Boating Safety on Waterways – Tips and Advice

Volunteers collecting bagged garbage from lake

Travel responsibly on designated waterways

  • Travel only in areas open to your type of boat.
  • Carry a Coast Guard-approved life vest (PFD) for each person on board.
  • Always operate your boat at a safe speed.
  • Always have a designated lookout to keep an eye out for other boaters, objects, and swimmers.
  • Never jump a wake. If crossing a wake, cross at low speeds and keep a close lookout for skiers and towables.
  • Comply with all signs and respect barriers. This includes speed limits, no-wake zones, underwater obstructions, etc.
  • Make every effort always to go boating with a partner.
  • Ensure your trailer is in proper working order and that your lights work and your boat is secure on the trailer before traveling to your destination.
  • When trailering your boat, balance your load, including items stowed inside your boat.
  • Don’t mix boating with alcohol or drugs.

Respect The Rights Of Others

  • Respect the rights of others, including anglers, swimmers, skiers, boaters, divers, and others, so they can enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed.
  • Show consideration to all recreationists on and around the waters.
  • Be courteous to other boaters while in boat ramp areas. Launch and retrieve your boat as quickly as possible.
  • Keep the noise down, especially around the shore.
  • If crossing private property, be sure to ask permission from the landowner(s).

Avoid Sensitive Areas

  • Avoid sensitive areas and operate your watercraft in shallow waters or near shorelines at high speeds.
  • Always launch at a designated boat ramp. Backing a vehicle on a riverbank or lakeshore can damage the area and lead to erosion.
  • Always travel slowly in shallow waters and avoid boating in water less than 2½ feet deep. High speeds near shorelines lead to large wakes, which cause shoreline erosion.
  • Sensitive areas to avoid include seasonal nesting or breeding areas.
  • Do not disturb historical, archeological, or paleontological sites.
  • Avoid “spooking” wildlife you encounter and keep your distance.
  • Motorized and mechanized vehicles are not allowed in designated Wilderness Areas.

Educate Yourself

  • Educate yourself before a trip by learning rules and regulations, planning for your trip, taking recreation skills classes, and knowing how to operate your equipment safely.
  • Obtain charts of your destination and determine which areas are open to your type of boat.
  • Make a realistic plan and stick to it.
  • Always tell someone of your travel plans and file a float plan.
  • Contact the land manager for area restrictions, closures, and permit requirements.
  • Comply with all signs and respect barriers. This includes speed limits, no-wake zones, underwater obstructions, etc.
  • Check the weather forecast for your destination—plan clothing, equipment, and supplies accordingly.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel and oil for the entire trip.
  • Make sure your owner’s manual and registration are on board in waterproof containers.
  • Always carry a Coast Guard-approved working fire extinguisher and warning flares.
  • Prepare for the unexpected by packing necessary emergency items.
  • Carry a Global Positioning System (GPS)and know how to use it.
  • Know distress signals and warning symbols. Know your limitations. Apply sunscreen, drink lots of water and watch your energy level.
  • Take a boater education course to learn more about navigating waterways and safe and enjoyable boating.
  • Make sure your boat is mechanically up to the task. Be prepared with tools, supplies, and a spill kit.

Do Your Part

  • Do your part by modeling appropriate behavior, leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of fuel, oil, and waste, avoiding the spread of invasive species, and restoring degraded areas.
  • Pack out what you pack in.
  • Carry a trash bag and pick up litter left by others.
  • When fueling your boat, take every precaution not to spill fuel into the water.
  • Do not disturb historical, archeological, or paleontological sites.
  • Be prepared. Carry a spill kit that includes absorbent pads, socks, and booms.
  • Use a fuel collar or bib when fueling to catch drips and overflow and prevent backsplash.
  • Observe proper sanitary waste disposal or pack your waste out.
  • Before and after a trip, wash your gear, watercraft, and support vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species. Remove all plant material from watercraft, motor, trailer, and other equipment and dispose on dry land in a garbage container. Drain live wells, bilge water, and transom wells at the boat launch before leaving.
Volunteers unloading tires from boat