Boating Safety Rules and Checklist

Boating Safety Rules and Checklist

Owning and operating a boat of any type or size is a lot of responsibility. From the time your craft enters the water or pulls away from the dock until it’s removed from the water or properly secured back at the dock, you’re responsible for following boating safety rules to ensure the safety of your passengers and crew as well as complying with all applicable federal, state and local laws governing boating in the waters you’re navigating.  

To help ensure that you and your passengers can enjoy your time on the water safely, you should always go through a boat safety checklist prior to heading out.

Ways of the Water: Know Before You Go.

Just as drivers must understand the rules of the road, boat captains need to understand boating safety rules to navigate safely to avoid collisions on the water. It’s essential that you familiarize yourself with and abide by the U.S. Aids to Navigation System maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.

You can download a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation brochure here:

Check Weather and Water Conditions Before Heading Out.

You not only need to know the laws and systems governing the operation of watercraft in the area where you’re boating, but you also need to know the weather and water conditions into which you plan to take your vessel. This includes air temperatures and wind conditions.

Be sure to check the forecast for longer than the time you expect to be out on the water. You may not head out or back in the timeframe you’re expecting, and you don’t want to get caught in a bad storm or rough seas.

Prepare to Avoid Potential Obstacles and Problems.

It’s important to consult local charts to learn about the waters in which you’re navigating. Keep tabs on tides and currents, and keep your vessel within marked channels.

Also, factor into your float plan the presence of local infrastructure and utilities such as bridges, overhead wires, underwater cables, white water and low head dams. 

Designate a Responsible Person to Take Control if Something Happens to You.

No one wants to think that he or she could become incapacitated while out on the water, but it has happened and the potential is there. That’s why it’s vital that you choose someone you trust and who also understand boating safety rules to take control of the boat in the event of an emergency – and that you ensure that he or she knows how to call for help and what to do until it arrives.

Develop a Float Plan and Share it With Someone

Whether you inform staff at your local marina or tell a family member or friend of your plans, it’s important to let someone know where you’re headed and when you expect to be back. Your float plan should include your name, address, and phone number; the type of boat you have and your registration information; a list of passengers; your itinerary; and the type of communication and signal equipment aboard your boat.

When you return, be sure to follow up with those with whom you shared your float plan so they’ll know that you and your guests arrived at dock or shore safely.

Make Sure You Have Enough Fuel: The Rule of Thirds

Running out of fuel is the leading cause of boating emergencies. Top off your tank before you leave, and follow the Rule of Thirds. Use one-third of your fuel to reach your intended destination and one-third to get back. Reserve the final third in case of an emergency. 

Safety Equipment: Keep it Onboard, Confirm that it Works, and Make Sure Passengers Know Where it Is and How to Use it.

This includes:

  • Life Jackets – One for every person on board – as well as a few extras in a variety of sizes to accommodate the range of passengers you’ll be carrying. Different states have different laws regarding who needs to wear a life jacket, and when. Check requirements for the state in which you’ll be boating, here. For states that don’t have a requirement, a U.S. Coast Guard interim rule requires children under 13 on moving boats to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket that fits.
  • Throwable Flotation Device Attached to a Line – required for vessels more than 16 feet in length
  • Sound Devices – Have a horn that you can blast for four seconds, one that can be heard at least a half mile away.
  • Navigation Lights – You should have all navigation lights that are required for your boat, and make sure they’re in working order.
  • Day Shapes/Signals – If your daytime activities require day shapes, make sure you have the required shapes.
  • Radio – Have a VHF radio on board to monitor weather updates.
  • Flashlight and Spare Batteries – Don’t get caught in the dark. Make sure you’re carrying a working flashlight and that your spare batteries are still fresh.
  • Flares – Be sure to store them in a dry place.
  • First Aid Kit – Cuts, scratches, burns, bug bites and other mishaps happen. A fully stocked, standard first-aid kit can help treat and keep wounds clean and protected until you return to shore.
  • Sunscreen – Your souvenir from a great day on the water shouldn’t be a sunburn.
  • Fire extinguisher(s) – Be sure to carry the number that meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements for your type of boat, and make sure they’re accessible.
  • Towline – Keep an appropriate length of nylon line on board to use as a towline.

Maintenance: Tools & Parts

Always carry basic tools appropriate for your boat. Also keep on board any spare parts you may need such as fuel filters, an extra drain plug, and through-hull plug. If your boat has a head, carry the parts you need to keep it in good working order.

Staying Dry on the Water – Avoid Drinking and Boating

Although it’s no secret that many people like to enjoy alcoholic beverages while they’re out on the water, the person piloting the watercraft shouldn’t be one of them. Just like a designated driver on the roads, the skipper should skip the alcohol. 

Clearing the Air: Ventilate All Enclosed Spaces

If your boat has enclosed, interior spaces, ensure that they’re well ventilated before you depart. You should have at least one functioning carbon monoxide detector on board. If you smell fuel after running the engine, turn the engine off, and check for leaks.

Battle the Bilge

Check to make sure that your bilges are relatively clean and dry and free of spills and waste. Also, check to ensure that your pumps aren’t working excessively.

Keep Your Owner’s Manual Handy

Since you never know what situation you may encounter, it’s important to have your owner’s manual with you whenever your boat is in operation. Store it in a safe, dry place so that it will be there if and when you need it.

Finally, Have Fun!

If you’ve made following boating safety rules a priority and have taken the time to prepare properly, you and your guests should have a safe and enjoyable trip!

At, we want you and your friends to be safe and enjoy your time on the water. Beyond providing this Safe Boating Checklist, how can we help? Need a new outboard motor? Looking for parts or accessories? We’re here for you!

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