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Safe Boating Is No Accident!

With summer in full swing water sports is on many families minds. Perhaps you will spend some time at your favorite lake this year. Maybe you’ll rent a boat or canoe. Fishing, skiing, or just cruising are popular activities for millions. Every year however we invariably read in the local newspaper of a joyous occasion turn tragic because the operator of a watercraft didn’t follow the basic rules. People who would never take unnecessary risks on the road with their car will push fate on the water. Too often these chances end in tragedy. Realizing that many of you will occupy your leisure time on or near water, SafetyCops wants to remind boaters to follow the Rules of the Road.

Operator's Responsibilities

As the skipper of a boat, you are responsible for the vessel, for the safety of those aboard and for others in boats nearby. You are also responsible for swimmers, water-skiers and anyone else who may be affected by your boat’s course or its wake. It doesn’t matter whether your boat is big or small, powered or sail, safety begins with you!

Your water fun depends on you, your equipment and other people who, like yourself, enjoy spending leisure time on, in or near the water. Let's take a look at your responsibilities:

Make sure the boat is in top operating condition and that there are no tripping hazards.

The boat should be free of fire hazards and have clean bilges.

Safety equipment, required by law, is on board, maintained in good condition, and you know how to properly use these devices.

File a float plan with a relative or friend.

Have a complete knowledge of the operation and handling characteristics of your boat.

Know your position and know where you are going.

Maintain a safe speed at all times to avoid collision.

Keep an eye out for changing weather conditions, and act accordingly.

Know and practice the Rules of the Road (Navigational Rules).

Know and obey Federal and state regulations and waterway markers.

Maintain a clear, unobstructed view forward at all times. "Scan" the water back and forth; avoid "tunnel" vision. Most boating collisions are caused by inattention.

Never overload your boat with passengers and cargo beyond its safe carrying capacity. Too many people and/or gear will cause the boat to become unstable. Always balance the load so that the boat maintains proper trim.

Keep passengers seated (Do not stand up in a small boat!).

Do not exceed the "U.S. Coast Guard Maximum Capacities" information label (commonly called the Capacity Plate).


Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)   

All recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III or V) for each person aboard. Any boat 16ft and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable PFD (Type IV). PFDs must be

Coast Guard approved,

in good and serviceable condition, and

the appropriate size for the intended user.


Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible.

You must be able to put them on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency (vessel sinking, on fire, etc.).

They should not be stowed in plastic bags, in locked or closed compartments or have other gear stowed on top of them.

The best PFD is the one you will wear.

Though not required, a PFD should be worn at all times when the vessel is underway. A wearable PFD may save your life, but only if you wear it.

Throwable devices must be immediately available for use.

                Some states require that children wear PFDs: Check with your state boating safety officials. 


Take a Boater’s Safety Course

This article is not intended to make you a competent skipper. It takes a combination education and experience to become proficient in the safe operation of any conveyance, be it on land, water, or air. You wouldn’t think of piloting an airplane or driving a car without proper training. Yet thousands of people go out on the water in a boat, canoe, or jet ski with only the most basic knowledge of how to operate the craft. Don’t learn boating through the school of hard knocks! Boating courses are offered through many organizations for no or very little cost. Take advantage of these and find out where in your area they are offered. You will be surprised how interacting with others sharing your interest in boating will make the sport more enjoyable. The information and tips just might save your life! At the end of this article are some links to boating organizations devoted to educating boaters and keeping you safe. Check them out.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is Illegal Nationwide

It is unlawful in every State to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In addition to State BUI laws, there is also a Federal law, enforced by the Coast Guard, prohibiting BUI. This law applies to all boats, including foreign vessels, in U.S. waters and U.S. vessels on the high seas.

Penalties for BUI are Severe

The Coast Guard and every State have stringent penalties for violation of BUI laws, including the possibility of not only a large fine, suspension or revocation of operator privileges, but perhaps a jail term. The Coast Guard and the States, in a mutual effort to remove impaired boat operators from the water, cooperate fully. In sole State waters, States have authority to enforce their own BUI statutes. Within State waters that are also subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S., there is concurrent jurisdiction. If, in these waters, a boater is apprehended under Federal law, the Coast Guard will, unless precluded by State law, request that State enforcement officers assume custody of an intoxicated boater.

Suggested Ways to Avoid the Hazards of Alcohol

Boating doesn't need any stimulus to make it fun. Fishing doesn't need any liquid bait to improve the catch. Consider these alternatives to alcohol and boating:

Take along a variety of sodas, a jug of water, ice tea, or lemonade, or take along non-alcoholic beer

Take along plenty of food

Wear clothes that will keep you cool

Plan to limit your trip to the number of hours you can spend on the water without becoming tired

Enjoy your outing more by having the party ashore after you dock - in the picnic area, in the Yacht Club, in your backyard - where you'll have time between the fun and getting back into a boat or your car

If you dock somewhere for lunch or dinner and drink alcohol, wait a reasonable time before heading back home

If necessary, be sure to have a sober designated driver as the boat operator. Or better yet, in case of emergency, have two designated non-drinking operators.

No alcohol aboard is the safe way to go - remember, intoxicated passengers can fall overboard too

Remember that you, as the operator of a watercraft, are liable for injury or damage caused through your negligence or recklessness. Every year we hear of a personal tragedy in the media involving a boat and alcohol. Don’t become a statistic. SafetyCops says "Booze and Boats Don’t Mix!!"

To find out more about Safe Boating, check out one of these fine organizations:

U.S. Coast Guard:

United States Power Squadron:

National Safe Boating Council:


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