Recreational Boating Safety

Each year, about 87 million Americans engage in recreational boating. Boating is a fun, affordable activity that truly offers something for everyone, whether the crew is fishing, skiing, snorkeling or just relaxing on the water.

If you live in a colder climate, experts agree that March is a good time to strike a deal on a boat purchase. Whether you’re a lifelong boater or someone who’s just thinking about taking the plunge, you want to be sure you, your family, and your friends follow safe boating practices to help promote an incident-free return from each voyage.

1. WhoWhatWear
No matter what the forecast said, no matter what the weather on land, prepare for all weather conditions— including cold, windy rain, and blazing, hot sun. Dress for the water temperature, not just the air temperature. Wear layers for cooler weather. For shoes, look for boat shoes or sneakers with no-slip soles that will give you a safe grip on a slippery deck.

2. Keep Afloat
A Coast-Guard-approved life jacket or other personal floatation device (PFD) is the most important piece of equipment on your boat. If an accident occurs and you find yourself submerged in water, it will keep your head afloat and your body upright. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that life jackets could have saved the lives of 80 percent of boating fatality victims.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, all recreational vessels must carry one wearable life jacket for each passenger on board. In most states, every passenger under 13 years old must wear a life jacket at all times on any moving boat, unless the child is in an enclosed boat cabin. Life jackets should be worn at all times while you are underway.

3. Keep a Dry Vessel
Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination—putting you at greater risk for falling overboard. Most people don’t consider drinking and boating seriously as drinking and driving—simply because there are fewer boats on the water than there are cars on the roads. However, it’s is the leading contributing factor in fatal boat accidents.

And just like driving a car, it’s illegal to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI). If you are intoxicated and get into an accident while boating, it could lead to fatalities, injuries, and damage to property. You’ll be subject to state boating laws. Likely penalties include significant civil fines and the possible loss of your boating or automobile license. Many states are cracking down on intoxicated boaters with zero-tolerance laws—meaning any boat operator impaired to the slightest degree could be arrested.

4. Man with a Plan
Filing a boat plan should be one of those things every boater does every time he or she heads out onto the water. It’s a way to assist in an emergency—reducing the search area in order to locate you in the shortest amount of time possible. Include a description of your boat and equipment, names of passengers, planned destination and route, expected return and when and who to call if overdue.

You can use a traditional paper form [Click here for the USCG Float Plan], download an app, or place a simple call or e-mail.

5. Get Your Ducks in a Row
According to the National Safety Council, before setting sail, you should review a pre-departure checklist to ensure you have everything you need in your boat, including a tool box and first-aid kit.

Both the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons have certified vessel examiners who will perform a free Vessel Safety Check at your boat. Schedule a check to make sure your boat is properly equipped, in good operating condition, and safe from hazards. Boats that undergo safety checks are less likely to be involved in accidents and fatalities.

6. Be a Sky Watcher
Check the weather forecasts before leaving the dock—you have a responsibility to pay attention to the weather and should not head out if adverse conditions are expected. Check for warnings, weather, wind, wave and tide conditions.

Listen to NOAA weather radio broadcasts on a VHF radio for weather warnings and forecasts while on the water. Before the outing, check or other sites, such as Weather Underground ( and Weather Bug (

7. The Dose Makes the Poison
Boaters are at a high risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is an odorless, colorless poisonous gas emitted by all combustion engines and onboard motor generators. It can kill in minutes. CO can also emit from appliances and grills. It’s critical to have Marine-grade smoke and CO detectors and associated alarms that alert you to the presence of CO.

Resources: U.S. Coast Guard, United States Power Squadrons, The National Safety Council