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  • Writer's pictureBoat Town

Our Top 12 Recommendations for Safe Boating

Boat Safely this weekend and all summer long with these important tips! In honor of National Boat Safely Week and with Memorial Day weekend coming up, we want to help spread a few reminders about what it means to boat safely and responsibly! Boating accidents are more common than you think. However, they are easily prevented if you stay alert, aware, and use caution while on the water. The good news is that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice any of the fun! Here are our top 12 tips for staying safe on the water during a busy holiday weekend.

1. ALWAYS HAVE A SOBER CAPTAIN “Ride dry, drive dry” is common reminder on this front in the boating industry. It’s often promoted on websites like the WSIA (Watersports Industry Association), a great team of people who help protect our waterways and our love for all things boating. It’s an important one, too! Did you know that over 80% of boating accidents involve alcohol in some way or another? Even though “open container” laws don’t apply to boats as they do auto vehicles, it’s just as important to have someone stay sober and responsible on the water. And believe it or not, you CAN get a BWI- Boating While Intoxicated- if your BAC exceeds the legal limit of .08 So just stay smart and stay safe, and be sure that there is a captain who not only is sober, but knows how to drive a boat safely! It will keep your crew and everyone else on the water out of harms’ way.


You always want to make sure you have enough life jackets for everyone on board your boat. If you’re caught without the proper vests, it could result in you- the boat captain- paying a hefty fine and being issued a citation. But how do you make sure your LJ is properly fitted? And Coast Guard Approved? A good rule of thumb for fitting life jackets: try it on. Be sure to fasten all zippers and buckles. After straps are tightened, if you lift up on the vest by the shoulders, and it lifts above the top of the ears, it’s too big. There are many vests on the market that are not coast guard approved. While they work wonderfully for participating in various watersports and are certainly more comfortable, they will not pass as a qualified vest in a safety inspection. Approved vests will have a label on the inside that says CGA/Coast Guard Approved. If the label has worn out and you’re unsure, another way to check the vest is count the number of fastening mechanisms. CGA vests will always have at least 3. Whether thats a zipper and two buckles, or three buckles- make sure there are at least 3 forms of fastening. Other important safety equipment: Be sure you’ve also gone through your checklist for your other required safety equipment. This includes:

● Throwable floatation device

● Either a working horn or a whistle

● At least one fire extinguisher (in the green, not expired)

● A way to attach your engine cut-off switch to the driver

● Proper registration card and information Some boats are also required to have a working blower in the engine compartment, which the officers may ask for you to demonstrate as functional. Be sure you are familiar enough with your watercraft before getting on the lake to know where all of these are located and how to use them properly.

3. KNOW WHICH BUOYS MEAN WHAT! When you’re out on the water, there are several types of buoys that you will see, and it’s important to know the differences.

Red & Green Red and green buoys are the channel markers. Since many lakes are sections of rivers, it’s an important tool to help with water depth and with navigation purposes. Typically, between these red and green buoys is the deepest section of water in that area. They also helps guide you from one end of the lake to the other, so you don’t end up in a cove with a dead end. If you only get on the water a couple times a year, this can be very helpful with navigating the lake.

No Wake No wake buoys seem like they should be pretty self-explanatory, but: they mean that the area you’re crossing is a no-wake zone. No-wake zones will either be buoyed on both sides, or the shoreline will be on the adjacent side of them. If you see several buoys in a line, there’s a chance you’re entering a no-wake zone. This means that your boat should not be producing ANY kind of wave back behind it while in those zones. Typically these speeds are just barely above idle.

Shallow These buoys mark off areas of the lake in a similar way to no-wake buoys, but with an added level of caution. Areas marked this way are shallow enough that you risk running aground, so it’s important to avoid these areas if you’re not familiar with the lake AND your boat. It’s extra important to avoid speeds above idle in these zones, as you risk causing severe damage to the underside of your boat.

Hazard Hazard buoys are used to mark underwater obstacles that can’t be seen above the surface. If you see a hazard buoys, give it as much breadth as you can safely achieve- unknown objects below the surface can give you an unpleasant surprise if you run into them!

4. KEEP YOUR SPEEDS SLOW IN CROWDED AREAS This one should go without saying, but it’s amazing how many people just zip around other boats at unsafe speeds, especially on a busy holiday weekend. Here’s the thing about boats: THEY HAVE NO BREAKS. A general rule of thumb is don’t approach anything faster than you’d want to hit it, and that applies to docks as well as other watercraft. Be prepared to be patient, especially on busy

weekends, and take your time navigating through congested areas. When in doubt, slow down.

5. WHEN AND WHERE TO PARTICIPATE IN WHICH ACTIVITIES We know it’s convenient to simply lower your lift and hit the lake wherever it’s most convenient, but with a holiday weekend these considerations may need to change a bit. It’s important to be aware of how your actions could be affecting others, and not only that- where your activity is safest to perform. For all of the towed sporting options, we always recommend minimizing repetitive passes and staying on parts of the lake that best suit your chosen activity. Here are our tips:

Surfing Calm, glassy water is basically the last thing you need to participate in wakesurfing. What you’re looking for here is deep water, and enough space so that other boats around you can navigate your rollers and your rider. We recommend finding an open area where your waves/rollers have time to dissipate. Also, where your water depth is greater than 12 feet. Be aware as you’re surfing on how close you are to houses and other boaters, as these activities cause the largest amount of water displacement. This also gives you time and space to slowly pick up your rider without worrying if a boat behind you has time and space to see your fallen surfer.

Wakeboarding/Skiing We know most of our wakeboarders and skiers probably like to get up early in the morning and get the glass water, but if you are out with others there are a few things that will help. First- no power turns. While you may THINK it helps pick your rider up faster, numerous studies done but USA Waterski and the WSIA have proven otherwise. Turns out, coming off-plane and then slowly navigating to your rider is not only safer, but takes the same amount of time or less. It’s also important to note that attempting these activities in the middle of the day with all the other boats out will make things more difficult, so early morning is certainly best!

Tubing We strongly advise that you not be “that guy” pulling a tube at 7am... Sure, sure- your kids are excited to get out on the water, but this time is typically best for people learning to wakeboard or ski, or who are working on improving these

skills. Tubing is most fun in rough water anyway, so wait for those later times in the day! It’s also recommended that tubing is taken to wider sections of the lake, rather than the narrow river channels.

Anchoring/hanging out Be aware of your surroundings, and that means don’t stop in the middle of an active waterway to anchor your boat and listen to some tunes. Always be sure you’re off to the side as much as possible, and even better to be on the side of a shallower cove. Don’t put yourself in danger by acting like the only boat on the lake and creating a road block for people trying to navigate around you.

6. KNOW YOUR RIGHT-OF-WAY LAWS It’s important to know who has the right-of-way on the water from a legal standpoint, and also as a generally courteous boater. Typically a boater pulling a rider will have the right-of-way, unless it is in comparison to a man-powered or wind-powered watercraft such as a canoe or sailboat. These rules can vary based on how the boats are approaching and from which direction, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the official regulations. Boating navigation laws can become very detailed with variety in many situations, so it’s important to understand them in full before acting as the responsible part on your boat. You can find the Navigation Rules per the US Coast Guard online here

7. DRIVING AT NIGHT WITH PROPER LIGHTING EQUIPMENT There are 3 important lights you must have in working order if you’ll be on the water at night. “At night” is considered to be 30 minutes before the official sunset time, and 30 minutes after the official sunrise. These lights include your two nav lights and your anchor light. Your anchor light is the white light on the top of your boat. Your nav lights are the red and green lights, located on the bow. The exact locations will vary from boat to boat, but your nav lights will always be on the same color coordinated side. These nav lights are important to know if you are driving at night, because it will help you asses other boats on the water and which direction they may be moving. Green lights designate the starboard side (or right side, if you’re in the boat looking forward) of the vessel, and red indicates the port side. This information

will help you assess movement of boats on a dark night where visibility might be difficult. It’s important that when you’re moving across the water you do NOT have other exterior lighting turned on. This includes any color running lights and docking lights. Docking lights should NOT be used as headlights- they can make it incredibly difficult for other boaters to navigate and can throw off directionality and depth perception. Mixing lights with your standard navigation lights puts all boats around you at risk.

8. DON’T DRIVE WITH YOUR BALLAST TANKS FULL WITHOUT A RIDER Boats today often have large tanks that help sink the boat and create these awesome wakes and waves for towed water sports. However, these ballast tanks can also cause a lot of commotion on the water, and shouldn’t be used unnecessarily. If you aren’t actively towing a rider, the courteous thing to do is to drain all ballast before moving across the lake. If you DO need to move with full ballast, move at an idle speed, or if you’re somewhere you can move quickly, up on plane at 19mph or more is best. Those in-between speeds of 11-14 cause the bow of the boat to rise and the stern to sink, making those rollers even more difficult to navigate. Stay aware of your own boat and how it could be affecting those around you!

9. ALWAYS HAVE A SPOTTER ON BUSY DAYS, EVEN IF YOU HAVE A MIRROR. In Texas, if you have a boat with a mirror, you may not legally need a “spotter”- or someone keeping eyes on your rider. However, with holiday weekends we ALWAYS recommend having someone in the boat who’s job it is to tell the driver that the rider has fallen. High traffic weekends mean that the driver has a lot to pay attention to, and without a spotter it may take a lot longer to notice a rider has fallen. So stay safe, and have that extra person always.

10. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE! This one should go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway. If it’s so crowded that it’s impossible to stay a safe distance away from other boaters, you shouldn’t be cruising at speeds much above idle. We recommend at LEAST 100

feet away from other boaters and shorelines, but 200+ is better. The official distance according the TPWD is 50 feet, but the more space, the better.

11. ALWAYS STAY SEATED WHILE THE BOAT IS MOVING. It can be super tempting to get up and go get a drink out of the cooler, or stand up and dance to your favorite song. But while the boat is moving, always stay seated. Water can be unpredictable, and an unexpected wave or even a hazard under the waters’ surface can cause the boat to become unstable. If you’re not properly seated, this makes the chances of injury incredibly elevated. So even if you’re super comfortable on a boat, save showing off your sea-legs for another time.

12. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! WEAR THAT SUNSCREEN AND DON’T FORGET TO PACK WATER! Texas heat is no joke! We know that the beer and seltzers tends to be priority when packing those coolers, but don’t forget to PROPERLY hydrate yourself, too! Be sure to always have clean drinking water on-board, and keep yourself as cool as possible. Oh- and don’t forget to grab that sunscreen!

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