June 2021
Written By: 
Ashley Daniels
Photographs by: 
Kate Che

Our view on summer boat safety

On a boat, life is but a dream. Merrily, merrily, merrily. Until someone doesn’t follow the basics of boat safety and churns a water day into a nightmare.

Given that we’re all in the thick of summer boating season—and our family will be joining fellow boaters on the water with our new vessel purchase—it’s critical now more than ever to speak out about what safety measures we should follow. In past experience, I’ve sadly witnessed (with three children on board) the opposite. Sorry to be a boating buzzkill, but not sorry.

Sales of boats skyrocketed to a 13-year high in 2020 to $47 billion and a 9 percent increase from 2019, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. And there are no signs of that trend slowing down this year, triggered by all of us itching to get outdoors and breathe in the salt air in the wake of our shut-down pandemic society.

That also equates to a bounty of first-time boat owners at the helm. Although reports from the Coast Guard show a slight decrease in boating accidents in 2019 from the previous year, there were still 4,168 accidents that involved 613 deaths.

I’m not trying to be grim; I just want us all to take our boating fun seriously. Here are a few ways we can do that:

Take a boating course. No matter the skill level of the “captains” out there at sea, it’s always a good idea to get familiar or refresh yourself with the current boating rules and laws, which could update and change. In fact, reports show that 70 percent of boating accident deaths occurred because the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Boating safety courses are inexpensive, offered locally or online, and often can be completed within a few hours or a day’s time. My husband is actually in the middle of taking a three-hour course online that costs $35 and will lower our boating insurance.

Get an equipment check. The U.S. Coast Guard offers free boat examinations to make sure all required safety equipment is on board and in working condition. It’s also helpful to have a pre-departure checklist of your own to ensure all the proper gear is onboard the boat.

Check the weather. Always check your local weather radar, the weather of the route you’re taking and that of your destination—and the timing of it all.

Watch your speed and watch out for maritime signs. It’s vital to operate your boat at a safe speed at all times and to stay alert, especially in crowded areas. Try to steer clear of larger vessels that can’t stop or turn as easily. You’ll also need to respect buoys, navigational and directional signs, and no-wake zones. The Coast Guard reports that operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and alcohol use are the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.

Watch the alcohol. With that said, we all like a cold beverage on the open sea, but limit the intake. After all, just like it’s illegal behind the wheel of your car, operating a boat while intoxicated is also illegal. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, and is listed as the leading factor in 23 percent of deaths.

Use your life jackets. It’s the law to have a life jacket on board that fits each of your crew before launch. And, while regulations vary by state, normally, children under age 16 (plus water-sports riders) are required to wear one while on the water. Out of the 79 percent of fatal boating accidents by drowning, 86 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Be safe around the engine. Drivers should always be extra cautious around the engine’s propellers when people are in the water, such as when towing tubers, skiers or wakeboarders. Drivers should also have the boat’s engine cut-off switch handy at all times and only have passengers board or exit the boat when the boat is off, not idling. For passengers seated close to the engine, be aware of fresh air circulation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Plan ahead. Called a “float plan,” let someone, like a family member or someone on staff at the marina, know where you’re going and how long you’re going to be gone. Make sure your contact also has your boat type and registration information, plus any communication equipment that’s on board.

With these safety tips in mind, get out on the water and have a great (and safe) summer!