Boating Safety (Shorelines 2012)

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Captain or passenger, serious sailor or sightseer, boating is a huge part of the lifestyle on Longboat Key and all coastal communities of Florida. 

Let’s say you’re a beginning boater and you’d like to rent a boat for a little sightseeing, or just to cool off and feel the Bay breezes blowing through your hair.  All it takes is a valid driver’s license to “drive” a rental.  Therein lies a danger that can turn a glorious experience into a disaster, unless you know the safety rules of boating.

Safe Boating “Rules of the Road”

Here are a few basic guidelines every skipper and crew (or passengers) should know before going out…

*Red lights are always on the left (port) side of the boat and green lights are on the right (starboard).
*When two boaters meet head on, both should steer to the right (starboard)
*When vessels are crossing, the boat on the right (starboard) has the right-of-way.
*When passing another vessel, the vessel being passed has the right-of-way.
*When boating in a narrow channel or inlet, keep to the right (starboard).
*Sailing vessels under sail have the right-of-way (over powerboats) all the time.
*If you find yourself in danger, five short blasts of the horn will signal nearby boaters.
*Any action to avoid collision must be made early and be readily apparent to the other vessel.
*Be on the lookout for “No Wake” signs – and slow down!  The life you save may be a manatee’s.
*Alcohol and boating, like driving, don’t mix.  It slows reactions and dulls the senses.

The Basics of Anchoring

1.  Anchors are designed for specific bottom characteristics.  Make sure that you buy an anchor designed for the type of bottom primarily encountered in your boating area.  Even with a small boat, five or six feet of coated chain is desirable.  Shackle the chain to the anchor.  Put the thimble on the end of the anchor line and shackle that to the other end of the chain.

Choose your anchor line carefully.  A line that is too heavy will actually cause problems because you’ll lose that “elasticity” that absorbs the shock and keeps the anchor well set.

2.  Pick your anchorage carefully.  If there are other boats nearby, you will need to “guess” at their potential swing.  A shallow draft boat will be more affected, usually by the wind, whereas a deep draft boat will be more affected by the current.

3.  Put your bow into the wind or current (whichever is having the greatest effect on you boat), power up slowly to or just beyond where you want your anchor to lie, and check your motion with your reverse gear.  Double check to ensure that the end of your anchor line is attached to something sturdy on the boat.  Most experienced boater watched at least one anchor with a few hundred feet of line disappear over the bow because they forgot to secure that end.

4.  Don’t throw the anchor – it will probably get tangled.  Release it by holding on to the chain or line, making sure that the chain and line are properly coiled, it will “pay-out” more smoothly.

How To Get Help In An Emergency

1. A VHF radio, which can be a portable (limited range, though), will enable you to summon help by calling the Coast Guard on channel 16.  This may also alert other vessels in your vicinity that may be able to provide assistance.  If you are in an emergency situation involving injury or potential loss of property, issue a Mayday call on channel 16.  Do NOT allow anyone other than the Coast Guard to move you to a different frequency.  Also carry a portable foghorn and use the whistle fitted to your life jacket to attract attention.

Boating Safety Review

Be sure to wear a life jacket (PDF/Personal Flotation Device).  Even an expert swimmer is not safe without one.

Overloading a boat can be fatal.  Don’t do it.  Check the U.S. Coast Guard load rating stamped onyour boat (or rental).

Alcohol and open water don’t mix.  Drinking can dull the judgement and ability of any boater.

Tell someone onshore when you’re going and when to expect you back.  File a “Float Plan”.

Insure your safe return.  Check fuel and equipment before leaving shore.  Make sure everything is in good working order.

Never ignore weather warnings or signs of unexpected bad weather. Check the forecast!

Guard against fire onboard.  Carry a fire extinguisher, and air the boat thoroughly before start-up.

Frequently check your wake to see how it affects others in the water, and adjust your speed accordingly.  Pay close attention to “No Wake” areas.

Understand that the skipper is responsible for the safety of all on board, and it is his or her duty to see that everyone knows and complies with safety measures.

Never start your engine until you have visibly checked to see that everyone is well clear of the prop and out of danger.

Stay with the boat if it capsizes.  Most boats will float swamped, and you will be easier to spot in the water.

Avoid swimming areas, and keep a sharp lookout for swimmers, divers and fallen skiers.

Follow Navigational Rules for boat traffic available from the U.S. Coast Guard (

Enroll in a boater education course.  Learn operation, survival techniques, legal requirements and more.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Boating Safety series.  Watch for upcoming features from time to time on boating.  In the meantime, Happy (and safe) Boating!