Floating your boat: safety tips for recreational boaters


Boating may be an integral part of your summer and something you look forward to every time you’re planning to go out. Without the proper precautions, though, it doesn’t take long for disaster to strike, which could result in your property being damaged and you and your fellow passengers injured or even killed. By following the suggestions listed below, you can decrease your risk of harm and boat safely.

Before going out on the water, you can get your boat checked for free by the Coast Guard Auxiliary to eliminate worry about what may or may not be up to par. This can take the pressure off you to remember every part that should be tested at the start of a season or before a boating excursion.

If you are responsible for driving or helping to operate a boat, you are required to obtain a boater education certificate in Pennsylvania and Maryland. But even if you have the certificate, it’s a good idea to stay educated on boating safety and any new rules you will be required to follow. The National Safe Boating Council offers a variety of free boat safety videos on its website for anyone who needs a refresh.

Ideally, everyone should wear a life jacket at any point they are on the boat. At the very least, you are typically legally required to have life jackets with you on the boat for everyone on board. Children, especially, should never take their life jackets off until they’ve reached land—this is the law in most states. Having a well-fitting life jacket that is intended for your size and weight is critical to ensure it will do its part in protecting you in the case of an emergency.

All state-specific requirements, from boat driving to life jacket-wearing, can be accessed using the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ online dashboard.

Pack your emergency kit:

It’s smart to keep a safety kit on board that contains everything you can use in the case of an emergency. A well-stocked kit includes:

  • Extra sets of dry clothes for everyone on board
  • Duct tape to fix small leaks
  • Bucket for leaks
  • Flashlight
  • Whistle and mirror to signal for help
  • Red handheld flares
  • Fire extinguisher (yes, fires can happen even while you’re on the water!)
  • Garbage bags to use as rain covers
  • Ropes to help people out of the water if they fall in

Watch the weather:

Always check the weather forecast before heading out on the water. Rain and thunderstorms can come up extremely quickly, so it’s best to know if you should anticipate inclement weather. Use common sense; if a storm is forecasted, wait it out until the forecast is clear. Lightning strikes on a boat can be fatal and extremely destructive, and rough waters pose the risk of capsizing—both not situations you want to find yourself in.

When the sun is out and there is perfect boating weather, don’t forget to wear sunscreen and a hat or sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes. If your boat doesn’t have any cover, it can also be a good idea to bring a blanket, towel or piece of clothing to drape over yourself and give your skin a break from the sun.

Stay sober:

Planning out who will drive is critical, especially if you are bringing alcohol on board so that at least one person is totally sober and ready to drive as needed. It’s a great idea to designate a skipper who has the same knowledge and certifications as the driver and can act in their place if they become incapacitated.

Having a float plan makes boating even more worry-free. This will allow someone of your choosing to keep track of whether they have heard from you in the time frame you set up and can help them decide when to alert authorities that an accident might have happened. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has a PDF templateof a float plan that can be easily edited for each excursion and emailed to someone you trust to keep track of you.

Make sure your driver and skipper are not intoxicated at any point you are on the water. Neither you nor anyone you know should ever drive or help operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It’s not even just a matter of “should”—it’s illegal, with a variety of possible punishments per state ranging from fines to revoked licenses to jail time. You wouldn’t drive a car while drunk, so why would you risk driving a boat drunk?

Never swim in a marina, either. The docked boats can be connected to shore power, meaning you face a substantial risk of electric shock from swimming near them. Find a designated swimming area instead to enjoy your outing.

Know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning:

Finally, be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning and its signs before you get on houseboats especially. If you or anyone else start to experience chest pain or feel dizzy, weak, nauseous or confused, immediately move to fresh air and contact the nearest emergency service. Learn more about protecting your boat from CO poisoning from the CDC.

All of these actions can help you stay safe and have an excellent boating day with friends and family. To ensure your boat itself is protected, too, reach out to a local independent insurance agent to discuss how Mutual Benefit’s policies can keep you covered.