With the temperatures beginning to heat up, many families are taking to the water to enjoy some good old-fashioned summer fun from the comfort of their recreational boats. But, nothing can ruin a summer boat outing faster than being unprepared for an injury or emergency on the water.
Whether you’re in a sailboat, motor boat, pontoon, kayak, or canoe, make sure that you’re familiar with the rules that govern the water, just as you are with those that govern the roads. These boating safety tips will ensure that you and your loved ones enjoy a fun and incident-free summer on the water.
1. Always Wear a Life Jacket
Think of your life jacket as your seatbelt on the water—wear it at ALL times when boating!
Statistics show that drowning is by far the highest cause of death related to boating accidents. Over 90% of drownings occur when victims are not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Wearing a properly fastened life jacket is the simplest thing you can do to ensure everyone’s safety while boating.
Make sure to provide enough PFDs for everyone on board—including infants. Stress the importance of wearing them properly and demonstrate how to use them, especially for children. Even your furry companions should have well-fitting life jackets to safely enjoy summer boat outings.
Remember, while life jackets may be a little uncomfortable, they will help save your life in an emergency.
2. Master Your Swimming Skills
Personal flotation devices are very helpful to prevent drowning, but do not rely exclusively on a life jacket for your safety—learn how to swim.
Not only is knowing how to swim a must for your safety on the water, but it comes with many other benefits as well. It can build your confidence, increase your cardiovascular strength, and may even allow you to come to someone else’s rescue in the case of an emergency.
A boat outing may seem like the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy some adult beverages with your family and friends, but research has shown again and again the dangerous effects of combining alcohol consumption with recreational boating.
Alcohol impairs your judgement and slows your reaction times, both of which are necessary to safely pilot a boat. The effects of alcohol on your system can also be intensified by exposure to the sun and wind. This means that even if you know your limits and consume a conservative amount of alcohol while on the water, you could be much more significantly affected than you expect.
And if that isn’t enough to convince you, remember that being intoxicated while operating a boat is a federal offense—so DON’T do it!
When it comes to keeping your family safe on the water, think before you drink.
4. Keep Tabs on the Weather
Before you head out for a day on the water, check out the weather forecast and stay advised of local conditions. Pay attention to sudden changes in temperature, wind, and clouds while on the water—weather conditions can change rapidly in some locations.
When in doubt, return to shore rather than risk endangering yourself and others.
Even when the weather is clear, be sure to bring sufficient sunscreen and drinking water for your day out in the summer sun. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, and dizziness, all of which can influence your ability to safely pilot a boat.
5. Devise a Float Plan—and Share It Widely!
You can enhance your safety during recreational boating by creating and communicating a “float plan.” This is a basic itinerary for your boating trip that includes a return time. Share this plan with a family member, friend, or local marina staff so that they know when to expect you and can take the proper steps if you don’t show up as planned.
It’s also valuable to include your personal information and that of fellow passengers, specific boat information including type and registration, and communication equipment on board your boat in the float plan. In the case of an emergency, this information will give responders the ability to quickly locate and help your group.
For a downloadable float plan template, click here.
6. Appoint a Skipper
Every good captain needs a skipper! Appoint someone on board to be the designated skipper who will take over for the captain in case of an emergency.
At least one other person on board, besides the vehicle operator, should know all the ins and outs of the boat operation and communication equipment. Alert the skipper to safety features and protocol and the location of emergency equipment and communication tools. Most importantly, prepare a clear plan of action in case the main operator is injured, impaired, or incapacitated in any way.
7. Be Water Wise—Use Common Sense!
As a general rule of thumb, use common sense to guide your recreational boating activities. Keep these safe boating guidelines in mind as you are enjoying the water:
- Keep speeds to a safe minimum when traveling through condensed areas with a lot of recreational traffic.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times to protect against collisions.
- Concede the right of way to larger boats and watercraft since they are unable to quickly stop and change directions to avoid you—they may not even be able to see you!
- Heed buoys and other safety indicators—they are there to protect you.
Have Fun and Stay Safe
This list is not exhaustive, but it should serve as a helpful starting point for a safe summer boating season. Make sure to share the safety procedures and rules with everyone on the boat, even children! When everyone knows and complies with the boat safety protocols, then you can focus on the next-most important thing—soaking up that summer sun with the ones you love.