8 Essential Boat Safety Tips

Preparing For Fun On The Water With Boat Safety Tips

Ontario's lakes and rivers are amazing. From the Great Lakes to the Grand River, there is an abundance of beautiful and varied waterways to explore and enjoy. There are more than 400,000 lakes, rivers and waterways in Ontario. With so much to explore, you can always find a new and exciting trip. However, while days spent boating under blue skies and sunshine are among the absolute best for summer fun, boat safety is a vital consideration.

Following boat safety practices means being prepared in case of a mishap or unexpected problem. In this article, we'll go through practices required by law and provide boat safety tips and details on additional measures to protect you and your passengers on the water.

Tip #1: Make Sure You Are Maintaining Your Boat 

When many people think of boat safety, they think of external factors such as weather, debris, obstacles, rough water, and other boats. Although each of these are potential dangers that will be addressed in this blog, it is absolutely vital that you also consider an important internal factor: the boat itself. You don’t want to be floating around on a damaged hull, or have your engine die on you when you’re a mile from shore, since that’s a terrible place to be stuck. You can’t get out and walk to a place that can help you, it's a bad idea to get out and push, and good luck getting a tow truck to come get you. The best way to fix these problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place, so make sure you understand and follow proper boat maintenance procedures. Some tips on maintaining your craft include doing an inspection at the beginning of boating season, as well as keeping up with routine maintenance tasks all year round.

Tip #2: Boat Insurance is Important Protection To Have

Boats are expensive, and the right insurance can provide financial protection in case of an accident or other mishap that damages your watercraft. It's also essential to have liability coverage in case of a mishap. Boat Insurance coverage can include collision damage, property damage (including damage done to another boat, dock or other structures), personal injury, and comprehensive and additional coverage plans. The friendly team of brokers here at Morison Insurance is qualified to be able to help you navigate tricky waters of Boat Insurance. In addition, they can also insure your Sea-Doo or Jet Ski, in addition to many other recreational vehicles.

Tip #3: Always Wear A Lifejacket, and Make Sure it Fits

Wearing a life jacket is your best protection against drowning. Boat operators are legally required to have one life jacket or other personal flotation device (PFD) for each person on board any watercraft. This includes boats that are human-powered, such as a sailboat, stand-up paddleboard or canoe. Life jackets or PFDs must be of the correct size for each person on board the watercraft. Always make sure that everybody who will go in the boat has a PFD that fits them before heading out to the water.

It’s important to note that not just any PFD will do. This device could literally save someone’s life, so it’s important that you only get the best quality of life jacket available, especially for children or those who are weak swimmers. Look for PFDs that are approved by any of the following government organizations: 

  • Transport Canada, 
  • Canadian Coast Guard, 
  • Fisheries and 
  • Oceans Canada.

Regardless of age, a life jacket should be snug but still allow for body movements, allowing for one to comfortably swim if a person ends up in the water. Chest measurement is an essential factor in sizing. To determine a proper fit, put on the life jacket and zip it up. Ensure the waist strap is snug, including on the side or torso straps. Snuggly secure the shoulder straps. You should also raise your arms over your head, and have another person grab the upper areas of the arm openings and pull upward to assess movement. If the life jacket rises over your mouth and ear area, adjust the jacket and try this movement again. Select a different jacket if needed. 

Tip #4: Know Your Boat, Its Capabilities, and Its Needs

Boats come in many sizes, weights, capacity allowances and power levels. A small kayak has different needs and capabilities than a powerful motor boat. Know your craft, what it can safely do, and what it can’t. If you have a boat that’s new to you, it's best to only use it in familiar waters for the first little while as you get a better feel for its strengths and weaknesses. It’s also important to note that each boat has different equipment needs, as detailed below.

Tip #5: Pack the Right Boat Safety and Emergency Equipment

As exciting as it is to take your boat out for a spin right away, there’s a lot of stuff that you need to take with you. However, since every boat is different, there are different requirements based on the size and power of each boat. However, many of the same rules apply.

Mandatory Boat Safety Equipment

The government of Canada has outlined some mandatory boat safety equipment. The following is a list of items that are required for most vessels.

  • A life jacket or personal floatation device of the appropriate size for each person on board
  • A floating rope, also known as a heaving line
  • A ladder or similar re-boarding device
  • Navigation lights
  • A compass
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Flares
  • A waterproof flashlight
  • A whistle, or other signaling device
  • A bailer, hand pump or barrel
  • A paddle or other propelling device
  • An ax
  • An anchor with rope

Please note that the number of many of these boat safety devices, as well as the sizes of these objects increases with the size of the vessel. Always ensure that you know what is required for the type of vessel that you operate. Laws like these may change over time, so it's very important that you keep up to date with boating laws in your local area, as items may be added, or have their size or quantity requirements change.

Other Recommendations

While it is mandatory to ensure you’re following the law, the items above don’t cover you in every situation that could come up. Below is a brief list of other items that could prove useful to anyone on a boat.

  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and other sun-protection items as required.
  • Snacks and drinking water.
  • A change of clothing or warmer clothing in case the weather changes.
  • A first-aid kit.
  • Spare parts and tools, such as spark plugs.
  • A cell phone to alert others if you need help.
  • A map or other navigation system, or the means to access an electronic one, such as Google Maps.
  • Extra fuel in case you run out.
  • Nautical charts of the areas you are boating in, or the electronic means to access them.

Ensure all of your boat safety equipment is in good working order and stowed on board before you head out on the water. Be prepared. Having the required boat safety equipment permanently stored in your watercraft is the easiest way to ensure you don’t lose anything.

Tip #6: Plan Your Trip With Boat Safety in Mind

So you’ve made sure that your craft is properly maintained, and have a full understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. You’ve packed life jackets and all other boat safety equipment needed. You’re ready now, right? Well, almost. There’s a few things that your land-loving self might take for granted, given that solid ground is much more forgiving than the open sea. Here’s a few reminders of things that could catch you off guard.

Keep Weather in Mind

Weather can change quickly, and calm conditions can turn into a storm in a very short time. While on land this is more of an inconvenience, on the water you might not be so lucky. Wind and rain might annoy someone driving in their car, they can be a life threatening presence to someone on a boat. 

You should check the weather forecast before embarking on a trip. Thunderstorms, high waves and other weather-related boat safety problems can swiftly make ideal weather conditions dangerous. While boating, always keep your eye on the weather. If conditions turn dark, cloudy and stormy looking, visibility and other problems can be restricted. Head for shore. Marine forecasts will provide details on wind speed, wind direction, visibility and weather. The Government of Canada offers marine forecasts. The Weather to Boat app, supported by the Canadian Safe Boating Council and Public Safety Canada, can also be helpful.

Plan and Share Your Route

The middle of a body of water is generally not a great place to get lost. Not everyone can come and get you, and when someone does head out, there’s not nearly as many landmarks that can help someone navigate to reach you. However, if a friend who can help you knows your route, they have a huge head start in coming to rescue you. 

If you want someone to come get you if things go wrong, it's best that you plan your route when heading out. Share your trip details with others, including your expected arrival or return time in case you’re unable to contact anyone.

Never use Drugs or Alcohol While Boating

A radio station in Ontario's cottage country repeats this message through the summer: Water on the water, beer on the pier. It's good advice. Just like you would never drive a car under the influence of alcohol or other substances, you should never drink or use drugs while boating. Alcohol and drugs can impair judgment and compromise boat safety. Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. The law applies to motorized boats and non-motorized watercraft, such as sailboats or canoes. Operating a boat while intoxicated is an offence under the Criminal Code.

Keep in Mind the Dangers of Cold Water

While many of us boat during warmer months, some people are out when the water is cold. Boating in cold water is not recommended, but if you choose to do so, it is absolutely vital that you are properly prepared. 

Hypothermia and the shock of cold water are the two largest threats to anyone who falls into cold water. The first steps of stopping these involve ensuring that your boat has all proper protections to stop people from falling off, including rails and walls properly set up.You should also ensure that everyone on board is wearing enough layers, as many layers is better than one super thick one. Note that wool retains heat even when wet, and is therefore recommended. 

If someone does fall into cold water, it is vital that you immediately stop the boat to rescue them with any rescue device you may have. Make sure that you go to the person, as expending energy to move to you will cause them to lose body heat faster. Once rescued, it is important to get them into some spare, warm clothing to speed up their recovery.

Tip #7: Follow Boat Etiquette

Similar to how you would always follow the unwritten rules of the road while driving, you should always follow the unwritten rules of the water to maximize boat safety. You can decrease your chances of a collision by giving other boaters as much room as possible, slowing down when overtaking another boat, and watching your wake when doing so. Other boat safety tips include being mindful of private property, anchoring and docking only in designated areas, and doing so carefully. You should also refrain from littering and from boating in areas designated for swimming. 

Tip #8: Have fun!

While the above might be intimidating for some people, it is important to note that when you’re out on the water, boating can be extremely fun. It often provides you with a unique vantage point of the world around you, and allows you to see most of the most beautiful scenery in all of Ontario. As long as you keep the above points in mind, you should be able to have a blast while out on the water.

This content is written by our Morison Insurance team. All information posted is merely for educational and informational purposes. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Should you decide to act upon any information in this article, you do so at your own risk. While the information on this website has been verified to the best of our abilities, we cannot guarantee that there are no mistakes or errors.

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