boating safety

“It’s better to be on land wishing you were on the sea than being in a storm on the sea wishing you were back on land.” Consequently, creating a boating checklist is not just about following some rules because of the rules, it’s about making your boating adventure safe and enjoyable.

A good way to do this is to create two checklists. In the first, include those required items necessary for your safety and legal operation, and the second list should be items that will make the boating experience more comfortable for you and your passengers.

That first checklist of required items can be further divided into two subgroups, your pre-launch checklist, and your emergency gear. Prelaunch items deal with the boat’s health. Such as making sure the engine is in good condition, fuel tanks topped off, lights, and horns are all in working condition and exhibit overall seaworthiness. Don’t forget that a boat is like a car when it comes to paperwork; make sure all licenses and registrations are current.

Next on the list is emergency gear for everyone’s safety. Some people may have no problem tempting fate by skimping on this one. But the number of lives that could have been saved if there only had been basic emergency gear on board is incalculable. Having life jackets, flare guns, and emergency food stock on board is just common sense. Other required emergency items include mirror, whistle, throw rope, rescue blanket, extra warm clothing items if it’s cold, fire starting items in a waterproof bag, water purifier, and waterproof bags to keep dry things dry.

Before launching, just as aircraft passengers are briefed on safety before take-off, boat passengers need to be briefed on safety procedures as well. Take the time to point out important safety features, locations of exits, fire extinguishers, life jackets etc.

Other recommended items can include anything the owner or captain would take on board to make life a little easier. You might be thinking about the barbecue grill, but consider a tool kit, spare oar and prop, communication and navigation gear and a first-aid kit.

Rules and Regulations

Every state may have their own regulations before anyone can legally plop a boat into the water. However, the US Coast Guard is the primary enforcer of maritime law in coastal waters such a Puget Sound and Semiahmoo Bay. Here’s a brief recap:

Registration numbers must be displayed correctly, and state registrations or federal documentation must be up to date. Display numbers should be at least three inches in height with space between numbers and letters.

Flotations devices or PFD’s, need to be Coast Guard approved. Each should be the fitted for the individuals planning to use them and in they should be in good condition. PFDs should always be easily available and not tucked away somewhere. For small craft’s such as kayaks and jet skis, they should be worn at all times while on the water.

If your boat is longer than 16 feet, then it will need visual distress signals (VDS) as well as fire extinguishers on board. For night time operation, navigational lights are required. For daytime, flags and a mirror are acceptable. The number of fire extinguishers, as well as the items previously mentioned, depends on the size of the boat.

The Coast Guard also requires that boats with motors need to have a backfire flame control device on the engine.  Other items include a MARPOL trash card, a copy of navigation rules and pollution placard.

Two final points. Remember that the Coast Guard can board your boat at any time. They do not need a warrant or an invitation. It’s a good incentive to stay legal and sober while operating your craft.

Finally, recent revision in the RCW of the State of Washington requires everyone who operates a boat to take a boating course. Old codgers are exempt.

For more information check the Coast Guard website and the Washington State’s boater education website here.

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