2018 Boating Safety Tips

California State Parks Division of Boating & Waterways (DBW)

Wear a Life Jacket

  • Conditions change quickly in open water and even the best swimmers can misjudge the water and their skills when boating or swimming. Wearing a properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket can increase your survival time.
  • A life jacket can also provide you with some thermal protection against the onset of cold water shock and keeps swimmers afloat until rescuers arrive.
  • Need a life jacket? Check online to find a life jacket loaner station for a day or weekend use.
  • Know about correct life jacket use:
    • Coast Guard-Approved: All life jackets approved for use by the Coast Guard will have an approval number located on the inside label. Only approved life jackets should be used on the water, and boaters may be cited for lacking proper equipment
    • Proper Fit: Life jacket sizes come with weight or chest measurements, and should fit snug rather than purchased to allow a wearer to “grow into.” A small life jacket may not provide enough flotation to keep a person afloat. One that is too large can slip off upon entry into the water or could ride up around the face and obstruct breathing.
    • Intended Boating Activity: Always check the life jacket label to ensure it is approved for the intended boating activity.
    • Good Condition: Check the life jacket before using to ensure it is in good condition. Jackets with rips, tears, mildew, loose or missing straps, frayed webbing, broken zippers or buckles, hardened stuffing or faded label instructions lose their strength and buoyancy and must be replaced.

Take a Boating Safety Course

  • Most boat operators involved in accidents have not taken an approved boating safety course (DBW accident statistics).
  • A boating safety course will teach you useful information like the “rules of the road” and how to deal with emergencies. You can also learn about the leading causes of boating accidents—inexperience, recklessness and inattention—and steps to take to avoid them.
  • Even skilled boaters can learn something new from a boating safety course, such as changes to rules and laws or aquatic invasive species prevention updates.
  • DBW has approved a number of basic boating safety courses to be taken either online, by home study or in a classroom. Find one that works best for you. Passing one of these approved courses makes you eligible for the new California Boater Card.
  • A boating safety course can save you money. That’s because many boat insurance providers offer discounts to people who have successfully completed a boating safety course.

Keep Alcohol on Shore

  • Operating your boat or water ski with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more is against the law. Impaired boaters will be stopped and can be arrested even with lower BAC if the conditions are not safe. Your boat can be impounded.
  • Boating can magnify the side effects of alcohol use. Effects include impaired judgment, reduced balance and poor coordination.
  • Sun, wind, boat and wave action intensify the effects of alcohol.
  • Drunken passengers can easily fall overboard, swim near the propeller, lean over the side, or stand up in small vessels, causing vessels to capsize.
  • Designate a passenger to stay sober and check unsafe behaviors. A designated skipper should also be prepared to take over the wheel should you become incapacitated for any reason.

Know the Water and Your Limits

  • Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool – people tire more quickly and can get into trouble.
  • Many unseen obstacles can be lurking below the water’s surface. Winter rains and snowmelt have filled rivers with submerged trees and rocks. Swift water can make these obstacles even more treacherous. DBW recommends guided trips for inexperienced paddlers.
  • Stay with your capsized boat. Do not attempt to swim to shore. With your boat you are more visible to others, and you may be able to climb on the hull to avoid cold water shock.
  • Cold-water immersion/shock happens quickly. Not wearing a life jacket or being alcohol impaired while recreating in cold water makes it even more perilous.

Know the ‘Rules of the Road’

  • Navigational rules are in place to prevent collisions that injure people and damage property.
  • It is your responsibility as the boat operator to follow navigational rules under normal circumstances. It is also your responsibility to take any action necessary to avoid immediate danger even if it is a temporary departure from navigational rules.
  • Distracted driving causes many boating accidents. Always keep a sharp lookout.
  • You can learn the navigation rules by taking a boating safety course.
  • Even if you know the law, that’s no guarantee that other boaters do. So, operate your boat with caution. Boat at a safe speed, and keep a safe distance from other boats and obstacles, and always look out for hazards.

Stay Safe When Paddling

  • Remember the ABC’s: Always wear a life jacket. Bring a marine VHF Radio or other mobile communication device. Check the weather (including tides and winds) before you get underway.
  • Use VHF channel 9 to hail other boaters and channel 16 to communicate distress to the Coast Guard.
  • Know your waterway. Remember you are not alone on the water! Learn navigation rules and sound signals for safe interaction with other boaters especially in shipping lanes.
  • File a float plan. Let someone know when and where you plan to paddle, and when you plan to return.
  • Always paddle with a buddy.
  • Keep an eye out for other paddlers and encourage them avoid unsafe behaviors.

Watch Your Children

  • Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Do not assume that someone is watching them. Appoint a designated “water watcher,” taking turns with other adults.
  • Teach your children that swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool: they need to be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather.
  • Introduce your children early to water safety. Please go online or call (888) 326-2822 to order free AquaSmart Activity books for kids in grades K-8.

File A Float Plan

  • Do file a float plan with someone trusted that includes details about your trip, launch area, marina, boat, passengers, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment and emergency contacts.