Warm weather means long, relaxing days out on the water with your friends and loved ones. Regardless of how long you’ve been boating, it’s helpful to brush up on boating safety best practices to help avoid an accident.
In 2017, 658 people lost their lives in boating accidents, according to the United States Coast Guard. Another 2,692 were injured in 4,291 total boating accidents for that year. As concerning as these numbers are, they shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the water. Just remember to follow some important boat safety precautions before you head out:
- Have your boat inspected. The Vessel Safety Check is a free public service offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron volunteers. Experts will ensure that your boat meets minimum safety standards and that you have the necessary equipment to save lives and summon help in an emergency.
- Make sure plenty of life jackets are on board. The most important piece of boat safety equipment is the piece you wear on your own body – your life jacket. Eighty-two percent of drowning victims were not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD), according to Coast Guard studies. The minimum guideline is to have one life jacket readily available for each person on board. However, remember that life jackets are most effective when they're worn... and local laws might require you to wear a life jacket while on a vessel in motion. Check state-specific life jacket requirements at BoatUs.org. In states where no children’s life jacket law is in place, a U.S. Coast Guard interim rule requires children under 13 to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that fits while they’re on the boat. Read more life jacket tips on the U.S. Coast Guard website.
- Develop (and communicate) a float plan. This includes all pertinent information to your trip including contact information for the trip leader, the boat type and registration information and where you plan to boat. Give someone at your marina a heads-up, or a family member, especially if you’re going somewhere remote.
- Remember, alcohol and boating don’t mix. Sixteen percent of all recreational boating fatalities have been linked to drinking while boating. While it is not illegal to drink in a boat, excessive drinking jeopardizes boat safety. If drinking will be part of your next boating trip, appoint a designated driver just as you would with a car.
- Pay attention to the weather. No one would think of taking a boat out in a thunderstorm. Yet boat owners often don’t think twice about other weather conditions that could prove just as dangerous. Avoid boating on exceptionally windy days since waves could capsize a smaller boat or cause passengers to fall out.
- Keep your boating skills sharp. More than 70 percent of boating accidents each year are linked to operator error. You can improve your boating knowledge by enrolling in educational courses to keep everything fresh in your mind.
- Know how to swim. This should be a no-brainer, but it’s especially important if you’ll be on a boat in open water (and you’re not wearing a PFD).
- Use common sense. Use your boater safety knowledge every time you go out. Stay alert at all times, operate your boat at safe speeds and steer clear of any potentially dangerous situations. Always follow buoys and navigational aids―they’re there for your safety, after all.
This article was originally published in 2014. It was updated with new information in May 2019.