Posted: April 1, 2013
Before the first launch of the season, ensure your boat is safe and you are prepared.
By: Mike Baron, U.S. Coast Guard Division of Boating Safety
Get a jump on the joy of spring boating by preparing yourself, your boat and your passengers for safety afloat. Take a look at these 14 tips.
Refresh your boating knowledge.  Late winter and early spring are great times to brush up on boating operations, safety and the rules of the road. The U.S. Guard provides information on many options for online and local training, at uscgboating.org/safety/boating_safety_courses.aspx.
Check that you have all the required safety equipment by reviewing the Coast Guard booklet “A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats.”  The guide can be found at marinas and marine retailers, and online at uscgboating.org/fedreqs/default.html.
Take a look at optional but potentially lifesaving equipment.  If you boat far from shore, consider an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon). EPIRBs provide a homing signal for rescue, along with exact GPS coordinates. In an emergency, an EPIRB can make the difference between a lengthy search and a speedy rescue.
Schedule a free Vessel Safety Check.  The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons offer free annual inspections of your boat’s safety-related equipment by qualified examiners. Learn more and find how to schedule a safety check at vesselsafetycheck.org.
Make sure life jackets still fit.  Children grow and adults and pets often gain or lose weight over the winter. Make wearing them mandatory for everyone, every time you’re afloat.
When doing preseason checks and maintenance on your boat, don’t forget to safety check your trailer , including the condition of the frame, the tires and spares, and the functionality of the tail- and backup lights.
On the first run, lift the engine hatch or outboard cowling to look for leaks from loose hoses or other causes.  Also, check all fuel line connections and the base of the carburetor for fuel leaks. These are two simple checks that can avoid dangerous conditions afloat.
Be alert to potential seasonal hazards.  Unpredictable weather, debris in the water from rapid melts, high river flows and unusual turbulence are all common in many areas.
Remember that warm air does not mean warm water.  Water is often frigid long after air temperatures become balmy. Dress in layers, bring additional clothing in case the temperature dips suddenly and do everything possible to make sure everyone remains safely in the boat. Wearing a life jacket is essential, as it helps maintain body heat, delays exhaustion and improves survival in cold water, should anyone go overboard.
Orient new passengers and crew to safety precautions and emergency procedures and equipment.  Teach them how to maneuver safely while aboard, where to find and how to use emergency equipment, how to communicate via VHF radio, how to identify the boat’s location with GPS and how to make a safe recovery if someone falls overboard.
Designate a First Mate.  At the least, ensure that one of your passengers knows the basics of how to steer, shut off the engines and other basic operations, in case you are incapacitated or go overboard.
If you boat at night, slow down.  Fewer visual cues, confusing lights ashore and other lighted vessels all make it harder to navigate safely. A speed appropriate for daytime operation is too fast at night.
Research your route and destination.  You can get information online for travel planning, navigating and tide management. Contact local boating authorities for information and advice about local hazards, dangerous waters and boating traffic — as well as great recreational opportunities.
Equip a first-aid kit appropriate to your boating plans.  The farther out you go, the more prepared you should be. Ensure that all passengers bring medication and instructions for any medical conditions they have.