Blame it on the open water, the rippling breeze, or Captain Jack Sparrow, but it’s nearly impossible to deny that a certain air of romance and grandeur accompanies boating.
There is no better reprieve from the stressful hustle of daily life than spending time out on the water. While yachting can be a wonderful way to escape the world, it’s important not to become overly seduced by that notion: we share the water with other boaters just as much as we share the road with other drivers.
Failing to follow the rules of the water can result in a serious accident, which means you need to understand what they are and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Reading Navigation Rules is the best resource to use when it comes to learning about boating regulations.
Ignorance is no excuse for an accident; you should always know what to do in order to keep yourself and others safe when you’re at the helm. However, you should remember that truly practicing good boat safety begins before you even get on the water.
Staying Safe on the Water
Before you even take your boat out of the slip, you should check the weather and make sure you that there are as many lifejackets on board as there are passengers. If the weather looks dicey or if there are not enough lifejackets, the outing should be rescheduled. Choppy seas and poor visibility are not only dangerous, but they’re also just plain not fun. And, of course, it’s illegal to take your boat out on the water if there are not enough lifejackets on board.
With these two basic elements of boat safety taken care of, let’s turn our attention to one of, if not the, most important boating rules: right-of-way. When we’re driving, the lanes of the road clearly demarcate where each car needs to be. Because there are no roads on the water, determining who has right of way and where each vessel needs to be is a bit more complicated. When two vessels approach other, one is the stand-on vessel, which means it has the right of way, and the other is the give way vessel, which means it must let the other boat pass first. Sailboats that are not being powered by a motor are always the stand-on vessel. In all other cases, which vessel has right-of-way depends on the situation.
If you’re in a narrow channel of some sort and are wish to pass a boat ahead of you, you are the give way vessel and must either ask permission (via horn blasts) or wait until you’re out of the channel. If you and another boat are on course to cross paths if neither of you changed direction, the stand on vessel is the boat to the right: this boat has the right-of-way and the other boat must let it pass in front of it. If you’re approaching a vessel head on, you should each steer to the right until you have enough room to safely pass port-side.
In order to avoid a collision with another boat, it is necessary to have a firm grasp of how right-of-way works. Always remember that even if your vessel is the stand-on vessel but the other boat does not appear to be altering its course, you should yield the right-of-way. It’s more important to be safe than right!
In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that boat safety is something that needs to be practiced even when your boat is not actively moving. For example, one of the most common reasons smaller boats capsize is because they were improperly anchored: you should never anchor to the stern. Boats are meant to go over waves bow first, so when you anchor to the stern, it only takes the unlucky collaboration a few small factors to result in a situation where your boat might take a wave stern first and capsize.
Finally, one of the best ways you can ensure the safety of yourself, others, and your boat is to never drink while boating. Enjoying a few beers while out on the water may seem like the most harmless thing in the world but the truth of the matter is that drinking while boating is just as bad as drinking while driving. When you drink, you’re engaging in an activity that will reduce your awareness, reaction time, and impair your judgment. This could prove to be a deadly combination.
In many ways, the reality of boating is just as wonderful as the one we imagine. However, keep in mind that a boat is still a vehicle and therefore needs to be operated with precision and care. Ultimately, practicing good boat safety must be a key element to any day spent out on the open seas (or lake) with your family or friends!
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