Fishing from the shore usually isn’t all that dangerous, but as soon as you step foot in a boat you’re taking on some risk. Don’t get me wrong, with a few safety precautions boating is relatively safe, but there is some risk as you start moving faster and going out to deeper water.
Not all boats are going to have the same amount of risk. There’s nothing quite like floating around in a simple jon boat or kayak, but we would all love to get our hands on a high powered bass boat. Crossing a lake at 70 miles per hour is almost as fun as fishing it.
Once you get into saltwater boats you’re taking on a whole new challenge. For your own safety and the safety of your fellow fishermen you need to be smart about how you handle your new boat.
Boating Safety All Starts With Life Jackets
It doesn’t matter what state you’re in there’s probably a life jacket law. State and federal agencies all come up with their own rules, but they all boil down to one simple thing. Every person in your boat needs to have a life jacket that’s easily accessible.
Most of the time they don’t need to be on, but they should be within arms reach. Fishing on a gentle Lake you probably won’t need or want to wear your life jacket at all times, but you never know when the weather will change and you might actually need it.
Life Jackets Don’t Have to Be Uncomfortable
Wearing a life jacket could save your life some day. Most people that fall overboard only have a few hours to live, but with a life jacket you’ll likely last days. I’m not talking about those cheap old school orange and yellow life vests.
Modern PFD’s feel more like a fishing vest than a life jacket. Modern life jackets are cool in the summer, comfortable to wear and unobtrusive. You can actually wear them the entire time you’re boating without even realizing it’s on.
Check out this Self Inflating Life Jacket for instance. While it might be a bit pricey, isn’t your life worth it? It only inflates after it has contact with water. For the rest of the day you don’t even know you’re wearing it. This is the same vest I wear out fishing from my kayak.
The Captain Is Always In Charge
The person who owns and operates the boat is always the man in charge. That’s a lot of pressure, but you’re putting other peoples lives in your hands. You need to make sure your boat is seaworthy and all of your safety equipment is working.
This means follow all safety regulations and make sure all your guests are safe and under control. You have to remember that not everybody has experience out on the water.
I can remember the day I bought my first boat, a 1995 Bayliner Trophy, I took a few relatives out on the water. My aunt had a panic attack and laid down on the floor screaming.
Make Sure Everyone Knows Your Rules
Before heading out on the water you need to make sure everyone is on the same page. Everybody needs to know the rules of the boat and where to find safety equipment.
If there’s an accident or somebody breaks the law the captain is going to be the one responsible. Are your guests allowed to drink? What’s the daily bag limit and size limitations?
Everything Needs to Be Legal
Bigger boats are always going to have to follow more regulations. Rules are going to vary from one state to the next, so it’s on you to find out the law.
You’ll most likely need to have a proper license and make sure the proper stickers are placed on your haul. Also obey the maximum occupancy limit found somewhere on the boat.
Buy All The Right Safety Equipment
Again what you actually need will vary from state to state. Here are a few of the things that I need to carry in my boat.
- Life Jackets: Every person in the boat needs to have a life jacket that’s easily accessible. My immediate family all has their own life jackets that are comfortable to wear(these are what we use). The rest of my guests get cheap old school universal life jackets. Remember that if there are kids on board the law says you need children’s jackets.
- Throwable Float: Most states require some form of throwable float. I carry a couple of these boat cushions that work as a throwable flotation device. They’re cheap and I’m constantly using them as a cushion for my knees as do chores around the boat.
- Proper Lighting: It’s hard to say what lighting equipment is actually required by state law. In my state you only need lights if you’re out at night, but we need a bow/stern lights and spotlight. Honestly additional running lights and floor lights are probably a good idea.
- Fire Extinguisher: You never know when you’ll have a fire on board. Marine Fire Extinguishers are cheap and almost always required by law. I was actually fined a few years ago for not having a fire extinguisher in my little Jon Boat that doesn’t even have a trolling motor.
- Marine Radio: Whether or not you need a marine radio will mostly depend on your boat size. If your boat doesn’t already have one installed you might want to get a little handheld version(this one is extremely popular).
- Other Safety Equipment: You’ll have to check with your local state department to see what else you need. I also needed to carry a set of flares and a marine air horn separate from my boats standard horn.
Other Boating Safety Tips
Every captain should keep two things in mind when out in the water. Everybody needs to stay aboard the vessel and the boat needs to maintain it’s power.
Making Sure The Engine Works
Every boat should have multiple methods of moving in case the primary engine fails. Most of the time you’ll have an electric trolling motor, primary gas motor, and paddles. On larger boats this isn’t going to be possible so you need to make sure your engine is in good shape.
If you can’t get your engine started before hitting the water it’s time to get it serviced. You don’t want to get stuck out in the middle of the lake working on a faulty outboard motor.
Keeping Everybody Aboard
I shouldn’t have to tell you why everybody needs to stay on board. It should be obvious-going overboard can result in drowning, hypothermia or injury from another boat.
Even on warmer days treading water for hours can result in hypothermia in a couple hours as the water sucks heat from your body. Life jackets will allow you to conserve heat and stop you from drowning.
Don’t Drive Like a Moron
There’s a reason why showing off is often referred to as “Show Boating”. It’s hard not to show off when we first buy a fast boat. Who doesn’t like flying across the water, even 30mph feels like you’re flying.
As a captain it’s your responsibility to not be an idiot when you have other passengers on board. Avoid making sharp turns and make sure everybody is seated while driving. You get into danger when you start making turns at excessive speeds. That’s when people start flying overboard.
What if Somebody Goes Overboard?
The second you step foot on a boat there’s always a chance somebody goes overboard. Most of the time it’s caused by negligence from either the captain or passenger.
If someone does go overboard try to keep an eye on them and position yourself position yourself between them and other boats. Throw a flotation device and get as close as possible without endangering anybody. Most of the time you can pull them out with nothing worse than a bruised ego.
Know The Rules of The Water
In most states you don’t even need a license to operate a boat. You don’t even need to pass a test to operate a boat and this can be a scary thing on large bodies of water. So it’s important that you take the time to learn the rules of the water. Most states even offer a free online course that will teach you boating laws.
After you buy a boat you quickly learn that you’re surrounded by a bunch of idiots. Go out on any weekend and you’ll have a bunch of drunks that have never driven a boat in their life. People don’t realize just how much a boat drifts when coming in at high speeds. If something doesn’t look right trust your gut and move out of the way.
Judge Your Guests Before You Hit The Water
Every man is proud of their fishing boat and loves bringing along guests. Boats bring along a lot of responsibility so you need to choose your guests wisely. If somebody doesn’t behave on dry land he’s not going to behave out on the water.
If the trip isn’t going well know when to call it a day. If something doesn’t feel right and you feel unsafe it’s time to cut it off early. Make an excuse and head back to shore.