How to Avoid Boating Accidents: Safety Tips for Driving a Boat

Boating is bloating in popularity. But the rate of boating injuries is also bloating. More than 5,200 boating accidents occurred in 2020 alone. 

Operating a boat requires just as much knowledge as driving a car. You have to study boat safety down to the smallest detail. 

What should you do before you go on a boat? What are some safety tips you can follow while you are onboard? What are the most common boating emergencies, and how can you respond to them right away? 

Answer these questions and you can stay safe during all of your boating trips. Here is your comprehensive guide. 

Plan Your Trip

The more you plan before going on your boat, the more you can avoid an accident. Figure out where you want to go and find the shortest possible route to your destination. 

Take only as many supplies as you need. Keep the weight of your supplies to a minimum and leave plenty of space so you don't trip over things. 

Make a checklist of everything you need. You must have drinkable water, food, and communication tools like cell phones and radios. It is a very good idea to bring flashlights, horns, and flare guns as well. 

Conduct an inspection of your boat at least a week before any major trip. If you notice something that needs repairs, get repairs for it right away. Be persistent about your boat maintenance by making fixes year-round.  

Know Your Local Boating Laws

Each state has its own boating laws. It is very important that you understand them before you go on the water. Visit your state's website and study the laws in detail. 

In general, laws regulate who can operate a boat and where you can go on your boat. Most states prohibit people younger than 18 from driving a boat. You cannot go near protected areas such as reefs. 

You must receive a boating license in order to operate a boat. Nearly all states require applicants to take courses in safe boating practices before they can get their license. You can go to a local boating school in order to meet your state's requirements. 

Follow Good Fueling Tips

Having too little fuel increases your boat's chances of breaking down. At the same time, having too much fuel can increase the risk of a fire. Bring just enough fuel for your boat. 

Fuel your boat when it's still and ensure the engine is off. Clear the area around your boat and keep the nozzle against your tank. Leave a little room toward the top of your tank, as fuel expands under hot temperatures. 

Do not bring large portable tanks onto your boat. They can tip the center of balance on your boat, and they can create fire hazards.  

Check the Weather 

Warm, sunny, and still days are the best days for boating. It is okay to go boating on a cold or overcast day. But stay close to shore and refueling stations in case conditions change drastically. 

Check the weather the day before and the morning of your boating trip. If the weather poses any risk to you, do not go boating. 

The weather signs of incoming storms include moving clouds, low cloud bases, and southerly winds. You don't have to cut your trip short if you notice one sign of an impending storm. But you should check the weather forecast and be prepared to return to port. 

Appoint a Designated Driver

Many people like to go boating with alcoholic beverages in tow. Yet, drinking while boating is just as dangerous as drinking while driving. Alcohol was the biggest contributing factor in deadly boating accidents in 2019. 

If you plan on having a party with alcohol on your boat, have someone be a designated driver. They should not have any alcohol at all, and they should remain in charge at all times. 

Your designated driver must have their own boat license. If you are the only person in your party who has one, you must serve as the designated driver. 

Carry a Go Bag

All boats should have go bags on them, regardless of how you use your boat. Your go bag should contain a first-aid kit inside of it, with supplies to treat open wounds and burns. 

Your bag should also contain duct tape, disinfectants, and a fire extinguisher. You can add garbage or plastic bags to your bag along with a few ropes. Life jackets should be stored separately. 

Put your bag in a location where you can find it easily. Many people like to put theirs in the cockpit. If you have a very large boat, you may want to have one bag in the cockpit and another out on deck. 

Be Safe on the Docks

Boat safety includes dock safety. Keep your dock free of debris and excess objects. You can put your ropes or rigging on the dock, but free up plenty of space so you can walk around them. 

Keep all objects that conduct electricity away from outlets and batteries. You can become electrocuted if you touch a cable that has a current flowing through it. Check to see that your cables are away from outlets before you move them around. 

Do not run while you are on a dock. Grab railings while you walk around and wear shoes that grip the dock's surface. Put up signs advising people to walk carefully on your dock. 

Do an inspection of your dock every month or so. Look for any uneven walking areas and find someone to smooth them over. 

When you are leaving your boat at your dock, place a canopy cover over it. Make sure your cover is free from holes and directs rain away from your boat. You should also place a cover over your boat lift. 

Practice Safety Drills

You should prepare for every kind of emergency. Before any boating trip, you should practice how to evacuate from the boat and respond to medical emergencies. 

Every few months, you should practice collision drills and poor visibility drills. You should study how to respond to hypothermia and water inhalation. 

Keep guides onboard so less experienced people can understand what to do. But you should take charge of an emergency situation. 

Conduct your drill as though an emergency is actually happening. A random drill will seem more real than a scheduled one. 

You should also learn about navigating your boat through difficult water conditions. Study how to safely cross wakes in particular. 

Be Smart With Your Activities

Safety isn't done once you have cast your anchor and turned your engine off. You have to remain safe while you are doing your water activities. 


There are many fishing safety tips you should follow, regardless of where you are. Wear a life jacket while you are fishing. 

If children are fishing, an adult should be a "Water Watcher." They will keep track of the children and respond if one of them falls into the water. 

When you catch something, reel it in while keeping an eye on your hook. Hold your hook away from its tip and do not point the tip toward yourself. 

Wear shoes while you are fishing or near people who are fishing. Discarded hooks or sharp rocks can fall on the floor and cut your feet. 


You should only swim away from your boat if water conditions are right. The water should be still, free from large fish, and at a comfortable temperature. 

Never go swimming by yourself. Have someone on your boat monitor you in case a current sweeps you away. 

You can dive off your boat, but you should make sure the water is deep. If you cannot see through the water, you should step off your boat instead of diving into the water.


You must wear a helmet before you go wakeboarding. Elbow pads and knee pads can protect you in case you go off to one side or fall into the water. 

You must also have a firm grip on the tow rope. You may want to wear gloves so your hands do not slip. 

A spotter should monitor you and stop the wakeboarding if conditions get worse. Use hand signals to communicate with them, telling them how fast the boat should go. You can talk with them, but your words may be hard to hear over the engine. 

If you fall, let go of the tow rope. Falling while hanging onto it can result in a dislocated shoulder or broken bone. 

Respond to Emergencies

A boat accident can occur at any moment. You can contain an emergency if you respond to it quickly and help everyone on board. 

Engine Failure 

Your engine may fail for several reasons. Running out of fuel is a common reason, and you may need to add some more to your engine. But your air filter may be blocked or your exhaust pipe may be closed. 

Inspect all parts of your engine with a flashlight. Have someone spot you and ask them to monitor gauges, including the temperature for your engine. 

You should return back to dock after an engine failure, even if you get your engine going again. On a multi-engine boat, put the failed engine in neutral and steer the boat toward the shore. 

Severe Weather 

Try to avoid sailing directly into a storm. If a storm is barreling on you and you cannot avoid it, stick to its outer edges. The center contains the strongest winds. 

Aim for flat spots on the water. Do not sail in or beside waves. 

Follow good safety tips when lighting strikes. Lightning tries to find high points to land on, and the tops of boats are easy places to reach. Get inside your boat, stay low to the floor, and do not touch any electronics. 

Man Overboard

As soon as someone falls overboard, someone on deck should throw them a lifebuoy. No one should go into the water after the person. They may pull the other person down into the water, which can drown them.  

If the lifebuoy cannot reach them, you should move the boat toward them. You can also launch a lifeboat and have someone paddle out to them. 

The situation is not over once the person gets back on deck. They should receive treatment for hypothermia. Their wet clothes should be removed and they should be warmed up with a blanket and hot beverages. 


You may be able to stop a leak in your boat. You can patch the hole with towels and fabrics, and you can pump the water out of your boat. 

If your boat is taking on too much water, make a mayday call immediately. If you can still maneuver it, try to aim it toward land. 

Abandon ship when conditions get too unsafe. Get everyone into lifeboats, but try to remain near the boat if conditions on the water are okay.

Remain calm and wait for someone to find you. You can use flare guns or whistles to call the attention of nearby boats. 

Don't Let Boating Accidents Ruin a Good Time

You can avoid most boating accidents by observing basic measures. Plan out all of your trips, finding short routes that avoid dangerous areas. 

Pack bags filled with useful supplies like bandages and fire extinguishers. Practice safety drills, covering common emergencies like people falling overboard. 

If you are doing an activity like fishing, follow safety tips specific to that activity. Respond to any emergency with thorough actions, including by making a mayday call.

Joining a boat club can help you practice safety steps. Freedom Boat Club is the world's largest members-only boat club. Join a local club today. 

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