Many boaters are hitting the water as Memorial Day begins; however, safety is paramount with increased activity.

With new and used boat sales soaring to record highs in 2020 to first-time boat buyers, boating safety stakeholders are taking extra measures to communicate and promote safe boating messages prior to the busy Memorial Day holiday and the unofficial launch of the summer boating season, according to a news release from the Water Sports Foundation.

“The pandemic literally saw hundreds of thousands of newcomers join the ranks of first-time boat owners, so we’re taking extra precautions to proactively share safe boating strategies,” said Water Sports Foundation Executive Director Jim Emmons in a release. “We’ve identified a dozen top tips for keeping boaters safe that we believe can positively impact boater safety while maximizing enjoyment on the nation’s waterways over this holiday season, and beyond.”

Education & essential equipment

Before launching your boat, be sure you are confident and comfortable at the helm, following successful completion of a boating safety education course. If you haven’t already done so, enroll in a boating class taught by qualified and certified boating safety instructors.

There are many live, virtual and hybrid boating safety education classes available through the U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary, Power Squadron/America’s Boating Club and any number of private boating education providers.

Besides safe boating operation, make sure you are familiar with the operating instructions of your vessel. Check equipment prior to departure to ensure everything is in proper working condition. Make sure you are competent to operate a VHF radio, and if possible, an EPIRB or personal locator beacon.

Wear a life jacket

Drowning is the cause of death in 79% of fatal boating accidents where the cause of death was known; 86% of those drowning victims were not wearing life jackets.

Make sure your boat is equipped with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for all passengers and they are sized to fit. There are many attractive styles and designs now available for different types of boating activities. 

Don’t drink and drive

When you mix sun, wind, water and waves with alcohol, you create a dangerous situation that can lead to disaster. According to U.S. Coast Guard reports, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 23% of deaths.

For the safety of your friends and family, it is recommended to avoid alcohol altogether while boating, or at the very least, take the pledge and designate a “Sober Skipper.” 

File a float plan

Before departing, file a float plan with friends, family members and/or your marina that communicates the names of all aboard with contact information including cellphone numbers; your destination with a planned itinerary and stops along the route; and your estimated return time. Should you fail to return as planned, your information will be readily accessible to facilitate any search activity.

Watch the weather

Plan boating activity according to weather forecasts and conditions. Check weather in advance and continually monitor using available mobile APPS. Storms, lightning, changing tides, currents, winds and other inclement weather conditions can endanger the safety of boaters.

Should you be on a boat when mother nature unleashes her fury, find shelter as soon as possible.

Comply with boat capacity

Every boat includes a designated maximum capacity rating. Be sure to know this requirement and to follow recommendation to prevent overloading and potentially capsizing your boat. Consider not only the weight of passengers, but also gear, coolers, water toys and other carry-ons.

Pay attention

A vast number of boating accidents are attributed to operator distraction or inattention. The designated driver needs to be vigilant and to take responsibility for the safety of those on his vessel. Continually “sweep” the horizon and carefully watch and anticipate boating activity.

Follow posted speed limits

Be aware of established speed limits and no wake zones; respond accordingly. The fastest way to get a ticket and incur fines is to violate these laws which are established to keep boaters safe.

For more information, visit the WSF’s new National Boating Safety Media Center at watersportsfoundation.com.