Summertime is here, which means it’s time to hit the open water! Recreational boating is a fun and relaxing way to spend the day for the whole family, especially when you’re prepared. Boating accidents can occur for a multitude of reasons including improper lookout, operator inattention, equipment failure, or impaired operation, and it’s important to know the rules and follow these boat safety tips in order to keep you and your family protected!
1. Prepare Safety Gear
Make sure that you have everything you need to be prepared for any situation. Accidents happen and you don’t always know when an emergency will strike. Make sure you have a working flashlight with extra batteries, duct tape, a bucket to bail out water that enters the boat, a first aid kit, a whistle, and rope to pull someone in who has fallen overboard. It’s also important to stock fire extinguishers in case of on board fires, garbage bags in case of rain, and a mirror just in case you need to signal for help.
2. Wear Life Jackets
Life jackets are a necessity. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, a boat must have one Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on board. A proper life jacket fits snugly and can save lives by keeping one's head above water and even sometimes preventing hypothermia. You should test life jackets each year for buoyancy and general wear and tear. A waterlogged, faded, or leaky jacket has lost it’s efficiency and should be thrown away.
3. Develop a Float Plan
A float plan is a document that provides someone at the dock with information about your upcoming boat trip. It includes your route, estimated departure and arrival time, and your reason for heading out to sea. (1) Your float plan should be given to a reliable, responsible person who will notify the Coast Guard or other authorities in the event that you do not return to dock as planned. The person holding onto your float plan should be notified of all delays and plan changes plus, you should check in with them when you return safely.
4. Don’t Drink and Boat
Did you know that alcohol is the cause of 16% of boating fatalities? Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol is also illegal in all 50 states and is defined as having a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .08% or more. Fines and possible jail times are at risk if you are arrested for a BUI (Boating Under the Influence. This doesn’t only apply to boats with a motor either; you can be arrested paddling canoes, rowboats, kayaks, and other small sailing vessels too.
5. Check the Weather
Keep an eye on the weather forecast and catch up with it frequently. Forecasts aren’t always perfect, but it’s important to at least have an idea of what could happen. It’s important to avoid boating when there is a storm brewing. If there’s enough rain, your boat could flood or sink, plus boats offer very little protection against lightning. Make sure to have a plan to return to your dock in the event that the weather begins to go south. Make sure that everyone on board knows this plan as well!
6. Follow Procedures and Rules
Just as there are rules of the road, you much follow the rules of the sea. It’s important to follow these for the safety of yourself and others on the water. If you’re operating the boat, it’s your responsibility to know and follow all of the navigation rules in order to avoid a collision. It’s mandatory to keep a copy of these rules aboard vessels over 39.4 (4) feet in length. There are plenty of resources online, but here’s one, in particular, that will help you stay up to date with these rules (3).
7. Know What to Do if Someone Falls Overboard
One of the most important boat safety tips is knowing what to do if someone falls overboard. First, it’s important to alert everyone on board that someone has fallen into the water by shouting, “man overboard! (2)” Then, you must reduce your speed and toss the victim a throw able personal flotation device. Next, turn your boat around and slowly pull the victim along. Finally, stop the engine and pull the victim aboard from over the stern while being careful to keep the weight of the boat balanced. It’s very important that you remain calm above all.
Following these boat safety tips is a surefire way to get prepare yourself for the worst. Of course, accidents happen and sometimes all of the preparation in the world isn’t enough to stop everything. For those moments, make sure that you're insured with a watercraft & boat insurance (5) plan from I & E Insurance (6). Enjoy the water without worries about you and your family’s safety.