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Boating Safety Tips & Information
Boating Home

Fintalk offers basic boating knowledge and safety tips.
Please refer to the current Coast Guard government website
for more in-depth and up-to-date safety and navigation laws!



Before setting out Making and filing sail plans

Sail plans are also referred to as trip or float plans. No matter what you call them, all small craft operators, even for day trips, are encouraged to file one with a responsible person before heading out.

"In 2002, life jackets could have saved the lives of 445 boaters who drowned."

- U.S.Coast Guard

 Pre-departure Checklist

   Inspecting your vessel Why bother? Better a few minutes of delay onshore or at the dock than hours of delay in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. Knowingly operating a pleasure craft that is unseaworthy is a criminal offence. This means the vessel, engine and equipment must be in working order. The number of boaters stranded each year is significant. More than 50% of the calls for assistance received by USCG were from boaters who were in trouble as a result of the mechanical failure of their boats. One especially common cause of breakdown is simply running out of fuel.

A boating trip should be fun, safe and hassle-free. No matter if you own, rent or are borrowing a boat, before heading out make sure your vessel is in good working order and properly equipped.

Start with an inspection of the hull: look for cracks or other damage. If your vessel is equipped with an engine, check that the throttle is operating smoothly and is not sticking or binding. Verify that the steering is operating properly. Check the oil and fuel levels - a good rule of thumb for fuel is: one-third for the trip out, one-third for the return, and one-third as reserve. Are all hoses, clamps and belts secure and in good shape? Check the battery's charge and its fluid levels. Remember to verify that the drainage plug is in place before setting off.

Avoid inconvenience and potential danger by taking a few minutes with this checklist:

  • What is the weather forecast?
  • Any local hazards or boating restrictions?
  • Do you have maps or charts?
  • Are there enough personal flotation devices of appropriate size for everyone on board?
  • All safety equipment in good working order?
  • Ample reserves of fuel for the trip or will you need to refuel?
  • Is your VHF radio working properly?
  • First aid kit, basic tools and spare parts?
  • Have you let someone know where you're going, when to expect you back and what your boat looks like?
  • Is your drainage plug in place?

Additional Recreational Boating Tips

    1. Life Jackets. You are required to have a U.S.Coast Guard approved life jacket for everyone onboard. Federal Law states that children under the age of 13 are required to have a PFD on whenever the boat leaves the dock (some exceptions). 750 people died in boating accidents in the United States last year, according to the USCG. 85% of those who drowned were NOT wearing a life jacket, even though, in most cases, PFDs were aboard at the time of the accident.

    It's not good enough to stow a PFD or just sit on it, you've got to wear it! There is rarely enough time to grab a life jacket, much less get it on before you are in the water. Accidents happen unexpectedly and quickly. With today's new, lightweight inflatable and other comfortable designer PFDs, there is no longer ANY excuse for not wearing a life jacket.

    Life jackets float, you don't! Wear them!

    2. Take a boating safety course. They're educational, fun and available at little or no cost. I know for a fact that the United States Power Squadrons teach everything from basic boating to costal piloting to celestial navigation.
    3. Follow the Navigation Rules. You need to know all about beacons and buoys, "Red Right Returning", which boat is the "Stand-on vessel", which boat is the "Give-way vessel" and so on. It wouldn't be a good idea to drive a car and not know what any of the road signs mean. Likewise, it's not a good idea to drive a boat and not have a clue as to what the "signs" mean.
    4. Get a Vessel Safety Check. A Vessel Safety Check is a non-enforcement, courtesy examination of your vessel to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and/or federal regulations. The examiners are specially trained members of the United States Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. In addition to the Vessel Safety Exam itself, the VSC examiner will also discuss other safety issues that will help make you a safer boater. Vessels that pass the VSC exam can display the distinctive VSC Decal on the port side of the windshield. After you do your own Personal Vessel Safety Checklist  THEN See USCG Vessel Safety Check.
    5. DON'T BOAT UNDER the INFLUENCE! Boating Under the Influence (BUI) or Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) are both just as dangerous and deadly as drinking and driving a car. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs everywhere on the North American continent and in most of the rest of the world. There are stringent penalties involved with BUI / BWI Laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and/or jail terms. Authorities are not kidding about enforcing this! See Boating & Alcohol Page

    6. NEVER leave a small child unattended on a boat or on the docks of a marina. A life jacket on a child is a must, BUT IT IS NOT a babysitter! None of us would ever consider letting one of our children participate in any sport without the proper, protective, safety equipment. Nor would we intentionally let them go into harm's way. Thus, we need to take that same attitude about boating safety for our children and grandchildren.


Avoiding specific hazards

Being prepared goes beyond having your boat and equipment in tip-top shape. Check your marine charts to determine whether you will be encountering any overhead obstacles, bridges or underwater cables in the area where you will be boating. Reading marine charts with related publications such as Sailing Directions, and Tide Tables and Current Atlases will help you safely plan your trip by indicating water levels, times of low, slack and high tides, and the direction of flow.

Obviously, you must keep away from designated swimming areas when boating. Even canoes and kayaks can easily injure swimmers. Be on the lookout for people in the water any time you come close to shore (they may be snorkeling or engaging in other activities that make them hard to see). The sun's glare also makes it difficult to see people in the water.

If you are boating in an area not covered by marine charts, check with knowledgeable local residents for the presence of low-head dams, rapids, white water, local wind conditions, currents, and areas of rapid build up of high wave conditions.


Knowing and obeying basic boating safety, operating at a safe speed, and maintaining a proper lookout can help you become a safe recreational boater.

Recreational boating is a popular sport that you can enjoy safely by following basic water safety rules, keeping the proper equipment on your boat and respecting weather conditions as well as other boaters' rights. National Safe Boating Counsel and the National Boating and Water Safety Counsel both have goals that strive to educate boaters for safer water experiences and can offer educational literature. It is a boater's responsibility to learn water safety rules. There are online courses, books or you can take a safe boating course at your local marina. As an extra benefit, you may find that safety courses can lower your boat insurance costs.

Knowing and obeying navigation rules, operating at a safe speed and maintaining a proper lookout can help you become a safe recreational boater according to the United Safe Boating Industry. Staying in control of your boating craft and respecting the right of others enjoying the waterways can also be an important step in safety.

SAFE BOATING TIPS Boating accidents often occur when basic rules are not followed. For example, be sure the dock lines are tied securely before you put gear aboard or board the boat yourself. Load your equipment with an equal balanced weight, being sure not to overload. Don't wind up straddling from dock to boat when loading. If the boat is small, step as near the centerline as possible, and stay low in the boat. You should also stay low near the center line of a small boat when you are changing seats.

Check the amount of distance there is between the water and the top of your boat or freeboard. Even with floatation a swamped boat is dangerous. Capsizing and falls overboard account for an estimated 70% of boating fatalities. Waves, or wakes from passing boats can easily swamp a small boat with low freeboard. Be ready for trouble when a powerboat passes you in a narrow channel as well. If you are the lead boat you always have the right of way and you should stay on your side of the channel while maintaining a steady speed so that the overtaking vessel can pass you safely. You will also want to anchor from the bow of the boat and not the stern. Use anchor line length at least five times longer than water depth.

BOAT OPERATING RULES Every boat has a DANGER ZONE from straight in front (the bow) to past the middle of its right side. You must YIELD to boats in your DANGER ZONE. As in a car, both boats are to stay to the right & as far apart as practical. Show a little courtesy for your fellow boater and watch your wake. Powerboats must always yield to sailboats as well as boats being rowed or paddled, except in a narrow channel. Stay well clear of all big vessels and always remain sober and alert, the use of alcohol is high in reported accidents on the water.

FEDERAL REGULATIONS More people die from falling off boats 16 feet and smaller than larger boats, and most boats are anchored at the time. Wearing a life jacket and making sure that everyone on board also wears one can prevent drowning. Life jackets or PFD's are required by federal law. There are different requirements for boating in less than 16 feet of water as well as Coast Guard Requirements for boating in over 25 feet of water.

Boats built after July 31, 1980 are required to have operable power blowers. Remember to open hatches, run blower, and always smell for gasoline fumes in the fuel and engine areas before starting your engine. At least 1 B-1 Coast Guard approved portable fire extinguisher is also required if your outboard motorboat is less than 26 feet in length. Whistles, bells and horns or any device capable or making an "efficient sound signal" audible for 1/2 mile is also required by law. Audible devices are a good safety measure but it is also necessary to have visual distress signals on board when traveling. Smaller boats should keep the same night signaling equipment as larger boats. These signaling tools consist of orange flag with black square-and-disc and an S-O-S electric light or 3 orange smoke signals, hand held or floating; or 3 red flares of hand held, meteor, or parachute type.

PREPARING FOR THE UNEXPECTED Life jackets are not only federally required they are especially vital when operating in rough water and threatening weather conditions. A smart boater will be aware of sudden wind shifts, lightning flashes and choppy water, all of which mean that a storm is brewing. Bring a portable radio to check weather reports. Make sure you tell someone where you are going and how long you anticipate being away.

Check your boat, equipment, boat balance, engine and fuel supply before leaving. You should always pack extra gear, just in case. You may need A flashlight, extra batteries, matches, a map of where you are, flares, sun tan lotion, first aid kit, extra sunglasses. Pack equipment in a watertight container or a plastic float. You will not enjoy the outdoor experience if you are not warm enough. Wear several layers of light clothing and bring a rainproof covering. If you are fishing it is not recommended to wear hip waders in a small boat. You will also want to keep your fishing gear safely stored away. A loose fish hook can cause a lot of pain and ruin a great outing. You should also bring an extra length of line to secure your boat or equipment.

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