As we cruise into the 2021 boating season, we bet you’re more than ready to push off the dock! We are too, and having endless summer fun on the water starts with a safe boating experience. Brush up with the basics in our Boating Safety Guide, if you need a refresher.
Feeling confident before you leave the dock is the best way to enjoy boating to its fullest, especially since it allows you to have a stress-free experience. But there are a few somewhat subtle safety measures, tips, and tactics that aren’t always as well-known as the old standbys like “check all your safety gear,” and “wear a life jacket.”
To get the insider scoop on some of the finer points of building confidence by being prepared for a safe day on the water, we went to our friends at Sea Tow and asked them to chime in with their in-depth experience and know-how.
Safe Boating Tips: From the Helm
Since those Sea Tow captains have so much experience out on the water, we asked them to help us come up with some lesser-known safety tips that would make everyone’s time aboard more care-free and enjoyable. They delivered.
1. Always have a VHF radio onboard, but carry your cell phone as a backup form of communication.
While a properly working VHF radio remains the standard for on-water communications, it doesn't change the fact that more and more boaters are replacing traditional marine electronics (VHF radios, chart plotters, etc) with cell phones and tablet-based apps.
It's become important to ensure that you have a way to keep these devices charged and ready when you need them.
Pro Tip: A phone charger or external battery that doesn't depend on the boat for power has become an essential part of our Captain's equipment bags. If your boat develops an electrical issue or a dead battery, you won't be able to charge your phone from the boat. But with an external battery you'll be able to keep your phone battery ready for use.
Also, know how to get your GPS location from a cell phone. We often get calls from people who don't know their location, even while using a cell phone to make the call. They simply don’t know how to share their location or retrieve their GPS coordinates on their device.
- On an iPhone, one method is to simply ask Siri, "What are my GPS coordinates?" and she'll provide them to you.
- Or if you're an Android user, you can open your Google Maps App and click on the blue location dot. The app will pull up a page with your coordinates listed.
But an even better idea is to get a marine navigation app for your phone. Then you’ll not only have easy access to coordinates, but you’ll also have a backup in case you run into issues with your boat’s nav gear.
- Capt. Nik Foster, Sea Tow Daytona/Ponce/New Smyrna
2. Carry two anchors aboard so you always have a spare (you know, just in case the first one goes for a dive).
When you anchor up, remember the adage “when in doubt, let more out.” While a good rule of thumb is to let out five to seven times the amount of depth in anchor line, the more line you have out, the lower the possibilities of dragging or breaking free.
Pro Tip: Make sure you know the general depths in the areas you may anchor and that you have a sufficient amount of anchor line aboard. You'll also want to check that you have an anchor and chain of the appropriate size and type for your boat, and the type of bottom in the areas you normally visit.
- Capt. Ramsey Chason, Sea Tow Rhode Island, and Cape & Islands (MA)
See How to Anchor a Boat to learn more about safely anchoring up.
3. Carry extra lines and fenders.
Many new boaters don’t realize that you’ll need those lines and fenders to raft up with other boaters or tie up at waterfront restaurants. Lines commonly aren’t provided (even at establishments with their own docks), and fenders are a must to prevent damage and to make sure body parts don’t get pinched between boats (a potential danger when rafted boats are not properly secured).
- Cheryl Powers, Owner, Sea Tow Key Largo
4. Whenever you're cruising with doubt, stop your boat and assess the situation.
Too many boaters try to figure things out while they’re still running, which can lead to hitting something or running aground.
Boaters are generally a friendly-group, so never hesitate to ask for information or advice whether it be from your friendly local Sea Tow captain, or a fellow boater with more experience and local knowledge.
- Capt. Joe McGuinness, Sea Tow Eastern Connecticut
5. Always have a backup plan.
There’s one final bit of advice that all the captains agree on: You need to have a backup plan in case the unexpected happens. You can’t walk home if you run out of fuel, the battery dies, or you have mechanical issues.
Pro Tip: Membership with an on-water towing and assistance company is a smart investment. Even more than that, it provides peace of mind. You can cast off the lines knowing that you always have a friend in your corner—and that’s the very best way to enjoy worry-free boating to its fullest.
How Can You Help Build a Fun, Stress-Free Community of Boaters?
As you’ve probably come to learn by now, the boating community is just that—a community. Though we’re all out there enjoying the fun in our own ways, by ourselves or with our family and friends, boaters share a common culture. That’s why we chit-chat at the marina or boat ramp, give each other a wave as we cruise by, and stop to lend a helping hand whenever another boater is in need.
Part of being a good community member is ensuring that other boaters are safe, as well as looking out for your own.
When you designate a sober skipper for your boat you’re not only protecting yourself, you’re also protecting all the other boaters out there. You can even go the extra mile and take the Sober Skipper pledge, and get Sober Skipper wristbands (they’re free!) for your marina, to get other boaters involved and aware.
Boaters Helping Boaters
Remember that like in any good community, as a general rule, boaters are always happy to lend assistance to one another. You should make it a point to offer assistance when you can, and never be afraid to ask other boaters for help.
“Our captains are always happy to talk to people about current conditions, and how to learn what you may not know that you don’t know,” says Sea Tow President Kristen Frohnhoefer. “Many of our members tell us that joining Sea Tow makes them feel like they have a friend on the water. Our captains are out there all the time, they have the local knowledge, and they’re willing to share it.”
When we community members all maintain a similar attitude, it helps keep everyone on the water that much safer. So if you notice that a sandbar has shifted or a channel is shoaling up, don’t hesitate to share that knowledge with others. And if you’re wondering how deep that channel really is, never be afraid to ask.
Likewise, if you have friends or family members who just bought a new boat for the very first time, volunteer to show them the ropes as they begin to learn all the basics of boating and proper seamanship. You might even recommend that as a newbie, they should consider taking either an online or a hands-on training course to help build their confidence.
Keep Your Crew Safe: Fitting for Life Jackets
Of course, making sure the passengers on the deck of your own boat are safe is your job number-one. And while you already know that life jackets play a key role, you may not realize how important it is to have them properly fitted.
“This is particularly important with kids,” says Gail R. Kulp, executive director of the Sea Tow Foundation. “Kids grow fast and parents can buy up-sized clothes and coats, but you can’t do that with life jackets.”
Kulp notes that the Sea Tow Foundation has a loaner program with hundreds of locations and maintains a nationwide map of life jacket loaner stations, so you don’t necessarily have to buy a new life jacket every season as the kids grow, or when you take out one of their friends. It is critical, however, to make sure that the life jackets they’re in are properly fitted.
Learn more in Life Jackets, Vests & PFDs: How to Find the Right Fit.
Are You Ready for the 2021 Boating Season?
The bottom line? There’s nothing more fun than being on a boat, but the one way we can all make boating even better is by studying up on safety and then cruising with confidence.
So, commit these tips to memory, consider signing up for membership with a boating assistance company, and keep studying up on safety. Before you know it, 2021 might just turn into the best year of boating, ever.
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