As warmer weather arrives across many parts of the country, more and more people will be heading out on their boats for fun and relaxation. But with those fun times on the water comes responsibility and keeping you and your passengers safe.
Before even getting on board, the National Safe Boating Council recommends you familiarize yourself with the boating laws for the state in which you’re operating your boat as rules and regulations can vary and violations can result in ticketing, fines or even jail time.
To keep people safe on the water during National Safe Boating Week and all summer long, the NSBC recommends the “Boating Safety Seven”:
1. Wear your life jacket
Wearing a properly fitting life jacket every time you go out on the water is crucial. It’s important that a life jacket not be too big or too small and it should also be approved by the United States Coast Guard (approved jackets will have a label inside).
In addition to always wearing a life jacket, you should always dress properly for the weather. If it’s cool, dress in layers and in the event you get wet, have an extra set of clothes on hand.
2. Take a boating safety class
The NSBC recommends you to take an approved National Association of Boating Law Administrators boating safety course so that you can learn tips that may save your life in an unexpected situation. Taking a course, many of which are online, could even save you money on your boat insurance.
3. Carry all required safety gear
Knowing how to use all the equipment and safety gear on your boat is vital to operating a vessel safely. It’s recommended that in order to make sure you have everything you need and that it’s in working order, you schedule a free vessel safety check with your local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons.
4. Use an engine cut-off device
When operating a powerboat, it’s also important to use an engine cut-off device (ECOS) in the event of someone going overboard or if the boat runs into a submerged object. An ECOS can be wireless like a key fob or worn on a wristband. Ones that are wireless are able to sound alarms, track your boat’s location and assist in emergency situations by calling search and rescue crews.
5. File a float plan
Before venturing out on your boat, make sure someone you trust knows where you are going, who you are going with, your towing or trailer vehicle information, what communication equipment you have onboard and your emergency contacts. You can learn more about preparing a float plan from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
6. Be aware of weather and water conditions
Before heading out on the water, the NSBC recommends checking with the National Weather Service for that day’s forecast. It’s not just important to look out for extreme heat or cold conditions, but you should not take your boat out when there is restricted visibility due to fog or heavy rain. Other things to look out for include wave conditions, wind changes, high and low tides, and storm watches and warnings issued by the NWS.
7. Boat sober and be considerate of others
There were 4,439 recreational boating accidents in 2021, according to a report by the U.S. Coast Guard. Of those reported accidents, there were 658 deaths and 2,641 injuries. The leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents where the primary cause was known was alcohol use and it attributed for 18% of deaths, the Coast Guard reported.
To keep everyone safe on the water and to be considerate to other boaters, it’s highly recommended you stay sober while operating your watercraft.
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