Your Ultimate Guide to Boater Safety Basics
Boaters with life jackets practicing boater safety

With more than 100 million Americans boating each year, boater safety must remain a top priority for those enjoying time on the water. As this pastime becomes more and more popular, surging by close to 40% during the pandemic, you’re likely to see new faces out on the water all the time!

With so many new boaters on the water, not everyone has the same level of boater safety training or information that they need to truly be a responsible boater. So, you want to make sure that you have the defensive boating knowledge needed to keep yourself – and others – safe.

Do you feel like you need to learn how to prepare for a safe boat outing? Keep reading as we cover boater safety basics that you can use on the water.

Know Your Boat

Boats come in a variety of shapes and sizes with different engine setups. So, a fundamental boater safety tip is to learn everything you can about your particular boat, including a basic understanding of how it works and what’s needed to maintain your boat and keep it in safe working condition.

Boat Types and Uses

Some boats – like bowriders, deck boats, and pontoons — are designed to serve a variety of activities, ranging from tow sports to cruising and island hopping. Specialized boats, on the other hand, are designed specifically with an intended use in mind, including wake boats and some fishing boats. Although we like to think every boat is suitable for angling.

Do some research to figure out what your boat type is used for and how you can fit that into your expectations for boating. If you haven’t yet bought your boat, this is a great time to consider what you’d like to do with your boat so that you can get one with the features that will match those needs.

Registration Requirements

Just like your personal vehicle, you have to register your boat with the state to make sure that you get a number, state use sticker, and registration certificate.

These requirements and their specifics will vary from state to state, so be sure that you check with your state’s government website to learn more. After you register the first time, registering again time after time becomes an easy process.

Necessary Maintenance

You have to take care of your boat for it to work correctly, just like most other types of machinery. This means getting regular care and maintenance tasks completed.

For instance, you’ll have to:

  • Check the battery for charge
  • Obtain regular oil changes
  • Check the hull for damage
  • Ensure electrical systems are working

The exact maintenance schedule and routine will vary based on the boat you choose, so be sure to consult the manual for more information. You’ll want to make sure that you’re looking over every part of your boat regularly to avoid any unnecessary problems while on the water.

Buying Boating Safety Equipment

Did you know that the US Coast Guard has a list of required safety equipment that you’ll need onboard your boat? Some of the items that you have to obtain include:

  • Life jackets
  • Visual distress signals
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Bells or whistles (sound-producing devices)

You can consult their website for a complete list, but know that the specifics of what you’ll need will vary based on boat size and age.

It’s a good idea to take a boater safety course so that you can learn how to use all of this safety equipment when necessary. For some people, it can be difficult to avoid panicking when something unexpected comes up, so it’s smart to get all of the training you can get to be even more prepared.

Additional Items You May Want

While not necessarily required, these are a few other things that you might want to keep on your boat when it’s in use:

  • Marine radio
  • First aid kits
  • Anchor and line
  • Extra towels or blankets
  • Flares
  • Full fuel tank

Keep in mind that some of these items should not be stored on your boat when you have put it up for the season. And always make sure that the devices and items you have for safety purposes are in working order before your boat leaves for the water.

This is another area in which boater safety classes (like those that we offer in Merritt Island, FL) can really come in handy. You can learn about properly taking care of these items to ensure you’re always prepared for any emergency!

Preparing to Hit the Water

Once you’re sure that you understand how your boat functions, you’ve obtained the necessary safety gear, and you’re sure everything works correctly, it’s time to actually take the boat out on the water!

While you’ve done most of what you need to do already, remember to create a float plan, check the weather forecast, and fuel up your boat.

Leave a Float Plan

Before hitting the water, make sure to create a float plan and leave it with a friend, relative, or even the marina office. This important document makes it easier to locate your vessel on the water. A solid float plan includes the following information:

  • Description of your boat
  • How many passengers you’re taking, and their names
  • Your destination, the route you will be taking, any planned stops, your departure time, and an estimated arrival time


Weather Problems

You can check your weather forecast online or by using an NOAA weather radio, which broadcasts marine-specific weather on a cycle.

Keep in mind that hot weather can also be dangerous. Just because the skies look clear and sunny doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect boating weather. Always keep the needs of yourself and any passengers in mind in relation to how the weather will actually feel out on the water.

Signs that poor weather is approaching include:

  • Flat, low, and thick clouds
  • Flashes over the horizon
  • A drop in temperature
  • Puffy clouds getting higher in the sky
  • Dark or threatening clouds (especially in the west or southwest)
  • Sudden wind increase

If you’re caught in bad weather, reduce your speed, ensure everyone on board has a life jacket on, turn on your running lights and head to the nearest safe shore if possible.

Designate a Sober Skipper

Boating while you’re under the influence of alcohol or other substances is illegal in every state and is extremely dangerous. There are steep fines and penalties for those that are caught with a BUI. So, if you know your party will be drinking while on the water, it’s always best to designate a sober skipper.

Alcohol is especially dangerous on the water because of the marine environment.

The water motion, wind and spray, engine noise, sunshine, and much more can amplify the effects of alcohol and decrease the boat operator’s judgment and coordination. Your reaction time is also slower when you use alcohol, which makes for a very hazardous combination.

Boat Transport and Fuel

Stop by a marina or other local supplier to refuel your watercraft. It’s always best to keep fuel in your boat so that it’s ready to go, so if you’re able to do this at the end of a boating day, that’s a good idea.

Otherwise, make sure that you have fuel onboard the boat in a safe container just in case you need it. You never know when you may get off course or forget to monitor how much fuel is in the boat’s tank.

Being a Responsible Boater with the Environment

When you’re out in nature, it’s always important to pay attention to how you’re impacting the environment around you and leaving things better than how you found them. That applies when you’re on land and on the water.

Some actions you can take to help protect the environment safe and keep it pleasant for everyone include:

  • Clean up your oil or fuel spills
  • Dispose of trash back on land
  • Use non-toxic, natural, and eco-friendly cleaning products
  • Comply with all posted signs and laws

Always consider any underwater features, tidal ranges, and beacons from an updated nautical chart if you’re boating outside of a pond or lake.

Keep the Wildlife in Mind

Remember that there are entire ecosystems and habitats under the water’s surface level, so you should always operate your boat with care in shallow waters. Your propeller can easily disrupt or even destroy some of these areas. Being a responsible boat owner means being aware of your surroundings.

You also need to always look out for ducks and other animals that enjoy sitting on the water surface to ensure you don’t cause any harm. Remember that going slower in certain areas is crucial to keeping everyone on your boat and the general environment safe.

Before you anchor, always check for hazards at the bottom of the water or use a mooring ball. If you accidentally run aground, you should turn off the engine and avoid damaging reefs or grass areas.

Driving Your Boat 

If you’re going to be a safe boater, you obviously have to know how to drive your boat the right way regardless of where you are. This often takes a bit of practice, but when you complete one of our boating courses, you’ll learn what you need to know to stay safe on the water.

It’s a good idea to run your blower (exhaust fan) for a few minutes before you start the engine to ensure there aren’t excess fumes within the compartment. You can also use this time to check out your safety gear and make sure that everything is up to your standards.

To drive the boat, place your key in the ignition and turn it to start the engine. Next, you’ll want to ensure all of the gear is on board and all passengers are ready to go.

Once it’s time to leave, you’ll remove anything securing your boat to a dock or pier, and engage your throttle forward (or backward for some models) until you feel it shift into gear. Don’t forget to steer in the direction of travel and advance or pull back the throttle as needed to change your speeds.

Docking and Anchoring Best Practices

In order to safely stop your boat once you’re finished, you need to also learn how to dock and anchor. Remember that these practices may change based on the type of boat you have, so you always want to keep your model’s specifications in mind.

If you don’t yet feel comfortable taking your boat out, it’s better to get additional training first! You don’t want to endanger your life or someone else’s life simply because you were doing too much too fast. Instead, sign up for our courses to gain all of the skills that you need.

Practice These Boater Safety Basics Starting Today

Whether you’re just playing with the idea of getting a boat, or you’ve bought one and need to learn about boater safety basics before you can hit the water, safe boating is no joke.

It’s crucial that you keep yourself, your passengers, and other boaters safe if you plan to have your own boat. Luckily, this is easy to do with a little bit of training and preparation.

If you want to learn more about your boat class options, contact us today to get more information!

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