how to operate a boat safely: boating safety tips and pointers

Everything's different on a boat. The words you use, the clothes you wear, and especially the dangers you face. Thankfully, this off-the-pier primer on boating safety provides tons of pointers for staying smart aboard your vessel (and maybe even some boating lingo for good measure).

boat accident statistics

Boating is a great way to unwind — if you know how to operate a boat responsibly, that is.

Sadly, lack of boat safety is a major concern, and not just for the newly nautical. Take a look at some revealing statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • Every 2-and-a-half hours there is a boating injury or fatality
  • 56 percent of boating accidents are caused by operator error
  • 63 percent of boaters consider themselves "very experienced," but only 42 percent have ever taken a boating safety course

safety tips for handling your boat

In case the lack of wheels, doors, and bumper stickers didn't tip you off, your boat is way different from your car. Point being, the driving expertise you've gleaned from the road won't translate very well to the water.

Whether you're well-seasoned in the waves or are just learning how to operate a boat, it's helpful to brush up on boat driving tips so you can leave accidents in your wake.

Wear your life jacket

Making the case for life jackets is pretty easy, really. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, you're 6 times as likely to drown in a boating accident if you forgo a life jacket. With odds like that, your best bet is this handy addition to your boating attire.

Don't drink and drive

This is sound advice on any vehicle, but especially a boat. It's estimated that just one drink on the water is equivalent to 3 on land. This means your reflexes can go south quicker than you realize and just a little drinking can spell big danger.

Plan your moves in advance

Unlike cars, boats aren't built for sudden maneuvers. Whether you're evading an oncoming boater, slowing for a restricted zone, or approaching a dock, it's much easier to make small adjustments early on than drastic ones at the last second.

Attach a kill switch

The kill switch connects to the ignition on one end and goes around your wrist on the other. If you're ever thrown out of position (or completely out of the boat!), the ignition will cut off to prevent your boat from running amok without you at the wheel.

Dock with caution

Contrary to popular belief, injuries can happen just as easily while idling toward the dock as they can while zipping along open water.

Two common mistakes to avoid in particular:

  • Positioning yourself or others between the boat and dock as human fenders — even (supposedly) minimal impact can cause major injuries.
  • Jumping out of the vessel before it's tied down — your momentum actually pushes the boat farther away, so that bunny hop you anticipated could become an Olympic leap once you're mid-air.

Use common sense

Successfully avoiding dangerous situations is a result of making good decisions throughout, such as operating at a safe speed, keeping an eye out for low-water areas, and respecting buoy zones.

take a boating safety course

Boat driving tips can vary slightly depending on your type of vessel. That's why it's a good idea to enroll in a boating safety course. No matter which wave-skimming watercraft you prefer, a boating safety course will help ensure you have all the knowledge to use it properly.

Find your boating safety course here.

start a free boat insurance quote

Despite the best boat handling tips, accidents can still happen. And that's why there's boat insurance.

Start your free boat insurance quote through Esurance to secure a policy with our trusted partner and keep boating accidents or injuries from sinking your savings.

Summer vehicle safety quiz
Test your knowledge of boating practices and other fun summer activities.

What to do on a sinking boat
Learn 7 steps that can help guide you to safety if your boat starts to sink.

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