Top tips for swimming from a boat safely

16th September 2021 Jack O'Rourke

Top tips for swimming from a boat safely

Anyone who goes near the water should learn how to reduce the risk of drowning. While it is a fabulous way to cool off, swimming from your boat does present its set of challenges, especially if you are responsible for young children or weak swimmers. 

There’s a time and place for jumping off a boat for a swim, so practising caution is advisable. Here are a few things to check before diving in headfirst. 

Pick a safe spot

Be conscious of where you stop your boat for a swim. Avoid areas with strong currents or hazards like rocks and submerged materials. Check for rips by looking for water that is discoloured, choppy, or filled with debris. 

Never swim in a marked channel, as high boat traffic presents a dangerous risk. Marinas and slipway areas are no-go areas for swimming for this very reason. In addition to being run over by boats coming and going, there is usually nasty chemicals in the water and there could be the risk of electric shock from shore power. 

If you swim in an anchorage, stay very close to your craft and watch out for speedboats.

Take note of local signage to determine a safe place for your dip. 

 Kill the engines

The very first thing to do before entering the water off a boat is to switch off your boat engines and disarm the ignition key or start buttons. 

Keeping all engines off removes the danger of swimmers getting caught underneath the boat or suffering a propeller strike injury. 

If you are offshore or out of sight of landmarks then you should drop anchor and establish a way to monitor whether you are drifting or not. 

Check the depth

When entering the water, make sure you have tested that it is deep enough before jumping in or diving headfirst. Use the depth charts on your instruments as a guide, but also check how deep it is on either side of your boat. Do not get too close to cliffs or other areas where there could suddenly be shallow water. 

If swimming in deep water, make sure everyone is a competent swimmer and is able to make it back to the boat. 

Getting back on deck 

 Make it as easy as possible for swimmers to get back on the boat by having sturdy grab rails in reach for those in the water. It might be a good idea to provide a grab rope, a step ladder or other entry points to come aboard.

Keep your swim platform dry to prevent any slips or falls, and keep the area free of ropes, sharp objects and obstructions that may cause injuries. 

Use floatation devices 

If there are people in your group that are not particularly strong swimmers, it is a good rule of thumb that they should wear a personal flotation device (PFD). A buoyancy aid will do the trick and is easier to swim in.

While not a replacement for PFDs, floatation devices such as lifebuoys, pool noodles and even foam mats can assist if a person becomes too tired to return to the boat and need a break from swimming. 

If you have access to an inflatable dinghy, attach it to a line and float it out the back of the boat as a second base for swimming. 

Supervise

The skipper should be constantly vigilant, as they are responsible for everyone on board and in the water. 

Supervision means keeping everyone in your line of sight and scanning continuously for danger. In particular, you should actively supervise children even if they can swim. This is why the skipper should be sober and free of distractions. 

Put up a flag 

Before entering the water it’s a good idea to put up some sort of signal, especially if you can’t be at the helm at all times. These flags should tell other boaters to give the area a wide berth.

If you are snorkelling or diving, you must use a dive flag to signal to other boats that there are divers below so that they can keep clear. 


Follow these tips and you will ensure that you and your crew stay safe while swimming from your boat. Check the weather and tides on the Deckee app before you go boating for added peace of mind.