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6 Common Safety Mistakes Made by Boaters (Written by Captain Frank Taylor)


Common Safety Mistakes Made by Boaters

Boating is a fun sport and is also known to be one of the best activities for families to do together.  A day on the water is usually filled with excitement and fun and sometimes safety is not necessarily at the forefront of our minds as we enjoy our most beloved pastime.  Here are some common mistakes that boaters make that you should avoid to make your day on the water safer. 

Mistake #1:  Failing to run the blower prior to starting the engine

Don't forget to run the blower for at least 4 minutes prior to starting your boat's engine.

Boats equipped with inboard gasoline engines have a fan that must be run for at least 4 minutes to ventilate the engine compartment prior to starting the engine.  Unlike cars, the engine compartment on these boats is an enclosed space and there is a potential for fumes to build up.  Running the blower prior to starting the engine will expel these fumes to the outside air.  This can prevent a potentially explosive situation.  It is also recommended that the blower be run at any time during which the vessel is being operated at idle speed. 

While it is not normal for gasoline fumes to be present in the engine compartment, there are a number of factors that can contribute to this condition including loose fittings, carburetor issues and fuel spills.  The next time you go boating, make sure you run the blower before turning the key.


Mistake #2:  Failure to read or understand navigation markers.

Learn to recognize navigation markers and know their meaning.

Just like the signs you see on roads and highways, there are signs on the water.  They just look different.  It is important to understand what they look like and what their significance is.  The navigation markers (as they are often called) that you see in coastal regions or major rivers are often different from what you may see on your local lake so you need to understand what types of markers are used on the waters where you boat and what the meaning is for each one.  In most cases, these markers are either telling you where you should be or where you shouldn’t be.  In other cases, they are informing you of boating restrictions that must be followed while in specific areas.  Understanding these markers can help you avoid fines or even more serious situations such as injuries and damage to your vessel.

For more information on navigation aids, check out the links page on this blog.

Mistake #3:  Failure to maintain navigation lights

Navigation lights allow other boaters to see you and know you direction of travel at night.

The weather is beautiful and you are headed out on the lake for a sunset cruise.  Your plan is to head to your favorite spot to watch the sun go down and then enjoy a nice leisurely ride back to the dock afterwards.  Will your navigation lights come on later when you flip the switch?  Too often, the answer is no.  Being on the water at night without navigation lights makes it very difficult for other boaters to see where you are or understand in what direction you are moving.  The end result is a very dangerous situation. 

Many of us are primarily daytime boaters so the thought of checking our navigation lights never occurs to us because we never use them; or at least, we never plan on using them.  But what happens the first time we are on the water after dark unexpectedly?  Is the wiring corroded? Are there any blown bulbs?  Maybe the switch is bad.  How about the fuses?  The time when you need your lights to work is the worst time to realize that they don’t work. 

Make sure you check your navigation lights often to ensure they are in working order even if you do not normally boat at night.  If your boat currently comes equipped with standard incandescent bulbs, consider switching to LED bulbs.  They will last a lot longer and also use less power.  Be sure to replace corroded wiring or fixtures etc. to prevent any issues that could arise as a result. 

Mistake #4:  Boating under the influence
BUI.  Just don't do it.

This may seem pretty obvious but unfortunately, it is often ignored.  Boating is synonymous with fun and fun activities are often combined with alcohol.  That in itself is not a problem but if you are the operator of a boat, you have the responsibility of getting you, your passengers and your boat from one location to another in a safe manner.  That cannot be done if you are adversely affected by alcohol or drugs.  Boating under the influence is the leading cause of injuries and deaths on the water. 

When operating a vessel, take the steps to ensure that you are safe to operate it.  Don’t drink or at least allow ample time (hours, not minutes) between your last drink and the operation of your vessel to make sure that you are not adversely affected.  Drugs should be out of the question and don’t forget to drink water to hydrate.  Hot, sunny days will cause alcohol to have a greater effect on you due to potential dehydration effects on your body.  Finally, if you are under the influence, it is much safer to have another knowledgeable person take the helm to get you home safely.  Another option would be to secure your vessel in a safe location, get a ride from someone else and return for your boat later. 


Mistake #5:  Not paying attention
Stay alert at the helm.

Again, boating is a fun activity.  If you think about it, a beautiful, sunny, summer day on your favorite body of water is a feast for the eyes:  That beautiful brand new yacht that just went by, the gorgeous sunshine and blue water, or that girl in the red bikini.  It is easy to get distracted and take your eyes off of what you are doing.  Passengers on your boat can also be a distraction while underway.  While you don’t have to necessarily be antisocial, make it clear that the safe navigation of your vessel is the top priority while underway.

When operating a boat, paying strict attention to what is going on is extremely important.  You should constantly be scanning the area around your vessel both forward and astern making note of other boats, navigation markers and potential hazards.  Taking note of the speed and direction of all other vessels is also necessary so you can predict whether or not actions may be necessary to avoid collision.

Mistake #6:  Overloading your boat
K now your boat's capacity and do not exceed it.

Overloading a boat is the number one cause of boats capsizing when on the water.  As a boat owner, you are responsible for making sure that the amount of people, gear, fuel, water etc. does not exceed the capacity of the boat.  Motorized boats below 20 feet in length are required to have a capacity plate near the helm that lists the vessel’s maximum recommended passengers and/or weight.  If your vessel does not have a capacity plate, then you can contact the manufacturer for recommendations. 

It is important that you adhere to your boat’s capacity recommendations.  Just because a boat may be able to stay afloat with a certain amount of cargo, does not mean that it will remain stable when the wake from a large cruiser comes along.  An overloaded vessel, particularly a small one, can even capsize in calm water due to a sudden or unexpected shift in the load. 

So remember to make this season on the water a safe one.

Happy boating

Captain Frank
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