Enjoying a day on the water goes hand in hand with summer. Whether you’re fishing offshore in a large boat or enjoying a day on the local lake in your own, personal recreational boat, boating can be a pleasurable pastime that all of us can enjoy. But before you hit the water, you want to make sure that you are compliant and have everything you need from a safety standpoint. It only takes a short amount of time for a good time to go bad, so do yourself, and others, a favor and be prepared. Let’s look at some things to consider when heading out for a day on the water.
There are many, many, many things to consider in regards to regulations and safety requirements on a watercraft and they can be different depending on boat types and length. It is your job as a responsible boat owner to know these rules and regulations that pertain to the watercraft that you are operating. There is no excuse.
Before you head out on the water, be weather aware. Here in Florida during this time of year the weather can be very unpredictable and can change for the worse in a matter of just a few minutes. Not only should you look at the weather prediction for the day, but also stay alert for changing weather such as building storms, wind changes, etc. It is also a good idea to have a handheld VHF radio to receive weather updates throughout the day.
Another pre-departure routine should be to leave a float plan (download USCG Float Plan) with someone. This should include information such as location of where you’ll be, times of departure and anticipated return times, name of all passengers, and boat information. This will help aid in search and rescue in the unlikely event you may need it. Motors and equipment do give out; you do not want to be stranded longer than necessary. I have a personal connection to the importance of having a float plan. It could have easily saved my life by having one left with my wife while a buddy of mine went out for a day of fishing and exploring. She knew exactly where we were and when we planned on being back. With no cell service, we were unable to communicate with anyone once our engine malfunctioned. When we didn’t return home on time, she knew just what to do and where we would be.
Make sure that there are life jackets that are fitted properly to everyone on board. They should always be worn when the boat is in motion and all young children should have theirs on at all times. Also, as the captain, you should be aware of anyone who does not know how to swim; they too should wear their life jacket for the duration of the trip.
Now we get to the nitty gritty. You must not only have coast guard approved safety equipment pertaining to the boat you are in, but you must also now where it is all located. These include life jackets, throwable flotation, air horn or other sound producing device, fire extinguishers and flares or other visual distress signals. Also, if operating at night, you will need to make sure that you are outfitted with the proper lights and requirements for night Boat Safely operation. These requirements will vary depending on your vessel, so be sure to check with the federal and local regulations.
There are many other things you can do to make yourself an educated and qualified boat operator. Consider taking a boating course. Education is your asset when it comes to safety on the water. Knowing proper navigational methods such as overtaking another vessel or the proper way to handle an oncoming situation can make your day pleasurable and safe. Also take the time to learn the meanings of all the navigational markers that you may encounter when out cruising. You can also take your watercraft to the U.S. Coast Guard for a free vessel safety check. They will gladly go over your boat and make sure that you are compliant with safety regulations pertinent to your local area.
Do yourself a favor and educate yourself on the above matters and you’ll be able to enjoy many-a-days out on the water. Have fun and be safe!