Boating is a great activity that many people do for recreation in the summer months and even during other times of the year for various reasons. Boaters use vessels including powerboats, sailboats, rowboats, and paddleboats. There are millions of people around the world who love boating: It is a great activity for people of all ages. But it is an activity that has many safety precautions that must be followed in order to protect everyone involved.
Every state in the U.S. has regulations and laws for boating and the operation of powerboats, sailboats, and manually propelled boats. There are equipment standards so that all boaters have the ability to safely get to and from the shore. There are laws that state that there must be life vests for every passenger on board. It is against the law for children under a certain age, usually 8, to be without a life vest on a boat in most states. There are also boat speed restrictions for the safety of those on board.
All states, with the exception of Alaska, California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arkansas, and Maine, require boater education courses, and all of the states have some definite safety education requirements in place. There are equipment and lighting requirements as well as maximum loading and horsepower requirements that must be followed. Boating under the influence of alcohol is prohibited, while there are also strict laws against reckless and careless operations of boats. There are also strict requirements in most states about accident reporting. It is important before boating that you read up on your local and state regulations.
- Federal Navigation Regulations: An overview of the basic laws for boating in the U.S.
- Federal Regulations for Boating: Follow boating laws when you are using another body of water.
- Rules for Boating in Montana: Basic regulations for operating a boat in the state of Montana.
- Maryland Boating Regulations (PDF): The Department of Natural Resources’ guide to boating in Maryland.
- Connecticut Boating Regulations (PDF): A guide to boating in the state of Connecticut.
Travel Safety Resources
- 12 Top Safety Tips for the International Traveler
- Air Travel Safety Tips
- Safe Travel Resource Guide for Women
- Are Domestic Airlines Safer than International Airlines?
Boating permits allow the owner of the boat to put the boat in a certain body of water. Boat permits can be purchased annually, monthly, weekly, or daily. A permit simply states that the owner has permission to be boating on that particular body of water. Usually, permits include a sticker and a piece of paper. The sticker should be placed on the side of the boat near the stern where it can easily be seen by authorities. The paper copy of the permit should also always be available to the owner while on board. Before your first trip boating, be sure to check on the permit regulations in your area.
- Boating in Yellowstone: A guide for boating in Yellowstone National Park by the National Park Service.
- Indiana Boating Fees: Obtaining a permit to boat in Indiana from the Department of Natural Resources.
- Texas Titles and Registration: A guide for titling requirements in Texas.
- South Dakota Boat Licensing: Guidelines cover obtaining a license and registration for boating in South Dakota.
Safety on the Water
It is extremely important to take safety seriously when you are planning on going boating. Safety starts in the planning phase of the trip. Basic tips include taking a boating course. Although boater education requirements are different depending on your state, you should complete a boater safety course. It is always important to be prepared for all situations and circumstances while boating.
Be sure to look into the weather forecast before your boating trip. Check your local conditions before departure day. Check reliable television, radio, and online sources. While you are out boating, always pay attention to the changing sky. If clouds start to darken, the wind picks up, the temperature drops suddenly, or the water begins to get rough, it is vitally important to get your boat and passengers off the water immediately.
A float plan will ensure that someone knows that you are planning on going out on the water. You should let them know where you are going and when you plan on returning to shore. It is best to include your name, address, and phone number and the same information for all passengers as well, your boat type and registration information, and the type of communication you’ll be using.
Before you leave on your boating trip, be sure to have a designated person who is able to handle the boat if you are unable to navigate due to sickness or other reasons. This designated assistant should also know boating regulations and proper safety precautions. Always use common sense when dealing with a boat. Safe speeds should always be used, careful navigation should be used in congested areas of the water, and steering clear of large vessels and other larger watercraft is important because of their inability to quickly turn or change speed. Buoys should be respected, as these and other navigational tools are used to ensure safety among boaters.
Life jackets should be worn by all passengers at all times while boating. In addition to this, be sure that all life jackets fit properly before you depart. Boating while drinking alcohol doubles the probability of boating accidents. Sun and wind in combination with alcohol consumption exacerbates the effects of the alcohol. In addition it is very important for all passengers to know how to swim. Knowing how to swim is crucially important to proper boating safety.
There are many free vessel safety checks by the U.S. Coast Guard. This is to verify that all safety equipment is in good condition and follows the state and federal regulations. Performing a pre-departure safety checklist will ensure that you have all of the proper safety equipment and that it is all in working condition before you depart.
- Docks and Access in Public Waters (PDF): Safety tips for navigating around docks, buoys, and structures.
- Boating Safety With Alcohol: Rules and regulations pertaining to the use of alcohol and drugs while boating.
- Washington Weather and Tides: How to obtain weather and tide information in the state of Washington.
- Nebraska’s Rules and Regulations for Boating: Unsafe practices and things to avoid while boating, in addition to safety tips.
It is a requirement of federal law that all owners or operators file a boating accident report with their state authorities in the event of an accident. The stipulated situations include when someone dies, when someone disappears from the vessel, and when someone is injured and requires emergency medical treatment. The rule also applies when there is considerable damage to the boat or if the boat is destroyed. There are forms online that can be printed and filled out. There is also a time window when the report needs to be made.
- Louisiana Accident Reporting: Tips for reporting a boating accident in the state of Louisiana.
- Recreational Boat and Accident Reporting: Rules for reporting a boating accident.
- Recreational Boating Accident Reporting Database: A database of boating accidents is kept for further information.
- Boating Accident Reporting: Boating accident regulations in New York and a printable form.