Boating and Water Safety General Guidelines

With the arrival of summer, people get their boats, fishing gear, and water sports equipment ready, and then head to the water. Water sports are meant for enjoyment, relaxation, and fun, but a little carelessness can turn them into events of mishap and tragedy. People who participate in water sport activities such as boating, fishing, water skiing, and swimming can be faced with unique water dangers. However, by following general guidelines for water safety, everyone should enjoy a safe and fun time on the water this year.

Learn to Swim
To be safe in or on the water, you should know how to swim. Even if you are not directly in the water, it is good to know basic swimming skills. There are programs offered by YMCAs and local community centers that provide formal instruction on how to swim, and basics of water safety, regardless of age.

Wear Personal Flotation Devices
Whenever you are on a boat, you should wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD). There should be enough life jackets for every person on the boat, and they should be the correct size and properly secured. Many states require that boat occupants wear life vests whenever the boat is in operation. Even if you are a strong swimmer, life jackets are extra security if you happen to fall in the water.

Children should always wear life vests that fit properly and secure. And all boat water sport participants, such as skiers, tubers, and wakeboarders, should wear the appropriate PFD for that sport.

Check all Equipment
When boating, it is important to properly maintain your vessel, engine and safety equipment. Make sure you have enough fuel when you go out boating, or know the locations of local fueling stations. It’s a good idea to have a check-list for your reviews and procedures that you complete before heading out. If there are any problems with equipment, be sure to repair or replace as soon as possible. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers a complimentary vessel check, normally through a local marina.

Be Fit, Hydrated, and Sober
Before going out fishing or boating, get a good night’s sleep. If it is a hot, sunny day, being on the water can cause you to tire quickly. Also drink plenty of fluids, such as water, or other liquids with electrolytes. You can get easily dehydrated as you sweat while out on the water. Even in the water, if you feel cool, you will be perspiring because you are active, and can still become dehydrated.

However, do not “hydrate” yourself with alcoholic beverages. Statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard indicate that a third of boating deaths are alcohol related. Alcohol impairs your judgment, which can place you and those around you in danger if you are not able to respond quickly in a dangerous situation.

Obey Local Boating Laws
When boating, maintain a good lookout and operate at a safe speed. Make sure that you follow the boating traffic rules as well as the water safety signs and flag signals. Only go boating in navigable waters, and always be on the lookout for people or obstacles in or around the path of the boat.

Check Weather Conditions
Check the local weather before going out on the water. You can check with the National Weather Service, NOAA, and find the local forecast for that day. When out on the water, be on the lookout for changes in the weather, and be prepared to seek shelter immediately.

Boating, fishing, and other water sports are great activities you can enjoy during the summer season. To make your trips exciting and safe, make sure everyone is aware of these basic safety instructions. This will ensure that you and your friends and family have the best of times out on the water.

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Stephanie Vatalaro

Stephanie Vatalaro

Stephanie Vatalaro is vice president of communications for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and its Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar campaigns where she works to recruit newcomers to recreational fishing and boating and increase awareness of aquatic conservation. Stephanie grew up in the Florida Keys as the daughter of a flats fishing guide. Outside of work, you can find her fishing and boating with her family on the Potomac River in the Northern Neck of Virginia.