According to the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission's report to the President in 1962, "Water is a focal point of outdoor recreation. Most people seeking outdoor recreation want water -- to sit by, to swim and to fish in, to ski across, to dive under, and to run their boats over." This statement is as true today as it was in 1962, with even more people participating in water-based recreation.

With all the available surface water in the nation, it is not surprising that recreational boating is a major part of outdoor recreational activities, as well as a significant part of the economy and tourism industry.

Boating Safety Tips - Know Before You Go!
  • You must carry one wearable USCG-approved serviceable PFD of the proper size and type for each boat occupant. No tears, rips, broken straps or snaps. Use the Charmin squeeze test on kapok PFDs to check for punctures in the inner plastic liner. And remember: All PFDs must be ready at hand and not enclosed in plastic bags or locked compartments.
  • Boats 16 feet and over must also carry one USCG-approved throwable PFD (Type IV).
  • If your boat has any enclosed compartments or a false floor you must carry a USCG-approved fire extinguisher. Make sure that it is charged and accessible.
  • Always test your boat lights before the boat leaves the dock. If you use battery operated lights, always carry extra batteries. Keep in mind that even if you plan to be back before dark, an equipment malfunction or bad weather may change your plans.
  • Be weather wise. Sudden wind shifts, lightning flashes and choppy water all can mean a storm is brewing. Bring a radio along and keep a close eye on the weather.
  • Bring emergency supplies such as maps, flares, and a first aid kit. Put them in a floating pouch.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
  • Check the boat landing for any local regulations applicable on the waterway where you will be boating.
  • If boating on the Great Lakes or Mississippi River, review the federal regulations for additional federal requirements.
  • Always ventilate after refueling. Open all hatches and run the blower. Sniff for fumes before starting the engine and if fumes exist, do not start the engine.
  • Learn the proper anchoring procedures for your boat. Improper anchoring is the cause of many fatal accidents.
  • Never consume alcohol or drugs before or during boat operation. Alcohol's effects are greatly exaggerated while boating. Research has proven that four hours' exposure to sun, glare, wind, noise, and vibration produces boater fatigue which slows reaction time almost as much as being legally intoxicated. Adding alcohol to this equation can be fatal.
  • If you loan your boat to someone, teach them how to operate it. This is true for all boat owners but rings doubly true for PWC. In 1996, 36% of all boats involved in accidents occurred while the boat was being borrowed. Borrowed boats accounted for 16% of all fatalities and 43% of injuries. 54% of the personal watercraft involved in accidents were borrowed. If you share the boat -- share the knowledge!
  • Never allow passengers to ride on gunwales or seatbacks or outside of protective railings, including the front of a pontoon boat. A sudden turn, stop or start could cause a fall overboard.
  • Make certain your registration is up to date and that the current year sticker is displayed. Always carry your registration card on board with you.
  • Practice good boat launch etiquette.
  • Practice loading and unloading on a day that isn't too busy at the ramp.
  • Remove covers and straps before you get in line to launch.
  • Load equipment into boat before you reach the ramp. Make sure all equipment is working and that the plug is in.
  • Once in line to launch, have a person available to hold the bow line and assist in boat handling at the pier.
  • Have one person drive the boat off the trailer and out of the way of other boaters while another person is parking the tow vehicle.
  • Upon departure from boat launch, maintain slow-no-wake speed for a safe and legal distance from boat launch.
  • If bad weather is approaching, get off the water early to avoid a long waiting line in inclement weather.
  • Drop one person off at pier to get vehicle and get in line.
  • Once loaded, pull well away from launch area to secure boat for travelling purposes.
Federal Requirements and Safety Tips for Recreational Boats
Personal Flotation Devices (PFD)
All recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III or Type V PFD) for each person aboard. A Type V PFD provides performance of either a Type I, II, or III PFD (as marked on its label) and must be used according to the label requirements. Any boat 16ft and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable PFD (Type IV PFD).
PFDs must be:  Coast Guard approved, in good and serviceable condition, and the appropriate size for the intended user.
Accessibility: Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible.  You must be able to put them on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency (vessel sinking, on fire, etc.).  They should not be stowed in plastic bags, in locked or closed compartments or have other gear stowed on top of them.  The best PFD is the one you will wear.  Though not required, a PFD should be worn at all times when the vessel is underway. A wearable PFD can save your life, but only if you wear it. Throwable devices must be immediately available for use.
Inflatable PFDs:  Inflatable PFDs may be more comfortable to wear. The best PFD is the one you will wear. Inflatable PFDs require the user to pay careful attention to the condition of the device. Inflatable PFDs must have a full cylinder and all status indicators on the inflator must be green, or the device is NOT serviceable, and does NOT satisfy the requirement to carry PFDs.  Coast Guard Approved Inflatable PFD's are authorized for use on recreational boats by person at least 16 years of age.
Child PFD Requirements:  Some states require that children wear PFDs, applies to children of specific ages, applies to certain sizes of boats, applies to specific boating operations.  Check with your state boating safety officials.

Child PFD approvals are based on the child's weight. Check the "User Weight" on the label, or the approval statement that will read something like "Approved for use on recreational boats and uninspected commercial vessels not carrying passengers for hire, by persons weighing __ lbs". They can be marked "less than 30", "30 to 50", "less than 50", or "50 to 90".

PFD requirements for certain boating activities under state laws
The Coast Guard recommends and many states require wearing PFDs:  For water skiing and other towed activities (use a PFD marked for water skiing).  While operating personal watercraft (PWC) (use a PFD marked for water skiing or PWC use).  During white water boating activities.  While sailboarding (under Federal law, sailboards are not "boats").  Check with your state boating safety officials.

Federal law does not require PFDs on racing shells, rowing sculls, racing canoes, and racing kayaks; state laws vary. Check with your state boating safety officials.

If you are boating in an area under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, or a federal, state, or local park authority, other rules may apply.

PFD Flotation:  There are three basic kinds of PFD flotation in the five types of PFDs with the following characteristics:

Inherently Buoyant (primarily Foam)
  • The most reliable
  • Adult, Youth, Child, and Infant sizes
  • For swimmers & non-swimmers
  • Wearable & throwable styles
  • Some designed for water sports
  • The most compact
  • Sizes only for adults
  • Only recommended for swimmers
  • Wearable styles only
  • Some with the best in-water performance
Hybrid (Foam & Inflation)
  • ReliableAdult, Youth, and Child sizes
  • For swimmers & non-swimmers
  • Wearable styles only
  • Some designed for water sports
Boating Under the Influence
BUI is just as deadly as drinking and driving!
Did you know:
  • A boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than a driver, drink for drink?
  • The penalties for BUI can include large fines, revocation of operator privileges and serious jail terms?
  • The use of alcohol is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities?
Every boater needs to understand the risks of boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI). It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. The Coast Guard also enforces a federal law that prohibits BUI. This law pertains to ALL boats (from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships) and includes foreign vessels that operate in U.S. waters, as well as U.S. vessels on the high seas.
Enforcement and Penalties
The Coast Guard and every state have stringent penalties for violating BUI laws. Penalties can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges, and jail terms. The Coast Guard and the states cooperate fully in enforcement in order to remove impaired boat operators from the waters.

In waters that are overseen solely by the states, the states have the authority to enforce their own BUI statutes. In state waters that are also subject to U.S. jurisdiction, there is concurrent jurisdiction. That means if a boater is apprehended under Federal law in these waters, the Coast Guard will (unless precluded by state law) request that state law enforcement officers take the intoxicated boater into custody.

When the Coast Guard determines that an operator is impaired, the voyage may be terminated. The vessel will be brought to mooring by the Coast Guard or a competent and un-intoxicated person on board the recreational vessel. Depending on the circumstances, the Coast Guard may arrest the operator, detain the operator until sober, or turn the operator over to state or local authorities.

Aids to Navigation - Road Signs of the Waterway
Understanding and using the U.S. Aids to Navigation System is an important part of operating your boat safely.

The Aids to Navigation System is a consistent way to mark the waters of the United States and its territories to assist boaters in navigation, and alert them to obstructions and hazards. This system serves the same function as the safety signals and signs used in driving on streets and highways.

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for the placement and maintenance of Aids to Navigation in U.S. waters. These aids include lighted and unlighted beacons, ranges, leading lights, and buoys, as well as sound signals associated with these aids.

Individual states many use markers for information such as shallow water, obstruction such as a rock shoal, or various speed limits or "no wake" zones.

Know Before You Go -- Take a Boating Safety Course!
The number of recreational boaters using the nation's waterways has grown tremendously over the past decade. As our waterways become more crowded and the types of boats using the water become more varied, it is increasingly important for boaters to become educated on safe boating techniques and laws. Boating safety course graduates can help ensure healthy, happy, and safe voyages for years to come.

Many boating safety courses are offered throughout the country, for all types of recreational boaters, and for boaters of all ages. Qualified volunteer organizations, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron, and others sponsor many courses, and many state boating agencies also provide classes.

Courses cover many aspects of boating safety, from boat handling to reading the weather, and from a "Water 'N Kids" class to courses for boaters who want to learn electronic navigation skills. The most popular basic courses generally have from 6 to 13 lessons to provide a foundation of operational and safety instruction.

Take an On-Line Boating Safety Course