Millions of Americans hit the water each year, especially in the summer. We're not talking about backyard or neighborhood swimming pools, either. We're taking about skiing, fishing and just plain lounging on the nation's rivers, lakes and coastal seas.
It's not all fun-and-games, though. Anyone headed out on a boat should know how to have a good time safely.
- The USCG recorded 4,730 accidents: 736 people died, 3,358 suffered injuries, and there was about $36 million of property damage
- The vast majority of boating deaths involved drowning, and in 84 percent of those deaths the victim wasn't wearing a life jacket
- Alcohol use and operator error are two of the biggest causes of boating accidents and deaths
Avoid becoming part of these and other statistics by knowing how to keep you and your family safe on the water.
Safety is the Law
There are many laws you must follow as a boater. Many of these laws are designed to protect you, your passengers and others sharing the body of water you're boating on.
The USCG's safety rules (PDF) cover many items, and some rules may not apply to you, depending on the type and size of your boat. In general though, most recreational boats must have:
- One USCG-approved life vest or floating device for each person on the boat
- A visual display distress signal, such as an electric light for use at night, a special orange flag for day use or flares for day or night use
- At least one fire extinguisher
- Navigation lights (if the boat is used from sunset to sunrise)
- One sound signal device, such as a horn, bell or whistle
Carefully read the USCG's rules to make sure you have the equipment required for your type and size of boat.
State & Local Laws
You need to check the laws of the state where your boat is registered for boating rules, too. (Boat registration is very similar to automobile registration). You can't forget about the laws in the state where you'll be operating the boat, either. Even a county, city or township may have boating laws.
Obviously, state and local laws vary across the country. They may be different and even more stringent than the federal rules. Know these rules before you hit the water.
Safety Tips for Avoiding Accidents & Injuries
It takes more than the proper equipment to stay safe on the water. With some planning and thinking, you and your passengers can avoid serious injury or worse.
The vast majority (PDF) of boat-related deaths happened in incidents where the boat operator didn't have training on how to operate a boat! Take a course and learn how to drive your boat.
It may be the law, too. Many states require boat owners to take a safety and training course before they can register their boats. Be sure to check the laws in your state.
Don't Drink & Boat
Alcohol and drugs interfere with your reflexes, vision, speech and judgment. You need all these things to keep yourself, passengers and fellow boaters safe.
If that's not a good enough reason, keep in mind that a boat is a "motor vehicle" - and in most states it doesn't matter if your boat has motor or not! You may be arrested for DUI/DWI if you operate your boat while using alcohol or drugs.
Check Your Boat's Condition
Excuse the pun, but your boat needs to be "ship shape" each and every time it hits the water. Inspect for damage to the hull and any motor or mechanical problems. The USGC offers free inspections across the US. Find where to get one in your area and take advantage of it.
Have a Float Plan
You shouldn't be the only one who knows the details of your outing. It's important to have a float plan. It's critical if there's an emergency and rescue crews are needed. Be sure to give a copy to a friend or family member who won't be on the boat with you.
Your plan should include details on:
- Your boat's registration number, radio call sign and radio frequency you monitor
- Your itinerary: Where you're going, when you're leaving, when you expect to get there, when you expect to return, etc.
- The names of everyone onboard
- The emergency and safety equipment you have onboard
True, of the millions who go out on boats and other watercraft, only a handful gets hurt. But why should you or your passengers be one of them? Take steps to make sure you and your party return safely to shore.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Are boat safety courses required in my state?
- Is any type of boat insurance required in my state? If not, should I buy some? What kind and how much?
- Can I let my minor child drive my boat?