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8 Summer Boating Tips for Fun, Sun and Safety on Deck

It’s summertime! And there’s nothing like downing ice-cold drinks off the boat’s bow while chilling with friends and family.

I love to get out on the water. There’s just something about being out in nature, be it a lake, river or ocean. Being on the water cures most ailments in life.

And when temperatures heat up, many families also take to the water for some good old-fashioned summer fun. However, sometimes boating safety and preparedness takes the backseat, which can fastly ruin an outing if you’re unprepared. To make your summer boating season incident-free and full of family fun, here are eight boating tips every boater should know.

1. Don’t Drink and Boat!

This should go without saying. But… people act more casual about drinking while behind the wheel of a boat. Drinking and boating can be just as dangerous—if not more so—than drinking and driving. In fact, it’s responsible for about one-third of all recreational boating fatalities.

What’s the Legal Limit?

In most states, the legal limit for operating a boat is .08-percent blood alcohol level, the same as the limit for driving under the influence (DUI). The Coast Guard also enforces federal laws regarding BUI for all boats from canoes to speedboats, sailboats and large ships. If you’re just feeling a bit “buzzed” you may be considered legally drunk.

Alcohol Is More Dangerous on the Water

The physical effects of drinking and boating could deteriorate your cognitive abilities and judgement, throw you off balance, and inner ear trouble could make it more difficult for someone who falls into the water to distinguish up from down. (If this happens, remember that air bubbles always travel up to the surface.)

2. Don’t Be Dinghy—Wear a Life Jacket!

Drownings are by far the highest cause of death related to boating accidents. and over 90% of drownings occur when victims aren’t wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). It’s not just enough to wear it though, you need to assure it fits securely and is buckled tight.

How to Choosing the Right Fit

Make sure there is a PFD for each passenger, including infants and fur-babies. Make sure it fits right by wearing the proper size: Try it on, buckle straps, zip up zippers. If the jacket rides up above the ears, it’s too big. If it doesn’t zip closed, the jacket’s too small. For additional instruction on life jacket fittings, check out this video below from the This California Department of Boating and Waterways:

Where to Purchase

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You can purchase life jackets at most sporting goods stores, Army-Navy surplus stores and online. This Eyson Slim Inflatable PFD Life Vest (Available on Amazon) is great if you’re frequently on the water. It’s slim and inflates both manually and automatically upon water impact. It’s also reusable, allowing Co2 cartridge refills (Available on Amazon) refills. My nieces wear the children’s version of this vest and absolutely love it!

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Fur-babies need a vest too! Yes, some dogs take to water like frogs eat flies, but if they fall overboard and become tired, or hit their head on the way, a PFD for your pup is important. You can find sporty life vests for Fido and some complete with a shark fin (Available on Amazon) for fun!

Know the Law

Children under 13 years on moving boats are required to wear a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Laws may vary from state-to-state. You can find the state requirements for your state online at Boat U.S. Foundation.

3. Weather: Fun With Flags

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No, I’m not Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory”, but I do love a good pennant weather warning. I mean, who doesn’t? Flag warnings are important and fun!

Maritime warning flag systems will hoist flags to provide boaters a visual indicator to current weather conditions. Here are a few to know:

One red flag denotes a small craft advisory and two red flags indicate a gale warning.

One red flag with a black square in the middle indicates a general storm warning. The use of two black-squared red flags denotes a hurricane force wind warning or a hurricane warning or tropical storm, depending on where you are located. Some lakes are big enough to create their own weather so this isn’t just for ocean goers.

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The National Weather Service generally issues a storm warning for higher winds and wind gusts of 48 knots (89 km/h; 55 mph) to 63 knots (117 km/h; 72 mph) at sea and on many lakes in the United States. Available are several boating apps for staying ahead of the weather while out on the water. I recommend NOAA HD Radar (Available on iTunes and GooglePlay) that runs for $2.99. If you’re looking for free apps, download USA Tides (iTunes and GooglePlay) and Skipper (iTunes).

4. Man Overboard

When you lose your balance or suddenly slip and fall overboard, it’s scary, to say the least. When my friends and I sail, we often practice our man overboard drills so we’re ready in case we need to rescue someone. And please don’t say it won’t happen. Because it can.

It wasn’t me, but my fur-baby, a 15-week-old Border Collie puppy. Only his second boat ride and on the bow having the time of his life, a rogue wave came suddenly out of nowhere and the next I knew—he was in the water.

Fortunately, practice makes perfect and we performed a well-rehearsed man overboard recovery (or in this case, canine). So you can practice too, here are the basic man overboard rescue steps:

  • Shout – Yell “Man overboard!
  • Spot – Locate the person in the water and keep an eye on them at all times. With waves and the boat’s movement, it’s easy to lose track of your victim.
  • Throw – Toss a flotation device into the water for the victim to latch on.
  • Turn Around – Turn back toward the victim to pick them up. Two types of turns are used to quickly return to a point of origin—the elliptical (an oval racetrack-shaped turn) and the Williamson, which may be quicker.
  • Pull or Climb – Returned to the victim’s side, toss a lifeline and tow them in. Or you can pull the victim by the life vest into the boat. If they’re strong enough, they may be able to climb aboard via the swim ladder (Available on Amazon).

5. Feeling Hot! Hot! Hot!

Hydrate

There’s nothing more important than staying hydrated when out on the water. When you’re boating, try and drink 5-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes. Also avoid drinking caffeinated drinks and sodas, which will contribute to the dehydration process.

Sunscreen

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Ahhhh… the coconutty smell of the beach brings back memories. Did you know there are 243 beach and sports sunscreens the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) approve and even less that don’t meet their criteria? With numerous to choose from, it’s hard to know what’s best. My personal favorites are Alba Botanica Hawaiian Sunscreen SPF 30 (Available on Amazon) and Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen SPF 50 (Available on Amazon)—both safe for all ages, even your fur-babies.

According to EWG, sunscreen should be a last resort. Aim to wear proper attire instead.

Wear Proper Clothes

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Rashguards (Available on Amazon), hats, shorts and pants shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays, reducing burn risk by up to 27%.

Sunglasses are essential (and not just a fashion accessory). These rose-colored Maui Jim Sunglasses (Available on Amazon) are my favorite and protect my eyes from UV radiation. Besides, my mama taught me rose-colored glasses make everything sunny!

6. Blazing Your Wake

With thousands of people taking to the water, there are certain customs and traditions to help boaters navigate the rules of the road. It’s the same method you’d follow with a car, except you’re on the water (and without breaks).

  • Take ownership of your wake
  • Slow down if another boat’s trying to overtake yours
  • Respect your neighbors
  • Lend a helping hand
  • Clean up after yourself

7. Keep It Tidy

There’s nothing worse than pulling up to the beach only to find garbage left behind. Don’t be that person. Remember Woodsy Owl? I loved Woodsy Owl when I was a kid and his message still rings true: Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute!

Let your outdoor manners show. Clean up after others if you must. If you see garbage somewhere, pick it up and take it to the nearest garbage can. You’ll feel good you did.

8. Don’t Forget the Fun!

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With kids on a boat—or adults for that matter—there are numerous options for games and having fun!

Purchase a tube to pull behind your boat or a pontoon slide for your pontoon. The little ones will love this unicorn floatie (Check Price on Amazon). Make sure to have a few squirt guns and buckets on hand for a good ol’ water fight.

Play that funky music and bust out a dance (preferably not the Macarena). Appoint a DJ for the day and let the kids take turns. Everyone loves to oversee the tunes. If you get some time on the beach, play a musical game and get everyone into the groove.

When you’re hungry, make the most of your day and have pizza delivered to your dock!

With these summer boating tips, I hope you’re able to enjoy each bright sunny day you’re given! But whatever you do this summer, make certain to be safe!


Nicole Anderson is a communication professional and freelance writer. She learned to sail on the Great Salt Lake and enjoys being out on the water as much as possible, as well as camping, hiking, and traveling the world. Anderson resides in the Salt Lake valley with her husband, Mike, and her border collie, Luke.