Boating can be a fun and enjoyable activity for everyone in the entire family. Whether you are on a yacht or a canoe, there are steps that you should take to ensure the safety of everyone onboard. Here are some general tips for you to follow so that you can focus on the fun instead of all the potential dangers.
Even if every single person onboard can swim, have lifejackets for everyone aboard. Insist that they are worn. Many of the fatal accidents that involve boating could have been avoided if the person had simply been wearing a life jacket. Make sure that it is Coast Guard approved and in good condition. Different sized boats require other safety gear in addition to life jackets, so be sure to learn what you are responsible for having onboard. These include items like flares, fire extinguishers, and a throwable life preserver, to name a few.
Take a boating course if you are going to be behind the wheel. According to the Coast Guard, 70% of boating accidents are caused by errors and inexperienced boaters. Understand the rules of boating and practice good seamanship. Follow local, state, and federal boating laws regarding things like speed and safety. Be constantly aware of weather conditions, and be vigilant regarding water hazards and other watercraft.
On the other hand, if you are paddling, know your limits. You don’t want to exhaust yourself and then be stuck halfway out into a lake or be stranded far from shore. Start heading back or near the shore if you feel yourself tiring.
Do not mix alcohol and boating. Even if you are not behind the wheel and actively steering, you are near open water. Alcohol will decrease your balance and coordination, your ability to swim to safety if necessary, and it can cause you to bleed more easily in case of an injury. Especially on a smaller craft, if someone loses their balance, they could cause the entire boat to rock or even capsize.
Perform proper maintenance on your boat. If you have a gas powered motor, know where CO may accumulate in and around the boat and why. Install CO alarms. Recognize the signs of CO poisoning, and treat seasickness as potential CO poisoning. Exercise extreme caution near the propellers, and be sure to have someone watching the propeller area around the boat if there are swimmers in the water, or turn off the engine. As the captain, be sure to wear your engine cutoff switch lanyard so that the engine will shut off if you step away.
Regardless of the size of the boat, the nature of the trip, and how long you plan to be gone, prepare a float plan. You can fill out a premade form from the US Coast Guard website, and leave it with a trusted individual not going on the trip with you. It will have all the information they need to notify authorities if you require assistance or if you do not return/check-in as you arrange with your emergency contact. The Coast Guard’s float plan template has all the information you could need to give to search and rescue personnel as well as a chart listing all the steps you should follow if you suspect any trouble.
I hope your boating experience is lots of fun!