Basic Boating Safety Tips for the Newfound Sailor

With more than 100,000 different lakes in the continental United States, Americans don’t have to travel very far to find water. Studies have shown in the fact that more than 90% of Americans live just an hour or less from a body of water.

With such easy access to water, Americans sure do make the most of it. It’s estimated that almost 90 million American adults frequently participate in recreational boating. In Florida, which has 30,000 lakes and borders the Pacific Ocean, boating brings in more than $20 billion in economic activity.

If you’re looking to get a boat of your own and take up an activity like sailing, there’s never been a better time to do it. In 2017, there were more than 15 million registered recreational boats in the United States alone and sail boating, apart from being fun, offers many other benefits:

  • It demands a certain level of grit since you’re tasked with facing off against the elements, including wind and waves.
  • It demands a certain level of confidence too since you have to make your own decisions and get comfortable with controlling your vessel.
  • It requires a great deal of patience. Apart from sailing, you have to make sure you’ll get all the necessary equipment on board and you know how to properly maintain your boat.
  • It also takes a lot of discipline. Novice sailors aren’t going to gain 10 years of experience overnight and the best way to learn and grow as a sailor is by putting time in.

But sailing takes a lot more than confidence, desire, and discipline. As with many recreational activities it also requires knowledge on how to engage in activities safely and how to stay safe in different situations. That’s especially true in sailing where a calm day can turn dicey in a matter of minutes.

The best thing novice sailors can do is familiarize themselves with safety procedures, invest in safety equipment, and take boaters safety classes to be as prepared as possible. With that in mind, here are several basic boating safety tips for the novice sailor:

Take a Boater’s Safety Class

When it comes to basic boating safety tips, one of the best things a sailor can have in their back pocket is the knowledge they gain from a boater’s safety class. Education classes like these are important because they reduce the risk of personal injury and potential damage while boaters are out on the water. What’s more, more than 40 states have some kind of educational requirement for operating a boat.

By taking a boater’s education course, you’re helping to keep yourself safe, but also helping protect your fellow boaters. Studies have shown that a great deal of boating accidents and deaths are the result of boaters not taking proper training classes. Boating accident lawyers can be of great help should an accident arise, but ideally you want to avoid accidents wherever possible.

So what kind of basic boating safety tips can you expect to learn in a safety class? Topics can vary, but you’ll learn about things such as:

  • Proper navigation
  • Proper boat and engine maintenance
  • How to handle your boat
  • How to correctly read weather patterns
  • Basic boat operations and maneuvering

Not only can you get useful knowledge, but you can also get discounts on boating insurance if you successfully complete a course. If you’re looking for a course in your area, check with local volunteer organizations like the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. You can take online courses too, but newfound sailors may be better served taking an in-person course.

Proper Safety Equipment

Sailing safely on the water also means having the proper equipment on board. While some requirements may vary slightly, you’re going to need the following on your boat:

  • Life vests
  • A fire extinguisher
  • Navigational lights
  • Some form of visual distress signal
  • Something to produce sound

Let’s take a closer look at each of those requirements to get a better understanding of just what you’ll need:

Life Jackets

One of the first basic boating safety tips you’ll learn anywhere is that you need a life jacket on board for yourself and for anyone else that’s on board with you. If you’ve got kids on board 12 and under, they need to wear their personal flotation devices at all times.

There are many kinds of PFDs, but if you’re sailing on your local lakes, a Type 3 life jacket will likely be perfect for your needs. These jackets are comfortable and allows wearers to remain face-up in the water with a decent level of buoyancy. If you’ve been in any sporting goods store and seen life jackets, you’ve likely seen Type 3s that you can wear and zip up or buckle over your clothes.

Fire Extinguisher

Marine-type extinguishers are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and are differentiated by letter and number symbols. These indicate what kind of fires each extinguisher is designed to combat and how much extinguish agent is housed in the extinguisher. Portable extinguishers such as B-1 or B-2 will likely be sufficient for your boat, but you can always double-check before you buy one.

Sound Devices

During boater’s safety, one of the basic boating safety tips you’ll learn is how to deal with conditions like fog. When fog rolls in, having sound devices is essential. So you’ll need a portable horn (or a fixed horn if your sailboat comes with one), a bell or even some kind of whistles to help other vessels see and hear you.

Visual Signaling Devices

You’ve got some options with these types of devices, but your best bet is to get yourself a flare gun and some flares. This is key for if you need help from the coast guard on the water. You can also find flares that are self-launching.

Navigational Lights

Whether you’re dealing with dense fog or just sailing on a calm night, navigational lights are essential because they allow you and other boaters to see where you’re going. If you’ve got a new sailboat, check and double-check your electrical connections to make sure all your lights are working. If you’ve got a used boat, have a local electrical services company get everything in ship-shape.

Just-In-Case Equipment

While having the equipment mentioned above is important, you can never be too careful on the water and you may need a few more things on hand just in case. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a sailboat or a yacht, the following equipment is definitely good to have onboard:

  • A first-aid kit
  • A working flashlight
  • An oar or paddle
  • A cell phone or a handheld radio
  • An anchor
  • A water-bailing bucket
  • A sharp knife (for cutting snagged lines)

Being Smart While Sailing

You can learn all the basic boating safety tips you’ll need by taking a class, but oftentimes you’ll find the best tool at your disposal on the water is common sense. That’s especially true if you’re a novice sailor.

So what does that mean on the water? It means being mindful of the weather and not going out if rain is imminent or it’s simply too windy. It means operating at a safe speed and paying attention to other boats around you. It means staying sober while you’re on your boat. It means having a second in command or assistant skipper, who, like you, should know the boat backward and forward. It also means having an emergency plan in place.

Besides having all the necessary equipment and basic boating safety tips at your disposal, you can also do yourself a favor and get a boating inspection done. Even if you’ve got a brand new sailboat or new charter boat, an inspection will ensure that everything is ship-shape. After all, if you’ve got a needed septic tank repair or faulty electrical equipment, it’s always better to find out onshore than on the water. Again, it’s all about being careful and you can never be too careful with a car or a boat.

Storing Your Boat

There are plenty of basic boating safety tips you can learn for being on the water, but a big part of boat safety is knowing how to transport and store your boat safely too.

If you’ll be transporting your boat from lake to lake, utility trailers are essential. The same goes for storage. Whether you’re storing your boat in your garage or you’ve got your own dock at home, proper storage can help you avoid costly repairs.

Storing your boat indoors can protect your vessel from the elements, but storing a boat in a garage is sometimes easier said than done. The first thing you’re going to want to do is organize your garage for storage. This may be the perfect time to do some junk removal. Most home boat storers recommend that other boaters rent a dumpster to clear out some space. Your goal should be to maximize the space you have and also make the items in your garage easier to find.

When it comes getting your boat into your garage, it might take some creative maneuvering. Ideally, you want to slip it past the garage door and into the space you have. It’s best to get an idea of the dimensions of both boat and garage to get a feel for how much space you have. If space is going to be tight, but doable, get some friends to help you maneuver your boat in to get it in just the right spot. Be mindful if you’ve got an epoxy garage floor to avoid any sliding and be sure to check the trailer wheels.

Building a Dock

If you’ve got the space, another option for storage (at least during boating season) is keeping your boat tied up a dock. If you live on a lake and you’ve got the space, a good move might be to invest in boat deck building supplies and build your own dock.

Different boat dock materials vary in cost and if you’re on a budget, building a floating dock might be the best move to make. Depending on the type of decking material, you’ll spend $20-$40 per square foot. As an example, if you opt for prefabricated aluminum, you’re looking at a cost of roughly $1,500. Floating docks are:

  • Easily removed from the water
  • Low maintenance
  • Cheaper compared to other docks
  • A great choice for use on inland lakes

If you’re looking for something more stable and stationary, piling docks are also a good option. Materials and installation are roughly $25-$50 per square foot and the pilings, which are put into the lake bed, are roughly 10 to 12 inches in diameter. You may also need to call on dock repair services from time to time for maintenance, depending on the area where you live. Piling docks are:

  • More expensive, but more permanent and more durable.
  • Very customizable. You can turn your dock into a party deck or a gazebo if you wish.

In Conclusion

Boating, especially sail boating can be a very enjoyable pastime; a chance to enjoy nice weather and be out on the water with friends and family. But the key to being able to enjoy good company, good weather, and your boat is being safe.

With basic boating safety tips, you can keep yourself safe, your friends and family safe and fellow boaters safe. Simply put: when you’re out on the water, you need to know what you’re doing. Fellow boaters need to feel comfortable that you know how to pilot your boat, that you can handle yourself in different types of weather and situations and that you’re not going to act carelessly.

Personal injury attorneys provide great services to a great many people in need, who have been victims of all kinds of injuries. By practicing safe boating, you can avoid getting hurt and stay safe. Basic boating safety tips are just that: basic. But, should the need arise, they can help save your life.

By having the knowledge from a boater’s safety class and all the essential and necessary equipment, you can focus your time and energy on getting the most out of your sailboat and becoming a more experienced boater over time.

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