1. Get the Gear…and Wear it!
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) estimates 80 percent of all boating fatalities could have been prevented if the victims had only been wearing lifejackets. It is not only good policy to wear lifejackets, but it’s the law that to meet USCG requirements, all boats must have an approved Type I, II, III or V lifejacket for every person aboard, no matter how big or small the vessel. Boats over 16 feet must also have a Type IV throwable safety float or ring, as well.
Lifejackets are only useful if worn, and every state has regulations regarding lifejacket wear by children. Check with the state fishing, boating or environmental agency where you live or boat to determine that state’s age and flotation device requirements.
2. Prepare a Float Plan
A good float plan includes information about your vessel, who’s on board and where and when you will be on the water. In the event of an accident or emergency, help will arrive sooner if somebody knows where you are on the water and when you are expected to return.
3. Mind the Weather
Weather can change quickly on the water and is one of the leading reasons boaters get in trouble. Always check the weather before heading out, and keep tabs on it once on the water by observing rapidly changing conditions and listening to a radio. If the boat ramp typically crowded with experienced fishermen and boaters is empty, there’s probably a good reason.
Storms and currents can also float large objects into the water that can damage props, transoms and hulls and can even lead to dangerous impacts on the water. Keep larger boats in channels and always watch for debris or swimmers in the water.
4. Watch the Gas
Be careful when fueling, and prevent fires and explosions from gas vapor buildup in bilges on inboard motors. Before starting a boat engine, always ventilate the engine compartment and other areas to ensure there are no remaining gas vapors.
5. Know How to Navigate Your Vessel
Always remember “Red, Right, Returning” when navigating a channel — meaning a boater should keep red markers to the right, or starboard, side of the boat when returning to harbor and the green markers to the left, or port, side. The water between the two is the channel.
Kayaking and canoeing are increasingly popular, but enthusiasts must remember they’re subject to the same rules of the water. The American Canoe Association reminds kayakers and canoers to always move to the side of channels so as not to impede the travel of larger ships. Larger vessels must also keep an eye out for the smaller ones so as to avoid collisions.
When in a kayak or canoe, turn the bow of the boat into the wake when a larger boat passes. You are much less likely to capsize heading into the waves than if you are broadside to them.
6. Keep Dry
While drinking a cold beer may seem like a natural choice for a day on the water, boating under the influence can be deadly. In fact, according to the USCG, a third of all fatalities on the water are the result of BUI. The USCG says drinking while operating a boat increases the likelihood of accidents, and also recommends that passengers avoid it, as excessive alcohol increases the risk of onboard injuries and falls overboard.