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Boating Safety Tips for 4th of July


The 4th of July is a boater’s holiday. When it rolls around, there is no better place to be than on your boat. We know this because nearly 12 million registered boats across our country participate in some sort of 4th of July celebration. And with all this boating fun comes considerable boat traffic congestion on lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. It also brings with it what the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary tells us are the top five primary contributing factors to accidents on our waterways: operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and alcohol use.

How can we keep the fun on the 4th of July, while keeping ourselves, our crew, and passengers safe? It’s actually quite simple. That’s why we’ve put together these easy boating safety tips for the 4th of July. With some preparation and planning, you can make sure this and every 4th of July, is a safe one, and your boat is filled with good friends and good times. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

Block out those distractions. Yes, there will be distractions. Any time something is going on while you’re driving, it will vie for your attention. When underway, try to zone out all unnecessary conversations going on around you – except for important input from a helpful lookout. Being distracted, even for a split second, is dangerous. So, before you head out on the water:

  • Turn off your text message notifications. Texting is as treacherous on the water as it is in a car. Don’t text and drive.

  • Become skilled at using your GPS before you leave the dock. It’s dangerous to be underway, with your head down, trying to figure out how to toggle between screens.

  • Master moving your hand between the wheel and throttle without looking.

  • Be familiar, by feel, with the locations of the bilge switch, trim switch, and running lights.

Don’t drink and drive. As the captain of your boat, your passengers and others on the water depend on you for their safety. The fact is the effects of alcohol, along with sun, wind, and waves, lower your situational awareness. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a beer or cocktail. It just means you need to hold off on partaking until you’re safely ashore or tied up for the night.

Put on your life jackets. Even though summer days can sizzle, don’t be tempted to forego the life jacket. When an accident occurs, there’s usually no time to find and put on a life jacket. Statistics show that 80% of individuals who perished in boating accidents were not wearing life jackets. The good news is that life jackets have come a long way. If your current jackets aren’t comfortable, go out and get some stylish new ones. While you’re at it, check out the U.S. Coast Guard’s downloadable PDF, How to Choose the Right Life Jacket.

Avoid breaking down. The 4th of July is also notorious for boater requests for assistance for battery jumps and anchor-line disentanglements. To help prevent the need to make a call, be sure to keep a close eye on your boat’s battery drain throughout the long day on the water. Also, go slow and careful when hauling in your anchor line, and be very careful not to run over someone else’s. And remember, things can get even trickier in the dark after the fireworks show ends.

We know you want to do your part as a responsible boater, so here are a few additional tips:

  • Share your float plan with a friend. Let family and friends who stay on land know where you’re going and when you plan to return. To make it easy, the U.S. Coast Guard offers a free fillable float plan form.

  • Employ an engine cutoff device. This proven safety device stops a boat’s engine should the operator suddenly fall overboard. It’s one of those things you hope you’ll never have to use, but are grateful for if you ever do.

  • Keep an eye on the weather. Checking the forecast once before you’re underway is not enough. Weather is fickle and can change on a dime. You’ll want to keep checking the local weather throughout your excursion.

  • Adhere to speed limits. Make sure you’re familiar with local boating speed zones and always adhere to them. Speed limits keep us safe, especially during busy boating days when the waterways are congested.

  • Make sure you can keep in touch. In an emergency, cell phones, satellite phones, Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB), and VHF radios are essential devices. Check that yours are fully charged and in good working order.

  • Boats and fireworks don’t mix. On the 4th of July, or any holiday, leave the fireworks to the experts. On a boat, with gallons of fuel and lots of flammable materials, it’s just not worth the risk to passengers or your boat.

Lastly, remember to exercise the boater’s 3Cs – Caution, Courtesy & Common Sense. They will serve you well in any situation. Just follow the 3Cs and these simple but important boating safety tips for the 4th of July, and every day on your boat will be fun and safe!