Before you boat there are a few things you should know including what condition your boat is in, what the forecast is, where safety items on the boat are located, if your passengers can swim, the maximum capacity and familiarity with the area where you will be boating. Taking the time to complete these simple steps can ensure that you will have a great boating experience. Here are some tips to help you brush up on the things you need to know before you boat.
Condition of the Boat
Every boat needs regular maintenance to ensure that it is completely safe. There are a few basic checks that should to be made, in addition to making sure that you have ample boat insurance coverage.
Fill up: It may seem obvious but you’ll want to make sure you have ample fuel for your trip. Unlike road trips fuel stops can be few and far between so plan ahead to make sure you’re not stranded.
Oil: You’ll want to check your oil regularly. See your operators manual for specific instructions but most manufacturers recommend that you check the oil while the boat is docked vs. on a trailer because the levels may be difficult to read accurately due to the pitch of the boat.
Fuel Pump: Make sure that there are no cracks or other visible deterioration.
Bilge Pump: Check to ensure that there is no fuel build-up.
Blower: Not all boats have a blower but if yours is equipped with one make sure it is opperational before leaving the dock.
If you are just taking a couple laps around a small lake than a weather forecast probably isn’t necessary, but if you are going to be on the ocean, great lakes or another large body of water far enough from shore that you can’t rush back with only a moments notice then it’s a good idea to get an updated weather forecast before you leave the docks.
Know where the fire extinguisher and other safety items are located. Also make sure you know where the life jackets are and that there are enough U.S. Coast Guard approved/UL-Listed personal flotation devices (PFDs) for each person on board and that they meet the appropriate height and weight requirements. Inflatable tubes, rafts and other swimming aids are great to have but these can not be substituted for approved PFDs.
Talk to your passengers make sure you are aware if someone is afraid of the water or doesn’t know how to swim. No one is drown proof but passengers that lack basic swimming skills will require special attention and should wear a PFD at all times. Passengers under the age of 12 are required by federal law to wear an approved life jacket.
It can be easy to fill a boat with friends and gear on a beautiful afternoon but make sure that you don’t exceed the maximum capacity. An overloaded boat is significantly more likely to swamp or capsize. Swamping occurs with a boat is filled with water and capsizing refers to a vessel that has been flipped over or turned on it’s side. Too many people on a boat also increases the risk of someone falling overboard. Falling overboard and capsizing are the leading causes of fatal boating accidents. If the boat is overloaded and an accident occurs and there is damage to the boat or someone is injured you may not be covered by your insurance company.
It is very easy to destroy a boat and endanger passengers if you hit a large rock, sand bar, stump, coral reef, log or mud bar, especially if the collision occurs at a high speed. If you are boating in a lake that is unfamiliar to you buy a chart of the lake, ask locals about things to be aware of, use a depth finder if you have one and pay attention to the water.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been boating familiarize yourself with the rules and ediquette. You can contact the Department of Natural Resources for your states boating rules. You’ll also want to be aware of any additional local regulations for the lake you are on regarding hours of power boat operation, creating a wake near the shoreline and noise ordances. If you choose to take an approved boaters saftey course you will learn basic boating rules and you may be able to qualify for a reduced boat insurance rate.
If you are boating on a large body of water tell someone who’s staying on shore when you plan on being back and bring a cell phone with you in case there are problems. Also be aware if you have on-water towing included in your boat insurance coverage. If you are not sure your boat insurance company representative can let you know.