Spending time on the water can be an exciting adventure, but safety should always be the top priority. Follow these comprehensive boating safety tips to ensure your next maritime excursion is smooth sailing.
Conduct Thorough Pre-Departure Checks
Before driving any boat, thoroughly inspect your vessel to identify any issues before leaving shore. Check for cracks or damage in the hull, ensure all lights are functioning properly, test communications devices, confirm all safety equipment is onboard and up to date, check fuel and oil levels, and make sure all mechanical systems are in good working order.
Have Proper Safety Gear Onboard
Coast Guard regulations mandate certain safety equipment based on your vessel type and length, but it’s wise to carry additional gear. Essentials include life jackets for all passengers, throwable flotation devices, visual distress signals like flares, fire extinguishers, navigation lights, first-aid kit, anchor and line, bilge pump, and a VHF marine radio. Also pack supplies like sunscreen, food, water, an extra life jacket, boat hook, and garbage bags.
File a Float Plan
Always file a float plan with a trusted contact before heading offshore. Include details like departure/return times, passenger info, boat description, exact route, marina contacts, and any other useful information. Remember to cancel your float plan upon safe return. That way, loved ones can alert the Coast Guard if your group becomes overdue.
Watch the Weather Diligently
Monitor marine weather forecasts daily leading up to your trip, and continue checking in while onboard. Conditions can change rapidly, so listen to NOAA weather radio updates. Avoid boating in hazardous weather featuring high winds, lightning, hurricanes, dense fog, or choppy seas. If caught in a storm, put on life jackets, drop anchor, and ride it out cautiously.
Follow Navigation Rules
Learn the navigation rules and right-of-way laws to safely operate your vessel while on the water. Travel at safe speeds, stay aware of surroundings, yield right-of-way, use running lights at night, comply with buoy markers, watch for swimmers and divers, and avoid anchoring in busy channels. Taking a safe boating course is advised to fully understand navigational and maritime rules.
Master Safe Anchoring Techniques
Anchoring is a vital boating skill, but improper anchoring causes accidents and wrecks. Choose an appropriate anchor weight for your boat size, lower it steadily under control, carefully back down hard to set, allow ample chain/line (at least 7:1 ratio), check your holding, and provide anchor lights at night. Scope out potential anchorage sites in advance and avoid gears like coral that can snag anchors.
Prevent Propeller Strikes
Propeller strikes are a major boating hazard that often cause serious injury or death from lacerations. Turn off your engine if anyone is in the water nearby. Avoid drifting, sharp turns, and sudden prop directional changes when swimmers are present. Use prop guards, swim ladders, and wheel covers to prevent accidental propeller contact when people are boarding or disembarking your boat.
Assign a Sober Skipper
Just like driving a car, operating a boat under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or intoxicating medications is extremely dangerous and illegal. Designate a completely sober skipper for all voyages, and abstain from alcohol consumption while captaining your vessel. Impaired boating diminishes your reaction time, balance, vision, judgment, and hearing.
Prepare for Emergencies
Despite best efforts, boating accidents and emergencies can still occur. Take a CPR/first aid class so you can provide potentially life-saving assistance until emergency responders arrive. Know how to quickly stop your engine, call for help on the radio, deploy your life raft, use locator devices, and help others don life jackets. Remaining calm and having an emergency action plan can help you handle crisis situations if they arise.
Following comprehensive safe boating practices maximizes enjoyment on the water while minimizing preventable accidents, injuries, or worse. Prioritizing safety from preparation to departure to return will help ensure many happy, hassle-free voyages ahead for you and your passengers.