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Plan your Float: Boating Safety Tips from the Coast Guard

Image of Military personnel conducting boating safety patrols. Click to open a larger version of the image. Personnel from Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor conduct boating safety patrols off of Chicago's waterfront (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard District 9).

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Plenty of people are out on the water this summer, with record heat bearing down. For those operating boats - whether you're new to boating or experienced, out on the ocean, in lakes, or on rivers - there are some basic safety tips to keep in mind.

A "Float Plan" is the first thing recommended by Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist 3rd Class Gregory Schell, at the District 9 Great Lakes Region in Cleveland, Ohio.

"We encourage all recreational boaters to file a Float Plan, a form that's left with a trusted source on shore," Schell said. "It has identifying information - your departure time, your destination, return time, description of the vessel. In case you're overdue, all that information can be sent to the rescue agency and really jump-start the search and rescue process."

On the Water

Don't drink and boat. Alcohol is the leading known factor in fatal boating accidents. USCG and local law enforcement officials keep sharp eyes out for those tipping a beer or driving erratically while out on the water. If your blood alcohol level is at .08 or higher, you'll be arrested, lose your license, a lot of money, and maybe your rank.

Wear a life jacket. The Coast Guard recommends everyone onboard wear one at all times, just like a car safety belt. And by law, on an underway vessel, kids under 13 must wear an appropriate USCG-approved wearable life jacket.

Check out the USCG's official boating safety web site.

Military personnel checking on-board safety equipment
A Coast Guard boatswain's mate stationed in Honolulu informs mariners that he and his boarding team will conduct a safety check off the coast of Waianae, Oahu in February 2012. Boarding team members conduct recreational boating safety checks looking for compliance with recreational safety regulations. Team members check credentials, on-board safety equipment such as flares and fire extinguishers, and life jackets (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard District 14).

Your Safety Checklist

  • Leave a Float Plan ashore with a trusted source.
  • Take a boating safety course.
  • Request a free vessel safety check from the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
  • Do not drink and boat.
  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Wear sunscreen and frequently reapply.
  • Hydrate: always carry plenty of clean, cool water.
  • Download the USCG Boating Safety app for both veteran and inexperienced boaters.
  • Be prepared and responsible: Check and consistently re-check weather forecasts, as it can change quickly on water. Review nautical charts - know where navigation markers are, be aware of areas of shallow water and areas that are congested with other boats and swimmers.
  • Find a paddling safety course for kids, and other public education classes, via the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Just type in your zip code here.
  • Be attentive. Operator inexperience and inattention are other leading contributors to boating accidents.
  • Bring extra life jackets. Federal law says there must be one life jacket for everyone onboard.
  • Be aware of other boaters. Just because you can see them doesn't mean they see you.
  • Carry flares and fire extinguishers, and make sure they are operational before getting underway.

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