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Summer Boating Safety Tips

Corner of a boat that's in open waters

May 21st- May 27th is National Safe Boating Week. During the week, boaters of all kinds are encouraged to refresh themselves on boating safety best practices. In joining in the week’s mission to promote boating safety, we will discuss safety advice for recreational boaters.

Before You Go

While boating is about having fun with friends and family, it’s also about ensuring everyone is safe. Here are some tips concerning steps you can take before you even leave for your boating trip.

Take a Boating Safety Course

In January 2025, all boat operators will have to carry a boater card (issued by the DBW). As of May 22, all people aged 45 years old or younger must be a card carrier if they plan to operate a boat. A requirement of the application for a California Boater Card is the successful completion of an approved boating safety course.

Even if you do not intend to operate a boat, taking the safety course can still be beneficial for you. To educate children, parents can utilize the AquaSMART curriculum, which is also taught and incorporated into many K-12 and outreach program curriculums.

Appoint an Assistant Skipper

If something happens to the boat operator, there should be another person aboard that can safely operate the boat. Appoint this person (the assistant skipper) and walk them through how to handle and operate your vessel.

Conduct a Vessel Safety Check

You should always inspect your vessel before going out on the water. Boat owners can also have their vessel inspected by the U.S. Coast Guards Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons, or state boating agencies for free (in most cases). Vessel safety checks should be conducted on an annual basis (at least).

Make Sure You Pack Essentials

After getting or conducting a safety check, you should review a boating pre-departure checklist to ensure you have boating safety essentials. Important items you should test for efficiency and ensure you have onboard include a(n):

  • State registration documents
  • Approved distress signals
  • Lifejackets (1 per person as well as an extra) and throwable devices
  • Navigation tools (i.e. a compass, navigation lights, etc.)
  • Cell phones
  • Whistles (or other sound-producing devices) attached to the lifejackets or readily available
  • VHF marine radio
  • Flashlight(s) and batteries
  • Searchlight(s)
  • Engine cut-off device
  • Emergency locator device (for the vessel and/or persons onboard)
  • Emergency boating kit
  • Water

As you run through this list, you should also check the amount of fuel you have and check your engine fluids. Here is a downloadable pre-departure checklist.

Create & Share a Float Plan

Filing a float plan can ensure that you have someone on land who is looking out for your safety. A float plan includes a list of who is supposed to be on board, a description of your boat, details about the safety equipment and tools on board, your anticipated route, and destination, and when you expect to arrive and return. Once you draft a plan, you should share it with a reliable person who is not planning to go out with you. If you do return when expected or by a reasonable hour, they can contact the local marine authorities or U.S. Coast Guard on your behalf. Be advised: you may want to set a reminder to inform this person of your return to avoid false alarms.

Check the Weather

Before boating, you should check the weather conditions as well as tide and current predictions If a storm is coming, you may need to reschedule your trip because inclement weather not only ruins your plans but also presents a danger to you and anyone with you on the water. In 2020, hazardous waters caused 232 boating accidents and were the ninth leading contributing factor to accidents in the U.S.

OnBoard Boating Safety Tips

Boating safety is especially important when you are on the boat. Here are some best practices concerning the safety of you and other passengers while boating.

Wear a Life Jacket

Everyone on board should be fitted for one before you leave the shore/dock, and they should always wear it. According to 2020 research by the U.S. Coast Guard, 534 died because they drowned in a boating accident, and only 74 of those people wore a lifejacket. Strong swimmers can also be the victim of a drowning or near-drowning. To protect everyone on the boat, hold everyone accountable for wearing their life vest.

Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol consumption is the 7th top contributing factor to boating accidents. It is illegal to operate a boat (or water ski) while under the influence of alcohol. However, passengers should also avoid consuming alcohol while out on the water, and you should remove alcohol from your packing list. When consumed, alcohol can negatively impact balance and vision as well as cause dehydration; all of which put boating passengers at risk of falling overboard.

Watch Out for One Another

Onboard and in the water, watch out for each other, and pay extra attention to young children. Adults or experienced boaters and swimmers can take turns being the “water watcher,” when people engage in water sports or get in the water, like a lifeguard. It is also important to note that you should be mindful of how different open water is from a pool; teaching others to swim or even splashing around in the water will be very different as the water is not stagnant.


Being out in the sun and engaging in physical activities (like water sports) can lead you to become dehydrated if you do consume a lot of water. Be sure to encourage everyone on board to drink water regularly.

Boat Green

Keep and secure all trash onboard. To boat green, you can take advantage of fishing line recycling stations as well as shore-side facilities that recycle glass, metal, paper, and plastic. If your vessel has an engine, you should also work to prevent oil spills.

Unfortunately, accidents can happen even when you are adhering to safe boating practices. At Eliot Reiner, APLC, our attorneys are here to help you if you were injured in a boating accident or crash (that was caused by negligence). Contact our boat accident lawyers online or by calling (916) 778-3228 to schedule your free consultation today.

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