March 22, 2023
Your life jacket is the most important piece of safety equipment on your boat. Before you get out on the water, you should make sure that each passenger has a life jacket that fits them well and is comfortable to wear. A good life jacket should:
float: it sounds obvious, but this is important; a life jacket can't do its job unless it keeps you afloat
be able to quickly put on: in an emergency, you might be without a lot of time or energy; practice getting your life jacket on quickly so you're prepared for an emergency
fit around your chest properly: if your life jacket doesn't fit, it's doing nothing for you; don't try to improvise with a too-big or too-small one -- buy one that fits well
be approved by the Coast Guard: this one's also pretty self-explanatory; an unapproved life jacket is just not going to cut it
Babies and small children should always wear their life jackets at all times when they are aboard your boat. Older children who are strong swimmers might only need them when the boat is moving or in rough water, but they still need them then!
Always have the right number of visual distress signals on board. These are used to attract attention if you're in trouble and need rescuing. If your boat is longer than 16 feet, you're required to carry them by law.
Small boats need a minimum of three-day and three-night signals, while yachts and larger boats need six-day and six-night signals—so always be sure to check how many you have before setting sail!
It's important for you to make sure that your boat is well equipped with the proper safety equipment. This will include devices such as life jackets, PFDs, and other flotation devices. There are many different types of flotation aids available for boats. These vary in size, shape, and purpose. They are used for various activities on boats including launching and docking as well as boating in general when you're out on the water.
Ensure that your boat is fueled and full of gas.
Make sure your oil levels are topped off properly.
Check that the battery is charged and in good working order.
Ensure all cables and wires are connected, if applicable.
It is necessary to use your engine when leaving from the dock especially if you are sailing, but make sure it is not in gear. Ensure to start the motor and then place it in gear before pulling away.
You should know that boat lights are required by law. For vessels operating between sunset and sunrise, navigation lights are required as they help other boats see your boat on the water. On top of that, lights must be clearly visible from 2 miles away.
Finally, navigation lights are also required when traveling in restricted visibility (fog or heavy rain). This means you need to turn on your navigation lights if you can’t see 2 miles ahead of you because of fog or heavy rain.
As for where navigation lights should be installed, here is what is required:
Bow Navigation Light: One at the bow (front) of the boat used to signal the direction in which your boat is moving. For instance, if your boat is moving forward while facing east, it will always have a red light at its bow and a green light at its stern.
Stern Navigation Light: One at the stern (back) of the ship used to signal the direction in which your ship's moving
Masthead Navigation Lights: Installed on top of any high structure along with an anchor light
You might love to play in the sun. In fact, you might be so eager to get out on your boat that you don't even think about checking the weather forecast before heading out.
Just because it's sunny and clear when you leave, doesn't mean it will stay that way throughout your journey. Check the forecast before leaving, and then check it again on your way back—the weather can change quickly. Have a weather radio on board in case of changing weather, or download a weather app onto your phone and keep it handy while boating.
Listen and observe what's happening around you.
If you're launching your boat, listen to what the boaters already there are saying. Did they have any problems getting in? Did they see anything unusual? If you hear someone saying, "Whoa! That was close," that might be a warning that there's something to watch out for while you pull away from the dock.
While moving your boat forward, keep an eye on the area right up ahead of your boat. Watch for people swimming or fishing off their boats and avoid them as necessary. Keep an eye on other boats coming up behind you and make sure you leave enough room for them to pass safely. Your primary responsibility is making sure no one else gets hurt when operating your boat (especially swimmers), so pay attention to others around you at all times.
Knowing how to work, and when to use a radio is vital. Making sure you can communicate in an emergency could mean the difference between life and death, or at the very least make your time on the water more enjoyable.
It's vital that you research local marine radio frequencies before you set out on a trip. You need to know what channel is used for emergency broadcasts as well as general chat if you're traveling in busy waters or near built up areas.
You also need to know how radios work, which buttons to press etc so that when you really need to communicate properly and clearly with others using a radio then it shouldn't be too much of an issue.
Make sure that everyone who might be needed to use your marine radio knows exactly how it works prior to hitting the water.
The law requires that you have fully charged fire extinguishers on board your boat: two for boats longer than 26 feet and one for boats less than 26 feet. There are other requirements, such as the size and type of extinguishers required, but all boats need at least one currently charged unit.
Get familiar with the location and operation of your fire extinguisher. Read the operating instructions on the cylinder or tag, so you know how to use it if needed. The last thing you want is to have a fire erupt and not know how to operate the onboard equipment designed to fight fires.
If you have a CO2 system, make sure your bottle is full by checking its gauge regularly. Also check the dates stamped on your extinguishers; they usually require replacement every 10 years or so, even if they seem "full." If it's been more than five years since you've replaced an extinguisher, consider replacing it now—even if it seems like new—because corrosion can damage them from inside.
Make sure you have the following safety and boat documents on board:
Boat registration - You must have your vessel's registration available for inspection. The registration needs to be current, and it must include the HIN (hull identification number).
Insurance documents - You'll need proof of insurance. In some states, this is required by law. If you're traveling out of state waters, it may be required in that state's jurisdiction as well.
Safety checklist - Have this handy to make sure you haven't forgotten anything essential.
Charts - It's a good idea to have nautical charts for your route as well as tide and current tables if applicable.
Navigation rules - Make sure everyone on board is aware of navigation rules, specifically those related to right-of-way and buoyage systems.
Emergency procedures - Make sure everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency or if someone falls overboard
Before you use your boat, ensure that the anchor is the right size for your boat and in good condition. It should be securely stored in an appropriate place (not on deck where it could be stepped on or where it could fall off). In addition to the anchor being in good condition, make sure the rope is also in good condition and stored properly. The rope should be long enough for the depth of water where you will be boating.
Looking back on our sailing experience, we have some suggestions for beginners who are thinking of showing up in a boat and actually crossing the water.
Get a professional captain. Even if you've never used a motorized vessel, you would be wise to enlist one of those experienced sailors who have crossed oceans to get any inland adventure under your belt. The right captain can make all the difference in whether or not you manage to make it across that big lake, meet the right people at your destination, and perhaps even enjoy some kind of memorable vacation on dry land.
Have enough lines on board. If your vessel is less than 20 feet long, do not cross an ocean with less than 30 pounds of line in tow. While 30 pounds might sound like a lot when it comes to rigging material (which tends to be heavy), it is nothing compared to how quickly those lines can snap—and that doesn't take into account the stresses involved with trimming sails and maneuvering around rocks (the kind that don't have names). It's better to be safe than sorry here: Have more lines than you think you'll need and leave yourself plenty of slack so that if something goes wrong, there is still enough line left over for recovery purposes. Consider installing fenders as well: The kind that sit along the side of a boat are great for ensuring swift but steady progress through choppy waters or when docking in frigid temps or during foul weathers!
Make a Plan - Every time you head out on the water, make sure to plan your trip.
Safety Equipment - Carry all required safety equipment with you and make sure everyone onboard knows how and when to use it. Also be sure to check that all safety equipment is in good working order before heading out.
In Case of Emergency - If an accident occurs or someone goes overboard, know what procedures to take immediately and how to best handle the situation.
Pre-Trip Discussion - Before hitting the water, have a conversation with all passengers about where you'll be going and what will be happening during the trip; review any concerns or questions they may have so everyone can stay aware of their surroundings and stay safe while on the water.
Know Your Boat - Get familiar with your boat's capabilities, limitations, and features so you know how it performs in different circumstances.
Fuel Up! - Make sure you always fill up your tank before hitting the water so you don't run out of fuel on a trip or return home empty-handed.
Don't Drink & Drive - One of the most important rules for boating is never drinking alcohol while operating a boat. Being impaired could cause accidents and seriously endanger yourself as well as other boaters around you, whether they are on land or water.
September 13, 2023