When the weather warms up, it’s the perfect time to get out on the water. While boating is one of summertime’s best outdoor activities, it’s important to take safety precautions to help prevent accidents and injuries. Here are 8 tips to keep your friends and family safe while you’re on the water.
1. Make sure all passengers wear life jackets that fit properly—especially children.
The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of over 80% of people who died in a boating accident.
When an accident happens, there’s rarely time to reach for stowed life jackets, so make sure your passengers wear them whenever the boat is in operation. Today a wide variety of lifejackets are available, with many being thin and flexible. Some life jackets for adults are inflatable and can be worn like a scarf or fanny pack until hitting the water, when they automatically fill with air.
2. Take a boating safety course.
Human error is the #1 cause of boating accidents, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, so it’s important to learn how to properly operate and navigate your boat. Check out these boating safety courses (many of them with online options), which cover boat handling and navigation, reading the weather, safety instruction and more.
3. Don’t drink alcohol while operating the boat.
Not only is drinking and boating against the law, but it also risks the safety of everyone on board. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that the use of alcohol is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities, with the majority of those being due to a capsized boat or a person who fell overboard. It’s important for everyone on board to understand the danger of drinking alcohol while boating.
4. Have the proper safety equipment on board.
At minimum, make sure you have a fire extinguisher, flares, navigation lights, a sound-producing device (such as a whistle, horn or siren), a first-aid kit, an anchor and a life jacket for every person on board. If you’d like your boat to have a courtesy Vessel Safety Check performed by the U.S. Coast Guard, you can learn more here. The Vessel Safety Check is free of charge, and there are no consequences if your boat doesn’t pass.
5. Watch weather and water conditions carefully.
Always check the weather forecast before going out on the water. Especially in summertime, what starts out as a warm sunny day can quickly turn into a dark afternoon thunderstorm. If it looks like a storm is brewing (increased wind and choppy waters are key signs), get to shore as soon as possible.
6. Maintain a safe speed.
Just like on land, you can face fines and penalties for speeding on the water. Plus, there aren’t “lanes” on water, and various types of watercraft zig-zag all over the place, which can make it more challenging to avoid collisions. Make sure to obey speed limits while you’re boating, and take any curves or turns with excess caution.
7. Don’t overload your boat.
It’s important to follow your boat’s capacity restrictions. Having too much weight on board, whether from passengers or equipment, can cause your boat to become unbalanced and risk capsizing.
8. Protect yourself with boat insurance.
Even when exercising extreme caution, an accident can still happen. Make sure you’re covered with boat insurance, which can protect you from damage to your boat, injuries to your passengers, or your liability if you’re involved in a boating accident with another vessel.