Recreational Boating Safety – Good Practices for Safe Boating

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 081-06-08
Getting home safely from a recreational boating outing is simply a matter of following some important good practices. Some of the good practices are required by law, some are recommendations from the Coast Guard, and some just make good practice. Although this is not a complete list, it is a good start to operating safely on the water.

Flotilla 081-06-08 is based at Coast Guard Station Galveston. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the US Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939. For more information, please visit

Good Practices for Safe Boating
If you follow these good practices for safe boating, you will have a pretty good chance of getting back home safely from a recreational boating outing:

  1. Know the area where you plan to operate
  2. Equip your boat with the necessary safety items
  3. Practice the “Rules of the Road”
  4. File a float plan
  5. Carry a marine VHF-FM radio
  6. Keep a proper lookout

Review Charts
It is important to know the area where you plan to operate. Although charts are not required in most recreational boats, the prudent boater reviews charts before venturing out onto the water. Be sure that you have the most updated charts, especially after a hurricane has been through the area. I have both official paper charts and the latest charts loaded onto my GPS. Whenever I navigate to certain areas of the bay, I follow safe trails that I save in my GPS.

Vessel Safety Check
The best way to ensure that you have the safety items you need is to undergo a free Coast Guard Vessel Safety Check (VSC), but even if you haven’t done this, you can take advantage of the safety check by adding the required and recommended safety items to your own list. You may also access the Coast Guard app and select the “Review Safety Equipment” icon. It is much better to have a Coast Guard Auxiliary Vessel Examiner perform a formal Vessel Safety Check with you.

Rules of the Road
Each boat operator is charged by law with following the Rules of the Road. They are simple rules designed to prevent a collision between boats. Some larger recreational boats and all commercial boats and ships are required to carry the Rules of the Road on board. You can meet that requirement by downloading the Coast Guard app, which gives you access to the Rules of the Road, including additional requirements by each state.

File a Float Plan
As mentioned in another column, the best float plan I have ever seen can be found as part of the U.S. Coast Guard smart phone app. It not only asks specific questions needed to help rescuers find you, it will email the completed float plan to up to two contacts. Float plans completed using the Coast Guard app can be saved and used as many times as you wish, and can be edited to fit the current situation, including date and time, itinerary, and persons on board. Anyone on the boat can file a plan. You do not have to be the Skipper. Even Gilligan, the Howells, Ginger, the Professor and Mary Ann could have filed a float plan. Using the Coast Guard app is the easiest way to file a float plan.

Carry a Marine VHF-FM Radio
I know that most recreational boaters rely on their cell phone for use in emergencies, but the Coast Guard recommends that boaters have a marine VHF-FM radio to use in contacting them in case of an emergency. With a VHF-FM marine radio, boaters are able to call for help if they need it, listen to updated weather forecasts and to Coast Guard broadcasts about other vessels in distress, and hear warnings from law enforcement authorities about hazards they may encounter. Cell phones may seem like attractive substitutes to some boaters, but they aren’t nearly as good. Cell phones require that the boater know the telephone number of the first responder they want to contact, and they cannot receive area wide warnings that are broadcast over marine radio. Cell phones are not typically maritime friendly. Coverage is not guaranteed in many maritime environments. If you choose not to carry a marine VHF-FM radio, at least download the Coast Guard app to your cell phone. The app allows you to contact the Coast Guard directly in case of emergency. Calling 911 does not work well out on the water.

Keep a Proper Lookout
The Navigation Rules, International – Inland states that “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions, so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.” A sharp lookout is often the first means of protection for the boat to avoid trouble. Some examples of collision risks are:

  • Ships and boats (avoid running in the ship channel in recreational boats)
  • Land (unintentional grounding has caused many accidents)
  • Obstructions (the bays are covered with capped off wells with just stand pipes above the surface)
  • Lights (navigation lights line the intracoastal waterway and ship channel)
  • Buoys (navigational and NOAA buoys can be found all around)

Put an ID Sticker on Your Kayak
Recently a kayak was found washed up on the beach near my house. The Coast Guard was called, and we launched a 45-foot rapid response boat and a helicopter to search for a possible kayaker in trouble on the water. No one was found, and there was no identification on the kayak. No one knew who owned the kayak, so there was no place to start looking other than to begin a search pattern in the vicinity of where the kayak was found. The search was called off with no resolution. Another kayak was found by one of our patrol boats floating in the bay near the entrance to the Intracoastal Waterway. The owner has not been found. Since then, I have passed out almost 100 ID stickers shown here. I have a new supply coming. By placing contact information on your paddle craft you can save rescue agencies such as the Coast Guard a lot of time and the expense of searching for a vessel operator whenever a boat is found floating or beached if the boat simply floated away from the dock.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!


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