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Boating emergencies: 8 safety tips

Help stay safe on the water by making sure you're prepared.

Gearing up for a relaxing day on the water? Help keep your friends and family safe by following these smart and simple boating safety tips.

  1. Always wear a right-sized, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. The USCG estimates that life jackets could've saved the lives of over 80 percent of boating fatality victims. Wear it, don't stow it. Tucked-away life jackets are useless in an accident.
  2. Protect against propeller strikes. Make sure all passengers are accounted for before starting the engine, and wear your emergency cut-off switch at all times. When people are in the water, ask one person to propeller-watch. Consider additional propeller-safety devices, such as guards or sensors.
  3. Carry safety equipment on board. On top of life jackets for all, stock a complete first-aid kit, a tool kit, a horn or whistle, flares, a fire extinguisher, a marine VHF radio, an extra dock line or two and a throwable flotation device, at minimum.
  4. Make a float plan. A float plan is a document you leave with someone on shore describing your boat, equipment, itinerary and passengers. In an emergency, a float plan can help guide search and rescue teams. The USCG Auxiliary website offers a downloadable float plan.
  5. Don’t boat under the influence (BUI). According to the USCG, alcohol plays a role in about a third of all boating fatalities, and a boat operator with a BAC of .10 or higher is estimated to be 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than a sober one. Keep in mind that the sun, wind and boat vibration can accelerate impairment. Be responsible and carry food and non-alcoholic drinks.
  6. Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. This odorless, colorless gas can cause harm — even death — both inside and outside your boat. Install and maintain CO alarms, and stay far from exhaust fumes. If in an enclosed cabin, go topside and/or circulate fresh air. The symptoms of seasickness and CO poisoning are similar, but if you suspect CO, seek fresh air and medical attention.
  7. Brush up on boating safety basics.Operator error causes more than two-thirds of boating accidents. Ensure you understand all the navigational rules: Go to to find your state's online boating course.
  8. Get a free vessel safety check. The USCG will come to you, at your convenience, to conduct their complementary (and consequence-free) assessment.

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