or to someone at the marina. The float plan includes your name, address, and phone number, as well as contact information for everyone onboard your vessel. The type of boat and its registration data should be in the float plan, along with the course you have plotted for your trip. Also list any and all forms of communication equipment.
Doing this ensures that should you get stranded or go missing, someone will know roughly where you went and will be able to send out a search party or try to contact you.
6. Steer clear of alcohol or other substances which may affect your judgment.
It can be tempting to indulge in drugs and alcohol on your boating trip, but it is best to avoid doing so completely if you can. It just is not worth it to get into an accident. Wait until you are back on dry land before you drink.
7. Stock personal flotation devices for everyone on board and educate them on how to use them.
Hopefully, following all of the tips above will ensure that everybody remains safely onboard the boat. But you should plan for the worst, which means that every person onboard should have a personal flotation device which fits properly, and which they know how to use. It is easy to forget how to secure a flotation device, so a quick refresher before each trip is a good idea.
8. Bring all the supplies you think you will need—and then some.
Even if you plan to dock at a marina to eat each day, you should still bring sufficient rations for your trip, including both food and water. You also need to bring other supplies such as sunscreen. It is always wise to bring more than you think that you will need. Make sure you have enough fuel, and also that you know where you can pick up more along the way.
9. Learn how to send out distress signals via multiple channels.
You should have multiple meanings for sending out distress signals while you’re on the water. These might include a VHF/FM radio, an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), and a Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB. You how to operate these devices, and also how to properly code your distress signals. Also learn to interpret signals from other boaters who may need your help.
10. Keep a fire extinguisher on your vessel along with other emergency supplies (first aid kits, etc.).
Along with supplies for emergency communications, there are other important emergency supplies which you also need onboard your vessel. A fire extinguisher is a must, as is a first-aid kit. You also should have emergency kits which you can grab at a moment’s notice and bring with you if you need to jump overboard. Keep these in a watertight container. It is a good idea to have at least as many kits as there are passengers. That way if people get separated, they all have some basic emergency supplies.
11. Make sure everyone knows how to swim.
It should go without saying, but it is important for everyone onboard a vessel to know how to swim. If any of your passengers do not know how to swim, they should consider taking a couple basic lessons before heading out.
12. Take boating courses.
Whether you have taken a boating course in the past or not, it is always wise to brush up on your skills, and familiarize yourself with any changes in the regulations in your area. At the very least, you need to make sure that you have met the basic boating education requirements for your state. Continuing education also ensures that you will stay up-to-date with the latest safety techniques.
13. Get a free safety check from the US Coast Guard.
Did you know that the US Coast Guard offers free vessel safety checks? There are virtual checks you can do online, or you can have a specialist from the Coast Guard come out to take a look at your vessel in person to verify that it meets all safety regulations at the state and federal level. This is important both for legal and safety reasons.
14. Watch out for other vessels as well as marine animals.
Safety on the water is not just about protecting your vessel and passengers; it is also about making sure that everyone else stays safe around you. This means being aware and considerate of other vessels and swimmers around you, avoiding passing through others’ personal property, and steering clear of wilderness areas where motorized boats are not allowed. Watch out for breeding and nesting areas, and stay away from marine animals that your vessel might endanger. Do not dump waste overboard.
Now you know the basics of staying safe on your boating expeditions. Within each of these topic areas, there is a great deal to learn. So take some courses, do your research and stock up on the supplies you need. Only go out on the water when you are ready to keep yourself, your vessel, your passengers and others safe.