No matter what kind of watercraft you may use during your boating trip, there are a number of protocols you should follow. By adhering to these straightforward tips, you will help ensure a safe and pleasurable boating experience for yourself, your passengers, and everyone you encounter.
General Tips for Safe Boating
Boating can be both relaxing and exhilarating, as well as a vacation activity that can provide a way to see more of the local area while enjoying some of its best qualities. However, no matter what type of watercraft you choose to utilize, it is important to remember that there are responsibilities to yourself, your passengers, and the environment that you will need to recognize and prepare for, in addition to accompanying precautions that you will need to take. Proper preparation, planning, knowledge, and consideration will contribute enormously to your safety and the wellbeing of others, as well as your enjoyment of your boating adventure.
Rules of the Road for Boating
Boats are more than recreational water toys; they can also be dangerous machines — no matter what form of power they use. It is important to have respect for both your watercraft and its capabilities as well as for those around you. While you are out on the water, be sure to:
- Avoid substances like alcohol or drugs. It may be tempting to let loose on your vacation, but anything that impairs your ability to properly operate your boat or to have your wits about you during an emergency situation puts both you and others in peril.
- Do not boat alone, if you can help it. Bringing a companion or two out with you can enhance your boating experience, and also ensures that there is someone else on hand to help out if an unpleasant situation arises.
- Follow the rules of the water. This includes paying attention to signs and barriers, as well as observing speed limits and no-wake zones.
- Have a designated lookout and a designated secondary skipper. An extra set of eyes will help you deal with other traffic and obstacles on the water, and having a chain of command will help make certain that even if something happens to you, someone else will be prepared to step up and take charge. Work with this person beforehand to come up with worst-case scenario plans.
- Travel slowly in shallow areas. Even if the posted speed limits allow for a faster pace, it is wise to slow down when you are passing through areas that you know are not very deep. Greater speeds equal greater destruction should any collision occur.
- Familiarize yourself with local boating rules and regulations for the specific area in which you will be boating. These guidelines vary across the country and the world, and you will want to be certain that you are observing the right set of protocols to provide maximum safety and to help guard against awkward situations or even legal troubles.
Be Prepared During Boating
In addition to all of your water toys and favorite snacks, there are other items that you will want to be sure to take with you on your boating excursion, as well as a few very important preparations that you will need to make in order to be a responsible skipper for yourself and those around you. Before you embark, you will want to:
- Ensure that everyone aboard has a PFD (personal flotation device). Take this one step further by making certain that everyone knows how to put one on and that everyone knows where they can be retrieved. Put them in an easily accessible location so that everyone can get to them quickly should the need arise.
- Take care of your body. This means packing plenty of food and water for the whole trip (including emergency rations), staying hydrated, and getting proper protection from the sun by using sunscreen, hats, glasses, and protective clothing. Know your physical limits, and enjoy the water safely.
- Even if you are a veteran boater, it is never a bad idea to brush up on your knowledge. Taking a boater education course before your trip will ensure that you are up to speed and ready to take on the water with the assurance of relevant, up-to-date information to back you up.
- Bring the right supplies. The parameters of this rule will vary slightly from boat to boat as your needs will differ, but if you have any fuel with you, be sure to bring a spill kit. A basic tool kit is never amiss, and emergency rations, protective clothing, and flares are musts.
- Refresh your memory of the meanings of specific distress signals and warning symbols. Not only will this help you know which ones you should use (should you need them), but it will also help you know what to report or what to do if you see a fellow boater in distress.
- Check the weather forecast, and pack your clothing, supplies, and equipment accordingly.
- Keep important documents such as the owner’s manual and boat registration in a protected, easily accessible place and in watertight containers.
- Obtain recent charts of the area in which you will be boating and plan your boating route ahead of time.
- If your watercraft requires fluids like fuel and oil, be sure to bring enough for the entire trip and to check your levels before you head out.
- Always tell someone your travel itinerary, and create a float plan before you leave. A float plan includes: the name and contact information of the skipper, the name and contact information of everyone else aboard, boat specific information (type, description, name, registration details), and details regarding the communication devices onboard, such as the boat phone number, EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), and PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) information.
- Always keep a functional, Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher onboard.
- Create a ditch kit of emergency supplies that can be grabbed quickly should you need to abandon your craft.
- Learning to swim or improving your swimming skills before your trip is always a good idea, and be sure that you know the swimming skill level of each of your passengers as well.
- Take advantage of a free vessel check courtesy of the Coast Guard before your journey to make certain that your watercraft is clear for use.
Have Consideration for Others When Boating
It is crucial to remember that you are sharing the water with your fellow passengers, boaters, and local wildlife, and that everyone is responsible, in part, for the enjoyment and safety of the others. By practicing common courtesy while boating, you can get the most out of your boating experience while simultaneously being a responsible citizen of the world for your fellow water recreationists and the environment. Treat others as well as your surroundings as you would wish yourself and your property to be treated. During your boating trip, remember to:
- Have consideration for others – whether they are in the water or on the water. A little kindness and patience can help everyone avoid unnecessarily unpleasant interactions, and being watchful and mindful during your excursion will help ensure that everyone gets back to land safely and happily.
- Be swift but safe during the launching and retrieval processes of your craft. Remember that oftentimes people are waiting to use the launch themselves or to maneuver around you, but do not sacrifice your or their safety for the sake of speed.
- Watch your noise levels, especially near the shore, and always gain permission before passing through someone else’s property.
- Keep your and your passenger’s best interests at heart by always operating your craft when you are sober and rested.
- Have respect for areas with historical, paleontological, or archeological significance, and remember that motorized watercraft are not permitted in designated Wilderness Areas.
- Be mindful of animal habitats, including breeding and nesting grounds, and keep your distance when observing wildlife.
- Bring back everything you take out, and observe proper disposal methods when it comes to all forms of waste.
- When you come back to land, clean your gear and your craft thoroughly to decrease the likelihood of introducing invasive species to other environments.
Emergencies, accidents and unfortunate situations do happen, but they can oftentimes be avoided completely. With adequate knowledge, preparation, and the right frame of mind, you and your passengers can enjoy a worry-free and safe day of boating.