6 min read
Flares, extra dock lines, and everything else you need for boat safety.
You might like relaxing weather and slow cruising. Maybe you’re a thrill seeker who loves high speeds and turbulence.
No matter how you boat, you should set ground rules for your next trip out on the water.
Calm the waves with these 12 boat safety tips to protect yourself, your passengers, and your vessel.
What to Check Before You Hit the Water
In 2017, the United States Coast Guard reported 4,291 recreational boating accidents that led to 2,629 injuries and 658 deaths. 75% of these accidents happened in lakes, ponds, and rivers.
You should know:
- Operator inattention was the main contributing factor of 620 accidents, 45 deaths, and 249 injuries.
- Alcohol use resulted in 275 accidents, 102 deaths, and 227 injuries.
These stats give you more than enough reasons to pay attention and avoid drinking while boating.
We don’t want to discourage your sense of adventure, but you should check your boat and the general conditions in advance of every trip. Follow these steps before you hit the water.
1. Check the Weather
Does this sound like a no-brainer? It’s not!
In 2017, weather was the main factor in:
- 198 boating accidents
- 40 deaths
- 60 injuries
You don’t want a storm to cancel your trip, but you can’t control it.
Bad weather ruins the fun factor and creates dangerous conditions. Trust the forecast!
2. Adjust Navigation and Lights as Needed
Make sure your steering and throttle controls are in good working order.
If the wheel won’t turn, the steering system might be leaking or low on hydraulic fluid. Check hydraulic fluid levels regularly and carry some with you onboard.
Test all the lights, as well as your GPS and compass.
3. Check Fuel Lines, Tanks, and Oil Levels
Inspect fuel lines and tanks for leaks or loose connections. You want your tank to have enough fuel for your adventure.
Check oil levels while you’re at it. Fill the engine with new oil after 70-100 hours of operation or at least once per year.
If you want to skip taking your boat to a dealership or repair shop, follow this DIY guide for oil changes:
- Supply cooling water to the intake gear. Most outboards and sterndrives come equipped with a V-shaped piece of tubing connecting the gear case to a water hose.
- After flushing out the motor (which takes around five minutes), remove the dipstick.
- Insert a suction tube into the dipstick hole and feed it in. Pump out the oil, and keep it safe for recycling.
- Remove the oil.
- Replace the dipstick and fill the motor with new oil.
4. Check the Battery
Does your boat sit unused for months? Then you really need to check your battery.
BoatUS offers a comprehensive marine battery guide, and they suggest you use a digital meter reader to check your battery:
- A full charge = 12.65 to 12.77 volts
- A 75% charge = 12.45 to 12.54 volts
- A 50% charge = 12.23 to 12.29 volts
- A 25% charge = 11.99 to 12.06 volts
- A dead battery = 11.75 to 11.89 volts
Always have a battery charger on-hand and ready to go.
5. Keep Fumes and Carbon Monoxide in Check
Install a carbon monoxide detector if your boat has an enclosed area. Make sure the vents work correctly.
You need a ventilation system if you have a gas-powered boat. It will be powered either by motion or blowers.
Regardless of how it works, you need to make sure the ventilation system functions as designed. It filters dangerous gasoline fumes away from the bilge.
6. Don't Forget the Bilge
The bilge collects extra water and removes it with a pump. It’s located on the inner, bottom part of your boat.
Keep this area free of oil and gas, and secure the bilge plug if needed. You shouldn’t rely on the bilge pump to purge water from a hull breach.
7. Life Jackets Should Fit the Person and Activity
Your life jackets should match the kind of boating you’re doing, whether it’s kayaking, fishing, day sailing, or something else. These life jackets should fit whoever wears them.
Include a throwable floatation device such as a life ring, buoy, or foam boat cushion.
8. Stock Your First Aid Kit
Global Marine Renewable recommends these items for a boat first aid kit:
- Adhesive bandages in many sizes
- Antibiotic ointment
- Cotton swabs
- Eye drops
- Gauze pads
- Insect repellant
- Medicine for motion sickness, allergies, pain, and fever
- Roller bandages
9. Load the Fire Extinguishers
Wait. You're surrounded by water. Why would you need a fire extinguisher on a boat?
Unfortunately, engine fires happen.
Boats under 26 feet with an outboard motor may not be required to carry a fire extinguisher. The Coast Guard requires at least one B-1 size extinguisher for vessels with an onboard motor or fuel tank. Boats from 26’ to 40’ will need two extinguishers, and boats from 40’ to 65’ should have three.
10. Pack Signaling and Sound Devices
A sudden sound signal could prevent a boat collision.
According to BOATERexam, boats less than 39.4 feet long need an air horn or whistle onboard. Boats longer than 39.4 feet need one of these devices plus a bell.
Sound devices, along with flares, can help other boaters locate you if you need help. Flares generally expire three years after their manufacture date, so don't let them expire.
11. Stay Tuned to the Marine VHF Radio
Keep your marine radio on channel 16 to stay up to date on boating alerts and warnings. Boaters use this channel to call for help.
Make sure at least one other person on board knows how to use the radio. This person should also be able to drive the boat back to shore in case anything happens to you.
12. Pack Extra Dock Lines
You can use extra lines to tow another boat, get towed by another boat, for docking, or for extra stability in unusual conditions.
You packed everything you need, and your boat is in tip-top shape. What's next?
Talk to your local Pekin Insurance agent about boat insurance, which can cover physical damage, liability, uninsured boaters, and much more.