7 Boat Safety Tips to Keep Your Family Safe on the Water

Planning a family boat trip to the lake and need some tips for staying safe?

You don't want to be that person who doesn't know how to tie a life jacket or what to do if someone falls overboard. But it's tough to know what safety tips to keep top of mind.

That's why we've put together a comprehensive guide of boating safety tips to walk you through everything you need to know.

Read more about these important safety measures before your next boat outing.

Why Is Boat Safety Important?

Boat safety is important for many reasons. Primarily, it keeps you and your loved ones safe while on the water. Boat accidents can happen quickly and without warning, so knowing how to react in an emergency is crucial.

In addition to safety measures that help you avoid accidents, it's also important to prepare yourself if you do end up in a dangerous situation.

You won't always be able to rely on using your engine or radio for help, so having the right safety gear is crucial.

The Right Boating Safety Gear

Every boat needs certain lifesaving tools and equipment to keep everyone on board safe. There are plenty of items you can invest in, but the most important are:

  • A life jacket for each person on board
  • An emergency flare or signal
  • A sound-making device, like a horn or whistle
  • A first aid kit

In some states, the law may require some of these items, like flares and sound-makers. Make sure to check before you hit the water.

All of these things are important to have on hand in case of an emergency, but they're not the only things you need to stay safe while boating. Some other basic things include:

  • Know the proper safety gear required for your boat's size
  • Protect yourself from sun exposure, which can cause heatstroke or even skin cancer in extreme cases
  • Stay hydrated by bringing plenty of water with you
  • Wear sunscreen and a hat when in the sun for long periods
  • Have a list of emergency numbers handy in case someone gets hurt or your boat breaks down
  • Be aware of the weather conditions and plan your route accordingly

These are just a few basic tips to help you get started. For more detailed information on how to stay safe while boating, check out our complete guide below.

Does My Family Need to Know About Boat Safety?

Just like you wouldn't let your kids ride in a car without teaching them how to buckle their seatbelt, you shouldn't take them out on the boat without introducing them to basic safety concepts.

Even if you're an experienced boater, it's important to go over these safety tips with your family before your trip. That way everyone will be on the same page in case of an emergency. For example,  if you're tubing and someone falls overboard, the driver may not know to immediately cut the engine and throw out a life ring.

Even if your kids aren't old enough to drive the boat, you should involve them in all aspects of boat safety - from putting on their life jackets to familiarizing themselves with the location of equipment, like flares and the fire extinguisher.

The basic operation of these items may be second nature to you, but they can be confusing for new boaters. For instance, some life jackets come with auto-inflation systems that may require you to pull a tab before the airbag deploys.

Now that you know the basics of boat safety, it's time to learn how to put it into practice. Here are seven tips to keep in mind while out on the water.

1. Make Sure Everyone on Board Knows How to Swim

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's important to have everyone on board know how to swim in case of an emergency. Even if you're not a strong swimmer, there are survival techniques that can help you stay afloat until help arrives.

Why This Is Important?

Unfortunately, drowning is one of the most common causes of death in boating accidents. Even if you're on a small boat in calm waters, an unexpected wave or wind gust can quickly cause trouble. Getting thrown overboard or losing grip on the boat are some of the main reasons why people drown. That's why it's so important to learn how to swim.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

If someone on your boat falls overboard and can't swim to safety, they could drown. In addition, the boat may drift away from the person, making it harder for them to get back on board.

2. Follow the Rules of the Waterway

Each type of waterway has its own rules and regulations for safety, including speed limits, wake restrictions, and no-wake zones. Make sure everyone on your boat follows these rules at all times or you'll face steep fines - or worse, a fatal accident.

Why This Is Important?

Ignoring the rules of the water can lead to dangerous situations. For example, speeding in a no-wake zone can cause your boat to create a large wake that can swamp smaller vessels and even capsize them. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that speed was a factor in as many as 24% of boating accidents from 2006 to 2010.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

In addition to fines and citations, you could end up causing a small accident or even a major disaster if you violate boat rules. All it takes is one person not following the rules to create a dangerous situation for everyone on board.

3. Wear a Life Jacket

Wearing a life jacket is the most important thing you can do to stay safe while boating. Make sure everyone on board has one that fits properly and isn't too bulky or uncomfortable to wear.

Why This Is Important?

If someone falls overboard, they will have the extra help needed to keep them afloat. Even if you're in calm waters, there is still a chance that your kids get thrown off balance when tubing or swimming around the boat.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

If you're not wearing a life jacket and end up in the water, it will be harder to stay afloat. If you can't swim or tread water while wearing your life jacket, you'll sink and drown. Wearing a life jacket could even save your life in an emergency.

4. Find Life Rings and Other Boating Safety Equipment

Make sure everyone on board knows the location of whistles, life rings, and other alarm devices. These can be lifesavers in an emergency. This equipment is basic on most boats, but it's important to check before you set sail.

Why This Is Important?

If someone falls overboard, they may not have time to swim to the nearest life ring. By knowing where these devices are, you can help them get back on board as quickly as possible.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

If someone falls overboard and can't find the nearest life ring, they may drown. In addition, if there's a fire on board, everyone will need to know where the nearest fire extinguisher is.

5. Stay Away From Other Boats When Towing Someone

When towing someone behind your boat - for tubing or skiing - stay at least 100 feet away from other boats. This will help avoid any accidents caused by the wake from other vessels.

Why This Is Important?

When towing someone, you're essentially pulling them behind your boat at high speeds. If another boat comes too close, there is a chance that they get thrown off balance and hit by your vessel.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

If someone gets thrown from a tube or skis into another vessel, they could suffer head or neck injuries. In addition, if your boat hits them, they could drown. Remember to stay 100 feet away from other vessels.

6. Keep an Eye on the Weather

Keep an eye on the weather conditions and prepare to take action if a storm rolls in. Bad weather can cause a lot of problems and introduce many risks. In general, you want to have a clear forecast for a family outing -- but it's even more important from a safety perspective.

Why This Is Important?

Storms can quickly develop on the water, leaving you and your passengers stranded or in danger. Make sure you have a plan for what to do if bad weather approaches.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

A storm can create rough seas and high winds -- not good for a family trip on the water. In addition, lightning strikes are one of the biggest dangers when boating, especially in an open boat like a ski boat or pontoon.

7. Drink Responsibly

It shouldn't come as a surprise that drinking before you go boating can put you in danger - both on and off the water. Boats are vehicles just like cars,  and you need to be sober to operate them safely.

Why This Is Important?

Even if you have a designated driver, alcohol affects your judgment and motor skills, which can lead to serious injuries for everyone onboard. Only allow someone to drive while they're sober or stick to drinking non-alcoholic beverages while on the boat.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

If you're drunk and driving a boat, you could easily run into another vessel or person. In addition, if you fall overboard while intoxicated, it will be much harder to stay afloat. Remember: drink responsibly when boating!

When Is the Safest Time to Take a Family Boat Trip?

The safest time to take a family boat trip is usually when the weather is good and the water is calm. There are a few reasons for this.

First, bad weather can quickly develop on the water, leaving you and your passengers stranded or in danger.

Second, storms can create rough seas and high winds - not good for a family trip on the water.

Finally, lightning strikes are one of the biggest dangers when boating, especially in an open boat like a ski boat or pontoon. If you're going to take a boat trip during bad weather, make sure you have a plan for what to do if the storm approaches.

What Steps Should I Take to Prepare My Family?

If you're taking a boat trip with family or friends, make sure everyone knows the basics of water safety. That way if something does happen, people onboard can act quickly.

You should also go over basic boating rules and regulations before your trip to help reduce any risks that may arise. As passengers, they should know how to get in the boat, where to sit, and know their position if something were to happen.

As a driver or operator of the boat, they should know how it works, including the throttle and steering wheel. This is important because if you're incapacitated, someone else on the boat needs to be able to drive.

Finally, make sure everyone has life jackets on at all times. They should also know what type of life jacket is right for where they're sitting and what to do if the boat capsizes.

How to Prepare Your Kids for Safe Boating

Before hitting the water, consider taking your kids on a walking tour of the boat. This will give them a good idea of what to expect and how to stay safe while on the vessel.

Once they're familiar with the boat, have them sit in different parts of the boat - including in the driver's seat - and let them take turns steering. This will help prepare them for if they ever need to drive the boat.

Make sure they also know how to put on a life jacket and what to do if the boat capsizes. And, most importantly, remind them to never drink and boat.

Get Started With These Boating Safety Tips for the Family

By following these seven boating safety tips, you can help keep your family safe while boating this summer.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with your boat and the local laws of the waterway, wear a life jacket at all times and stay away from other boats when towing someone. And most importantly, drink responsibly and have fun!

But if you have any questions about what you should be doing, contact us for more information.

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