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Boating Safety Best Practices

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What can you do to ensure a safe boating experience? While accidents do happen, knowledge and preparation go a long way toward returning to the dock safely. Embrace these boating safety best practices to help you prevent boating accidents. If the worst does happen in spite of your best efforts - you will have at least increased your chances of survival.

1. Always Wear a Life Jacket

Life Jackets - Wear a Life Jacket
Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard requires that you carry an approved personal floatation device, or life jacket, for each person aboard your vessel. I recommend wearing a life jacket at all times while boating because you never know when an accident may occur. Statistics show nine of ten drowning victims may have survived a capsizing or fall overboard if they had been wearing a life jacket, so choose a life jacket you will wear.

2. Know Your Boat

Knowing your boat is the foundation of good seamanship, which is simply the skill of managing a boat and encompasses: navigation; safety; boat handling; line handling; anchoring; troubleshooting engine problems; and appropriate emergency response.

3. Take a Boating Safety Course

Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Eighty five percent of boating fatalities involve operators who did not have formal boating education. A boating course will teach you the basics of seamanship mentioned above. The knowledge you will gain by taking a boating safety course will never be wasted.

4. Boat Sober

Using alcohol is even more dangerous on the water than on land because the marine environment accelerates impairment. In boating deaths attributed to alcohol use, over half capsized or fell overboard. Besides the safety risks, boating while intoxicated, or BUI, is illegal and heavy penalties are enforced by both state and federal agencies.

5. Know the Navigation Rules

Photo © Ericka Watson
Aids to navigation such as buoys and day boards help us navigate potentially dangerous waters. Learn to read nautical charts, and keep them on your vessel to become familiar with the area in which you boat. Taking a boating safety course is the next step, where you will learn to navigate using charts, GPS, RADAR, and a compass.

6. Get a Free Vessel Safety Check

Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadron will inspect your boat free of charge and provide valuable guidance to help you meet the federal minimum safety requirements.

7. Equip Your Boat With a VHF Marine Radio

Photo © Ericka Watson
The U.S. Coast Guard recommends using VHF marine radio Channel 16 as your primary distress signaling device. A VHF radio equipped with DSC will generate a position to the Coast Guard in the event of an emergency, which can quicken rescue. Cell phones are not reliable enough to stake your life on.

8. Use the Kill Switch Lanyard

Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
If you are the operator of a boat, wear a kill switch lanyard while driving. If you fall overboard or lose your balance, the boat will shut off automatically, possibly saving your life or someone else’s.

9. Keep an Anchor on Board

Anchors aren’t just for mooring up in a secluded cove – they have real safety application in less than ideal scenarios while boating. Anchoring if your boat is adrift due to engine failure can be life saving.

10. File a Float Plan

No boater leaves the dock expecting problems, but if trouble comes your way, filing a float plan with a loved one or friend can hasten rescue, and in some cases mean the difference between life and death.
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