Boating Safety Tips For The Holiday Weekend

The Coast Guard urges boaters across the country to use extra caution while on the water this Labor Day weekend. Here is the safety advice from two districts with additional suggestions I have learned over the last 30 years as a boater and Boating Safety Instructor.

Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of the traditional boating season and is usually a very busy few days on the water.

We want people to enjoy this holiday weekend safely, said Capt. Jeremy Smith, commander of Coast Guard Sector Columbia River. It’s important that you wear a life jacket and tell friends or family your plans, in case there is an emergency.

Consider these safety tips for boaters before leaving the dock:

Always wear a life jacket: Life jackets save lives. In 2018, 77 percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those, approximately 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Accidents can leave even a strong swimmer injured, unconscious, or exhausted in the water. Ensure there are enough life jackets for every person on the boat and children 12-years-old and under are required to wear one when out on the open deck when boating in Washington State and many others.

For more information on Life-jackets: Life Jackets Work!! But Only If You Wear It and Tips on Selecting The Correct Life-jacket / PFD

Have a VHF-FM marine-band radio on board. Cell phones may lose signal off shore or run out of battery power. They are helpful but not reliable for notifying first responders of mariners in distress. Channel 16 is the channel used for emergencies that occur on waterways.

For more information: VHF Marine Radio Tips:

I always had two VHF radios onboard, one 25 watt base station connected to the vessels electrical system and a 2nd hand held VHF radio with fresh/spare batteries just in case the main power system failed or we had to abandon ship. The handheld also had a lanyard on it so it could be attached to a person and not dropped overboard.

Personal Boating Safety Equipment

What safety equipment should I have on me when I am boating or what safety equipment should I add to my lifejacket is a common question  ask at boating safety events.

Here is the safety equipment that I and other people I know use.  I will start with the required equipment when a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary member is out on patrol and then cover equipment that is commonly added to the minimum equipment list.

Check the weather. Know the weather limitations of the boat. Check the weather for storms, tides, currents and winds. NOAA does a very good job forecasting the weather but they are off just enough from time to time, so always watch the weather for adverse changes and if the weather deteriorates seeking shelter is very prudent. If you change plans and have a float plan filed, please contact the people with your Float Plan and tell them about the changes so a Search and Rescue operation is not launched when you are safe in a different location.

Ask the Captain: Before you get underway on a charter, or even pay for the trip, ask the captain to see their merchant mariner credentials. The US Coast Guard have strict regulations for boats that are used for hire, the Licensing covers the qualifications and experience of the Captain and the crew. The testing is significant, the equipment on the boat is also regulated as well as drug testing of the officers and crew.

In addition to a marine-band radio, boaters should have signal flares, a sound producing device or an emergency position-indicating radio beacon to alert first responders in case of an emergency.

If you have an EPIRB, ( Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) be sure it’s registered! Once registered, and in the event of an activation, the EPIRB signal alerts search and rescue teams with information to assist in the search including who you are, your boat type and size, where you are, and other important data, including emergency contact information. An EPIRB or PLB will send a signal to rescuers that locates the beacon to an accuracy of a few yards.

Personal Locator Beacon’s (PLB) are a small version of an EPIRB, the chief difference is in the size (PLB’s are about the size of a pack of cigarettes) and the beacon broadcasts for a shorter time than an EPIRB. I believe a PLB broadcasts for a minimum of 8 to 10 hours and a EPIRB 48 hours.

File a float plan: Leave a detailed float plan with a friend or family member who is staying back on land. The sooner a party can be reported overdue, the more likely a positive outcome will result. Facts need to be quickly conveyed in an emergency. Your float plan should include information that rescue personnel need in order to find you. For examples of a float plan, visit

Never boat under the influence: It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are stringent penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and jail time. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

Be COVID-19 safe. The National Safe Boating Council offers boaters tips for social distancing including: maintaining a safe distance while at the fuel dock, and washing your hands frequently or using a hand sanitizer after touching a marina gate or fuel pump.
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Monitor weather broadcasts: Watch for current storm advisories. The National Weather Service broadcasts marine weather forecasts regularly. Forecasts can be heard by tuning in to channels 1 to 5 on a VHF marine radio or by checking the National Weather Service website.

If you see something, say something: If you see someone in danger or someone you suspect may be boating under the influence, contact the Coast Guard on channel 16 or local first responders by calling 911.

Download the Coast Guard boating safety mobile app. [ ] Features included on the app are the latest safety regulations and navigation rules, as well as immediate access to filling a float plan, the ability to check weather reports from the nearest NOAA buoys, a function for calling for assistance when in distress, reporting pollution hazards or suspicious activity and more. It is currently available for free on iOS and Android devices.

On behalf of myself and the US Coast Guard thanks for your interest and help with Boating Safety.

– c / m –

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