Swimming Around Boats: 10 Safety Tips

Summertime is officially upon us! And for many of us, that means swimming. While boating and swimming are two fun summer activities, it’s crucial that you understand how to keep your passengers safe from boating accidents, drowning, and other serious injuries. 

If you’re planning on swimming around boats this season, check out these swimming safety tips to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

10 Tips for Safely Swimming Near a Boat

1. Require All Swimmers to Wear a Lifejacket

All boats must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for everyone on board. Remember that life jackets aren’t one-size-fits-all, and a properly fitting life jacket protects you if:

  • Your boat capsizes
  • There is rough water
  • There is a boat collision 
  • Your boat starts taking on water 
  • You’re thrown from the boat or fall overboard 
  • Your boat hits a rock or another submerged object
  • You aren’t a strong swimmer 

If you’re swimming around boats, wearing a life vest prevents you from tiring out. In addition, it makes your swimming experience an overall more enjoyable one. In addition, we recommend packing plenty of floatation devices and inflatables into the water for swimmers to use as needed.

Read Next: Life Jacket Guide

2. Make Sure the Boat Is Turned Off

You should never swim around a running boat. Not only are harmful carbon monoxide fumes emitted from the engine’s exhaust, but a suddenly rotating propeller can be deadly to swimmers. 

3. Avoid Swimming in Busy Water

If you plan on swimming around boats, do so in idle, secluded water. As a captain, you shouldn’t ever allow swimming in a marked channel – even when no boats are around. 

Similarly, you shouldn’t allow swimming around docked boats or marinas. Aside from having to navigate tight quarters, vessels plugged into AC shore power can leak electricity into the water. In addition, electrical boat lifts and underwater lighting rigs pose a severe threat of electrical shock drowning (ESD) for swimmers in marine areas. 

Read Next: Navigation Buoys and Channel Markers 101

4. Don’t Allow Swimming Under the Boat

It is crucial that you remind your passengers to never swim underneath a boat. Attempting to surface beneath a hull that has changed position — or was misjudged in size — risks a severe head injury that could lead to drowning. 

5. Don’t Swim Around Boat Exhaust

To avoid inhaling toxic fumes, swimmers should avoid the areas of boats that spew exhaust. This is especially relevant for houseboats, which concentrate carbon monoxide fumes near the boat’s stern (a popular swimming spot). 

6. Have an Easy Way for Swimmers to Get Onboard

Most boats are equipped with ladders and/or swim platforms to give swimmers an easy way to get on and off the boat. However, it’s critical that you ensure all swimmers can use them before entering the water. 

7. Designate an Observer

Whenever people swim around boats, it’s essential to designate an observer to stay on board and keep track of everyone. Preferably, choose someone who’s able to provide assistance if needed. 

8. Keep the Boat Anchored

If you have swimmers in the water, keeping your boat anchored ensures they aren’t accidentally hit. But of course, even anchored boats swing from deep to shallow water — or over obstructions — which makes having an observer that much more important. 

9. Avoid Swimming in Currents or Away from a Drifting Boat

Either of these circumstances can result in a swimmer becoming separated from the craft and unable to return by their own power. And if that happens, the boat might need to be started and put back into gear to pick the swimmer up – which is a dangerous act in itself. Additionally, it exposes the swimmer to open water, where they risk going unnoticed by other boaters. 

10. Run a Line Off the Back of the Boat

Doing so provides peace of mind that struggling swimmers will be able to make their way back onboard. We recommend tying a life ring or floatation device to the end so swimmers have extra assistance and/or instant contact with the vessel if they need it. 

Conclusion: Check Out Our Boating Resources for This Summer 

So, can you swim near a boat? Well, the answer depends. As long as you follow the above swimming safety tips, swimming around boats is an enjoyable summer activity.  

Want more safety tips and boating resources to utilize this summer? Check out our website’s Articles & Inspiration section to see what else is in store.