Little girl receiving a helping hand from her grandmother to get her lifejacket on.
Little girl receiving a helping hand from her grandmother to get her lifejacket on.

Boating safety tips for the basic boater

July 29, 2022

Whether sailing on the open ocean or boating on the lake, boater and passenger safety should always be a priority. There to support local and national communities through education and healing, Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America’s (BRCA) nationwide healthcare teams are trained in caring for complex wounds, traumatic hand injuries, burn injuries, carbon monoxide poisoning and diving complications associated with fishing, boating, swimming, diving and much more.

Dangerous behaviors with the highest risks

According to the American Boating Association, there are five primary contributors to accidents and fatalities while on the water: operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed and machinery failure. Whether a seasoned boater or an amateur sailor, please keep the following in mind when operating both motorized (pontoon, motorboat, etc.) and non-motorized (kayak, canoe, etc.) vessels.

Operator inattention: With other boats operating around you, passengers on board, swimmers in the water and possible shallow hazards, you should remain alert and uninhibited while boating to help avoid serious accidents and injury. Never assume other boats will yield to you. Always be a defensive boater and take action to keep everyone on the water safe.

Operator inexperience: Operator inexperience doesn’t always have to do with age. Sometimes buying a new boat you are unfamiliar with or not taking a boating education course can contribute to problems onboard. It is essential for teens and young adults to take boating courses to get their boating license and to learn proper boating safety. While this is recommended for younger adults, an online boating education course can also benefit first-time boaters of all ages. If renting a boat during a holiday or while on vacation, be sure you understand local boating laws and that you are familiar with operating the vessel safely.

Improper lookout: Lookouts are considered the person responsible for watching the tuber or skier behind the boat. This person is responsible for reporting falls to the boat operator and watching other boats that may be nearby. If there is no lookout, the tuber or skier is at risk of falling off without discovery, leaving them at risk of injury by other boats nearby. Law enforcement can pull you over for tubing or skiing without a lookout.

Excessive speed: Operating a boat on the water is not like operating a car on land. Stopping is much slower and less complete. Even if you shut off the engine, the boat is likely to keep moving with the wake or tide. Reaching excessive speeds around other boaters puts everyone at risk and may lead to a collision, accident or severe injury.

Machinery failure: Batteries, ventilation systems and navigation lights are some of the vessel’s most important types of machinery. An improperly covered or connected battery is a fire and shock hazard. While operating a boat at early morning or evening hours, broken navigation lights leave the boat at risk of collision or running ashore. Finally, all vessels should have some form of ventilation. Proper motor ventilation allows the gas fumes to disperse, reducing the risk of combustion, fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. For a free courtesy vessel check by the nearest U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons, please visit their website.

Of all boating accidents where the cause of death was known, 75% drowned, and of those victims, the American Boating Association reports that 86% were not wearing life jackets. All passengers of boating vessels should be wearing life jackets, especially children and minors.

Boating safety tips

Sound judgment and situational awareness promote a safe environment when spending a day on the water. Please consider the following boating safety tips provided by the experts at BRCA to help keep you and your passengers safe all year round.


  • Take a boating safety education course before operating a boat.
  • Have your boat inspected for free by your local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary before setting sail.
  • Always keep a fire extinguisher on board and check it annually to ensure it hasn’t expired or leaked. And make sure everyone knows where it is.
  • Always keep enough life jackets on the boat for everyone on board.
  • Keep a flare and first aid kit on board in case of emergencies.
  • Keep the boat well-maintained after each season to avoid holes in the boat and a motor malfunction that may result in carbon monoxide poisoning to those on board.
  • Check the weather before going out and keep an eye out for signs of approaching inclement weather (storm clouds, thunder, increasing wind). Give yourself enough time to drive back slowly and safely.
  • Ensure all life jackets fit correctly for each person’s height and weight.


  • Never boat or swim while under the influence of alcohol or heavy medication.
  • Never “prank” people by pushing them into the water. These “pranks” can and have led to several drownings and deaths.
  • Never water ski, tube, wakeboard or kneeboard without a “lookout” or passenger other than the driver to watch them. Failure to have a “lookout” may result in a citation or severe injury.
  • Avoid excessive speeds. Excessive speeds may lead to a collision with another boat, a swimmer or shallow objects hidden in the water.
  • Keep a distance when picking up fallen tubers or skiers. Instead of trying to navigate the boat to the person, cut off the engine and throw a tow rope to help pull them safely back to the boat.
  • Do not attempt to swim out to buoys, islands or other seemingly “short” distances. The distance to these destinations may seem short but, in reality, are much further away.
  • Never participate in water skiing, tubing, etc., at night.
  • Never drive in other boats’ wake. Jet ski operators tend to do this, which is extremely dangerous for both boating parties.

Operate all boats per state and federal laws and regulations

Depending on where you are boating, law enforcement may pull you over to do a routine boat inspection. During these inspections, they may ask you for your driver’s/boating license, boat registration, where your fire extinguisher is located and how many life jackets you have onboard. It is important to prepare for these stops by keeping up with local boating/fishing laws and regulations.

Be aware that you can be pulled over by authorities and given a citation for:

  • Not having a fire extinguisher on board
  • Not having enough life jackets for the number of people on board
  • Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication
  • Operating a boat in early morning or evening hours with broken navigation lights
  • An outdated boat registration or unregistered boat
  • An outdated fishing license or no fishing license
  • Not having a driver’s/boating license
  • Performing hazardous activities while boating, fishing, water skiing, kneeboarding, etc.
  • And more, depending on your local authorities.

Further Information

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) is a treatment provided at centers across BRCA’s nationwide care system that helps improve carbon monoxide poisoning and wound healing while decreasing the presence of bacteria and infection. HBO Therapy provides patients with 100% oxygen at pressures greater than average atmospheric (sea level) pressure. Other services across our system include comprehensive burn, wound, hand and reconstructive care.

For more information about HBO Therapy, please visit our website at or click here. To speak with a provider or to make an appointment, call our experts 24/7 at (855) 863-9595 for all your non-emergent needs. For emergencies, please call 911.