7 Essential Boating Safety Tips

Ready to buy a boat or rent a charter and head out on the water? Before you go packing your personal cooler, fishing tackle and water toys, it’s important to understand basic boating safety. From the proper gear and equipment to just generally being aware of your surroundings and following navigational rules of the waterways, here are seven boating safety tips that all boaters should know.

#1 Always Carry a Boat Safety Kit

Whenever you set out on a boating trip, you should carry a boat safety kit. During an emergency, a boat safety kit could save a life. Just what belongs in a boat safety kit? Here’s what you need:

  • First Aid Kit: Make sure there’s a first aid kit on board for passengers. If someone gets injured, know how to dress the injury, too, and learn your basic first aid procedures.
  • Flashlight: Make sure to carry a waterproof, rechargeable flashlight or a headlamp to help you inspect the motor compartment if it stalls or to generally see around at night.
  • Bail Bucket: Always carry a bail bucket on board your boat. Even without a leak, a boat can take on lots of water from large waves or even torrential downpours of rain.
  • Whistle and Foghorn: It’s good safety practice to keep a whistle on you at all times, in case you go overboard. However, a foghorn, which can be significantly louder, can get the attention of other boaters if needed.
  • Ropes: Always have spare ropes on board. Ropes can be used to not only secure your boat to a tow should you run out of fuel, but can be used to rescue an overboard passenger. If someone falls overboard, you should know how to tie a knot to pull them safely back up into the vessel.
  • Fire Extinguisher: Always carry the proper fire extinguisher for your vessel. You never know when you might need it.

#2 Bring Life Jackets for Everyone on Board

boating safety tips

Make sure to carry enough life jackets for everyone on board. Furthermore, be sure they are the right life jackets for the type of boating you’ll be doing and that each is adequately sized for the designated passengers’ height and weight. Be sure to pick the right type of life vest that is approved for your water-based boating activity, body of water or any other factors that need to be considered.

For example, if you are taking the fishing boat out on the lake, you may want to consider a life vest with extra pockets and straps to keep tackle and other fishing supplies close at hand. However, if you are on a sailboat or a speedboat out in the ocean, an auto or inflatable life vest is a safer option, able to turn an unconscious wearer face up until they can be rescued.

For example, if you are taking the fishing boat out on the lake, you may want to consider a life vest with extra pockets and straps to keep tackle and other fishing supplies close at hand. However, if you are on a sailboat or a speedboat out in the ocean, an auto or inflatable life vest is a safer option, able to turn an unconscious wearer face up until they can be rescued.

#3 Keep an Eye on the Weather

Check the forecast before you venture out on a boating trip and keep an eye out for storms and nasty weather. If a storm rolls in out of nowhere, you have the option of heading back home, seeking shelter at a nearby marina or even anchoring in a lee away from strong winds and choppy waters.

#4 Don’t Go Over the Boat’s Passenger or Weight Capacity

Each boat or vessel has a passenger or weight capacity, which is there for good reason. Overloading a boat can turn into a dangerous situation, making it capsize. So think twice before turning it into a party barge or filling it to the brim with fishing equipment, grills and heavy objects like fishing coolers. Be aware of your boat’s capacity restrictions and follow them closely.

#5 Smell for and Detect Dangerous Fumes

Keep a nose out for any unusual fumes, especially fueling up your boat. Open hatches and other areas where fumes can become trapped and allow it to air out if needed before starting the engine. Fumes can also accumulate when boat engines are idling or running at a low speed, so give it time to disperse before taking off.

While carbon monoxide is odorless, there’s many portable CO2 detectors you can install in cabins below the main deck, where there are sleeping berths and other enclosed living spaces.

#6 Know the Rules of the Road (or Waterways)

Unlike driving, there’s no test or waterway DMV to obtain a boater’s license (unless you want to be a captain). However, all boaters should know the basic rules. While most waterways are open and you don’t have to worry about crashing into other boaters, there’s still common courtesy and etiquette to follow — especially ones that can help you stay safe. Learning how to navigate safely around a channel and knowing who has the right-of-way is a good place to start, among other rules.

#7 Always Give Someone Your Float Plan

What is a float plan? Essentially, a float plan is an itinerary of your boating excursion. It should list where you are headed, the date you are headed there and when you plan to return. Give the float plan to a trusted friend or family member, or even your local marina, so they can send for help in case you do not return in a reasonable amount of time.

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