Boat Safety Tips & Coast Guard Regulations

Anyone who has spent a day out on the water with family and friends will attest to the fact there is nothing quite like the experience. However, it is important for boaters to understand safety must always be their first priority. When it comes to safety, many of these requirements are mandated by the United States Coast guard, and are followed by all local municipalities. What that means, is in the event you are pulled over on the water, a safety inspection can be performed by the Officer or Game Warden, and it’s important that you stay in compliance, or you could be cited. The following boating safety tips will help you and your loved ones stay safe while enjoying time on the water.

Keeping Your Boat in Compliance

It is impossible to predict when an emergency will occur, but preparing your boat for not only safety, but inspection is crucial. Remember, many items that are required by the coast guard MUST be date-checked – so just because you have a fire extinguisher or safety flares doesn’t mean they are still in their life-use. The following items are mandated by the Coast Guard :

  • Fire Extinguisher: This extinguisher must be up to date, charged, and mounted.
  • Signal Device: This means hand-held flares, an aerial flare, or smoke signal device. If operating at night, you must have a flare device. These devices must be within 42 months of manufacture. Larger boats must have multiple-days worth of flares (check Coast Guard regulations).
  • Personal Floatation Devices: Must be available for EACH passenger.
  • Spark Arrestor Device: All boats that use an inboard or inboard/outboard motor must have a spark arrestor air cleaner assembly. This device keeps your engine compartment from catching fire in the event of a back-fire. With on-road vehicles, we often replace air cleaners with performance, or high-flow air cleaners, an automotive-style unit cannot be used on a marine craft.
  • Ventilation System: All engine compartments and living quarters on a boat have a ventilation system – it must work properly.
  • Horn: Your boat’s horn must function properly.
  • Lighting: Your boat’s directional lighting and pole-light must function properly for night-use.
  • Sanitation Device: if your boat is equipped with a sanitation device (aka Toilet) it must be functioning properly.

Even though these items are not mandated by the Coast Guard, it’s important that you consider adding all of these to your safety kit. You should always have a fully stocked boat safety and supply kit onboard that contains the following equipment:

  • Flashlight – with spare batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Duct tape or Gorilla Tape
  • Rope – Make sure you have strong enough and long enough rope to use in a towing situation. 25-30 feet is generally good.
  • Whistle
  • Bucket
  • Garbage bags
  • Mirror
  • Extra Sunblock
  • Small assortment of screwdrivers and pliers
  • Oars or Paddles
  • Personal Location Beacons are newer GPS devices and fantastic for boats traveling off-shore or in large lakes

Check The Weather

Most people wait for days filled with sun and warmth to take a boat trip. However, it can sometimes be difficult to anticipate when a storm might roll in. You should monitor your local weather services as well as check to make sure no weather advisories have been issued by the Coast Guard. This will allow you to focus on boat safety.

The U.S. Coast Guard cautions boaters to be aware of the following signs that bad weather is possibly approaching when on the water:

  • Dark or dangerous-looking clouds
  • Sudden drop in temperature
  • Halo around the sun
  • Sudden change in wind strength or direction
  • Heavy static on AM radio stations
  • High winds creating high wave activity

The full list of weather concerns as well as all Coast Guard regulations for boats is delivered by the Coast Guard in its “A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Requirements for Boats” publication.

Pay Attention

Ever wonder, “What is the cause of most boating accidents?” The inattention of boat operators is at the top of the list. In 2017, the Coast Guard counted 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and approximately $46 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. In 76 percent of fatal boating accidents the victims drowned. Of those who drowned in 2017, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Circumstances on the water can be unpredictable, and boat operators should keep their eyes on their own craft and others. You should also maintain complete awareness for objects in the water and any changes in weather conditions while you are operating a small craft.

Have Your Boat Checked

The free boat examinations that are provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will check your craft for safety equipment that small crafts are mandated to possess by state and federal guidelines. The Coast Guard Auxiliary will also check these devices to ensure they are in good working condition and to maintain boat safety. If you are unable to travel to a testing facility, this testing can be done virtually.

Be Mindful of Fumes

After you fill your boat with fuel, open the hatches on your boat and check for the scent of gas. If you can smell gas, do not crank the engine of the boat. Also, carbon monoxide is a threat to you and your guests if it is allowed to accumulate in specific areas on your boat. Be aware of any spot on your boat where this type of accumulation is possible and take measures to ensure that air is able to circulate in these areas. This is one of the essential boating safety tips.

Anchoring Procedures

Making sure you possess the right anchor for your boat is the first step of a safe anchoring process in boat safety. When it is time to anchor your boat, make sure you are in a spot that offers protection from the wind and waves. A good anchoring spot will also provide you with enough swinging room for your anchor along with a quality bottom to receive your anchor.

Before you throw your anchor over the bow of your boat, make sure your anchor line is long enough and tangle-free. When it is finally time to drop the anchor, keep in mind that it will drag along the bottom for a moment before it sets in place. Once you feel the anchor dig in, put your boat in reverse for a bit to ensure the anchor firmly attaches to the bottom.

Proper Docking Procedures

Docking your boat is a challenge that can be greatly affected by the current, the wind, and the type of vessel you command. You should first make sure your bumpers are out as you make your approach to the shore or dock. Also, slowing down to a safe speed and being sure to secure your docking lines are other aspects of boat safety.

The direction of the wind at the time you wish to dock will also greatly affect the process. When the wind is blowing into shore, you will need to steer your boat to a position about 2 feet from where you are docking. You can allow the wind to gently push your boat the short distance that remains. If the wind is blowing in the opposite direction, you should make your approach at a 20- or 30-degree angle. This will allow you to compensate for the potential resistance the wind will cause.

Take a Class on Boating Safety

The U.S. Coast Guard regulations for boats point to operator error as a factor in 70% of the accidents that take place on the water. For this reason, you should familiarize yourself with all the rules and responsibilities applicable to operating your boat. You can find courses both online and offline, and many of these courses are available to you free of charge. You can obtain a comprehensive list of both online and hands-on boating courses from the U.S. Coast Guard website.

The Bottom Line

The time you spend on your boat will provide you with extreme enjoyment along with memories that will last for a lifetime. However, it is important that you understand what is required to maintain the safety for both yourself and the guests who accompany you for a day on the water. Many of the supplies you need to maintain boat safety practices and ensure the proper functioning of your small craft can be found at AutoZone.

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