The Importance of Boating Safety

Boating Accidents
Boating Safety

By Zac Pingle, Staff Writer

The tragic death of Miami Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez reminds us just how important safety is in all aspects of life. This article is intended to provide basic safety information regarding boating, and how to have a fun and safe experience while out on the water.

Learn to Properly Operate Your Boat

The training and education required to legally operate a boat varies by state, but knowing how to control operate a your vessel is necessary to be safe on the water. Every boat operates differently, and training will depend on the type of boat that you own. For example, training for operation of a sailboat is different than training on a motorboat. Regardless of what type of boat you own, or how much experience you have, taking a boating safety education course is always a good idea.

Use Situational Awareness

A common practice in the US Coast Guard is to use situational awareness. To put it simply, situational awareness is knowing what is going on around you. This means that you need to be aware of the environment around you, including weather conditions, the location of other nearby boats, and the location of potentially hazardous land masses.

Create a mental checklist of what you need to be aware of when you are boating. A basic list should include:

  • Location of passengers

  • Condition and operation of your boat

  • Location and trajectory of other nearby boats

  • Weather conditions

  • Wind patterns and movement of tide

It is imperative that you go through your mental checklist periodically while you are operating a boat on any body of water.

Prepare for Departure by Using a Checklist

It can be easy to forget fundamental necessities you need while boating before you depart. Make sure that you have everything that you will need by creating a physical checklist to use before you leave the docks. Such a list should include:

  • A life jacket for each person on board

  • A throwable floatation device

  • Operation of the boat’s basic equipment (navigational and emergency lights, horn loud enough to be heard from ½ of a mile, etc.)

  • At least two emergency flares

  • A tool box

  • First aid kit

  • At least one fire extinguisher

  • An operational water pump or bailing device

  • Drinking water and non-perishable foods

  • A radio or other means of contacting people on land

Designate a First-Mate

It is important to have someone else on board who knows how to safely operate your boat. This will ensure that you and your passengers will have a means of reaching the shore in case of an emergency.

You should have full confidence in your first-mate’s ability to operate your boat. A great way to do this is to bring him or her with you to a boating education course, or by training him or her yourself. Regardless of whether your passengers can or cannot swim, it is your responsibility to make sure that they are wearing their life jacket. Life jackets save lives.

Additionally, you should learn to swim if you own a boat. The American Red Cross provides swimming lessons, which is very important when operating a boat. These classes will not only teach you how to save yourself from drowning, but how to save others from drowning as well.

Avoid Alcohol and Use Common Sense

You will need to be focused while operating a boat. Think of it like this; you would never drive while drinking because it is so dangerous, and you should never drink while boating because it is just as dangerous. Remember that you are responsible for the safety of your passengers while you are boating. Drinking, as supported by many studies, will shorten your attention span and alter your decision making skills. This can lead to a dangerous situation while in the water, and could cause you to make embarrassing and life-threatening mistakes.

Create a Float Plan

Similar to how pilots create flight plans, boat captains should create float plans. A float plan is an organized plan of action while you are boating. Float plans include:

  • An itinerary of your boating destinations and activities

  • How long your trip should be

  • Your personal contact information (like a phone number or radio frequency)

  • Names of your passengers

  • The type of boat you own and its registration information (and the boat’s name if applicable)

  • The types of emergency equipment you have on board such as flares or an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

Give your float plan to a friend who is located near the shore, or at a local marina. Either way, someone who is on land needs to have a copy of your float plan.

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