Boating safety tips

Without a doubt, boating is all about fun! However, the more you know about water safety and how to operate your boat and navigate the waterways, the better you and your family can maximize your enjoyment out on the water. Additonally, many states require boaters to complete a  boating course and become licensed and/or certified. For more  information see our Boating Courses page. Below is a list of basic safety tips that every boater should be aware of:

Plan your trip

  • Consult charts beforehand to determine if all the areas of your destination are open to your type of boat. 
  • Call ahead for information on area restrictions, closures, permit requirements, etc. 

Pre-trip checklist

  • When trailering a boat, inspect lights to be sure they are in working  order, make sure your load is balanced properly and that all items inside boat are secure.
  • Pack a U.S. Coast Guard approved life vest (PFD) for each person on board. 
  • Make sure you have on board: owner’s manual and registration in a waterproof bag, U.S. Coast Guard approved working fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, flares, tool kit, and spill kit.
  • Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and extra water. 
  • Check the battery along with oil and fuel levels. For more information see our Boat Maintenance page. 
  • Check the weather forecast before you head out. NOAA Weather Radio has detailed marine weather forecasts.

Running the boat

  • When running the boat in shallow water be sure to know your depth and  watch your speed. Avoid boating in water less than 2 ½ feet deep and be  aware that high speeds near shorelines lead to large wakes which cause  shoreline erosion.
  • Always be courteous to other boaters—along with fishers, skiers, and swimmers.
  • When crossing a wake, lower your speed and keep an eye out for skiers and boats in tow. 
  • Buoys and other navigational aids are there to help you—use them. 
  • When you see a No-Wake zone sign, it means NO-WAKE! 
  • Be able to recognize distress signals and warning symbols. 
  • Don’t mix driving with alcohol or drugs. 
  • Be aware of your noise level—water does not absorb sounds and it carries. 


  • Pack a pet life jacket for each animal. A bright color makes it easier  to spot them should they go over board—trust us, we know. 
  • Be sure to have plenty of drinking water on hand and make sure there  is a shaded area with plenty of ventilation for the pet(s) to rest. 


  • Weather can change so be sure to check in with NOAA Weather Radio for  storm warnings and updates to the forecast. What appears one moment to be a small gray cloud in the distance may quickly turn into a squall or  afternoon thundershower. Heavy static on your AM radio also may be an  indication of nearby thunderstorm activity.
  • If a thunderstorm is approaching, head for shore if possible and get out of your boat and away from the water immediately.
  • If you are not able to get off the water in time put on your PFD and stay below deck if possible. 

Take care of the environment

  • Teach your children to leave the area better than you found it by  properly disposing of fuel, oil and waste. Carry a trash bag for your disposable items. It also doesn't hurt to pick up litter left by others.
  • Observe proper sanitary waste disposal or pack your waste out. 
  • When you fill up the boat take every precaution not to spill fuel into the water. Use a fuel collar or bib to catch drips and overflow and  prevent back splash.


  • Learn to swim and wear a life jacket. 
  • Don't exceed the number of passengers your boat is recommended to hold.
  • Someone on board should know how to operate the boat other than the Captain.
  • Visit the U.S. Coast Guard website and find out how to get a free Vessel Safety Check