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Boating Safety 101

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Imagine this scenario: You and your family are spending a relaxing afternoon on your motorboat when, out of the blue, a severe storm approaches. Would you be prepared for it? Brushing up on your knowledge of boating safety can help you be ready for any circumstance. Review these tips to ensure you are able to stay safe and have fun while out on the water.

  • Use common sense. Perhaps the simplest of tips is the most important of all. Using your common sense should be first and foremost when out on the water. This includes following the basic rules of recreational boating. For example, follow the speed limit, be mindful of buoys, and steer clear of large vessels.
  • Avoid boating under the influence. Do not consume alcohol before or during your boat trip. The likelihood of having an accident increases with alcohol use, according to the U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Safety Resource Center. In fact, alcohol consumption is involved in about one-third of all recreational boating fatalities. It is equally important to steer clear of those individuals who may be boating under the influence and endangering the lives of others.
  • Be prepared. Follow a pre-departure checklist to make sure you are fully prepared for your trip. This will not only confirm that you have everything onboard that is needed for a safe journey, such as personal flotation devices and fire extinguishers, but also that your boat is up-to-date with maintenance. Another important step on the checklist is to check your local weather forecast. If there are signs of inclement weather, stay off the water. Be sure to have plenty of fresh water and sunscreen on hand, as well.
  • Always wear a life jacket. In 2011, 79 percent of recreational boating drowning victims were not wearing life jackets. The U.S. Coast Guard urges all boaters-adults and children-to wear life jackets at all times. It is also important to make sure that everyone's life jacket fits properly prior to departure.
  • Create a float plan. A float plan is a written plan that gives basic information about your boat. It can and should be accessed by passengers on the boat in the case of an emergency. The float plan should be delivered to a family member or marina staff member before departing on a trip. In addition to passenger information, the float plan should include your itinerary, boat type, registration information, and types of communication equipment onboard.
  • Brush up on your water safety knowledge. The majority of boating accidents are due to operator error. Whether you are an amateur or experienced boater, it is a good idea to take a boating safety course. Look to your local boating community, or online, for classes that fit your schedule. Likewise, improve your swimming ability by taking a class, or learn to swim if you do not already know how.
  • Assign an assistant. You should never be the only person onboard your boat who knows all of the rules and operations of your vessel. Designate an assistant skipper who can navigate your boat safely back to shore in an emergency.

As you can see, there are a lot of boating safety tips to remember. To help you, the U.S. Coast Guard offers vessel safety checks-exams performed by specialists who ensure that your vessel is in compliance with federal and state boating laws. The best part is, this service is free, so do not delay. And, remember, a safe boater is a happy boater!

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