Boating safety: 10 things to avoid

17th March 2021 Jack O'Rourke

Boating trips are a lot of fun. Whether you like spending time on a speed boat, SUP, PWC, catamaran, or kayak, you’re almost always guaranteed a great day out. However, being on the water can be dangerous, in any weather conditions.

Why is water safety important?

It’s not the most exciting topic, we get it. But think of the risks of overlooking boat safety measures. You or your loved ones could get hurt, or even die. This is a very real risk, even on a calm, sunny day. 

Someone could drown, get carried out to sea by a current or get injured by the propeller of an outboard engine. These are just some of the typical accidents that happen every week on the world’s seas, lakes and waterways. 

10 things to avoid for boating safety

We have compiled a list of ten things to avoid when boating to help you stay safe on the water. We want you to have the most relaxing and fun time out there. 

Check them out.

1) Getting close to swimmers while helming a motorboat

Motorboats should stay well away from swimmers and motor extremely slowly (three knots max) when near (or in) a swimmers’ area. 

If you’re helming for a friend water skiing, wakeboarding or diving, you’ll need to be extremely careful. When they get in the water from the boat, it’s best to put the engine in neutral. Make sure you plan exactly how the jump will happen - discuss which direction the boat is heading into, towards where the person is jumping and more. 

When you go pick them up, approach slowly and make sure they see you. Once you’re close, put the engine in neutral and let them come to you. It’s a good idea to have an observer on board who is in charge of keeping an eye on the skier, wakeboarder or diver at all times.

2) Poor planning

Poor planning can really let you down in an emergency. Here’s the most common mistakes boaters do when it comes to planning:

  • Not leaving enough time to get back in daylight

  • Being unprepared to be out at night

  • Not bringing any or enough boat safety equipment, such as life vests and PFDs

  • Not checking that the safety gear is in good order, including the bilges

3) Overloading the watercraft

Bringing too many people or loading too much gear on board is easily done. Don’t let your enthusiasm take over. Check the watercraft’s weight limits and make sure you stay well under. Thinking about this before you get down to the dock or beach will allow you not to let anyone down. Invite only as many guests as you can accommodate and leave any extra gear in the car.

4) Not wearing the kill cord

We see this happen every day. Sailors and motorboaters forget or neglect to use their kill cord. While it may seem like a small thing, this is an important safety requirement to using an outboard motor. It prevents the boat from keeping motoring forward (potentially getting into an accident) and it stops the propeller, so it can’t injure you.

5) Getting lost

Not learning how to read charts and not taking them with you when venturing far from your starting-off point can be very dangerous. You really don’t want to get lost at sea.

If you don’t want to deal with nautical charts, stay close to shore and near help. If instead you feel like embarking on a bigger adventure, make sure to tackle these skills head-on.

6) Not checking the marine weather forecast

This is very easily done if you’re a beginner boater. The conditions at sea and on the coast can be very different to the ones you experience on land. A welcome fresh breeze on a hot afternoon at the beach bar can equate to big waves and strong currents out at sea. 

Every time you plan to head out on the water, check the local marine weather. No idea where to start? Check out our guide to interpreting marine weather forecasts.

7) Falling behind on maintenance

Boat maintenance isn’t all fun. It can be expensive, boring and physically demanding. But the risks of falling behind with it are too high. Think of what could happen if the integrity of your kayak’s hull was to be compromised, or if the rig fell off your catamaran. The sweat equity and cash needed to maintain a boat to a good standard are always worth it.

8) Going out alone, without a float plan

It doesn’t matter how experienced and confident you are on the water - you always need a float plan and, ideally, a boating buddy. 

Many people enjoy the solitude they experience out at sea. If this is you, enjoy! But don’t leave without a float plan. Tell someone on shore your plans and give them a rough estimate of when to expect you back. Don’t forget to take a Personal Locator Beacon or an EPIRB with you, if you’ll be gone for a while.

9) Not learning how to anchor properly

Most people who rent a boat or occasionally get out on a small watercraft don’t know how to anchor properly. There is no course that teaches you the best way to do it. However, this is a very important skill to have, in order to avoid crashing into other boats or dragging out to sea. 

You could come back from a trip ashore and not find your boat. Research anchoring good practice or ask an instructor for help, so you know exactly what to do next time you’re out. Why not start your research from our article on how to anchor a boat?

10) Getting close to boat wakes

When you’re out on a SUP or kayak, try to stay well away from boat wakes. These can easily make you fall off your board or out of your kayak. Think of the sea conditions in a wake - there are lots of steep waves, in quick succession. A big wake can capsize or damage your board or hull.

Common questions about boating safety

How do you stay safe while boating?

It’s not complicated. You just need to learn some basic skills, such as reading the forecasts and understanding tides. A boating app, like Deckee, can help you steer clear from shallow spots, fishing farms and rocks.

Check out this blog post we wrote about how to stay safe on the water to learn more.

How safe are boats?

Boats can be extremely safe, when well maintained, and if you follow boat safety procedures. Don’t be put off by the risks involved in boating. You can have a great time on the water on any type of watercraft, as long as you take precautions.

What are the required safety items for a boat?

These vary based on the kind of watercraft you’re on. The essential ones are usually life jackets or PFDs, a marine whistle or foghorn, a bailer or bilge pump, a repair kit, sun protection and a first aid kit.

Check out our PWC and jet skis, SUP and kayak safety checklists.

Want to get even more safety savvy? Why not take a boaters ed class? It will give you the confidence you need to get out on the water with your loved ones and to be able to relax on your boating trips.

Please make sure you research the regulations for mandatory equipment and maintenance of the watercraft you intend to use where you are. These vary in each state and country.