Making boating fun and safe with family and friends

Avoid on-water emergencies by following basic boating safety tips and completing a safe boating checklist before each trip.

Regardless of the type of water vessel you are operating, it is extremely important to be properly prepared and equipped for a variety of emergencies. The United States Coast Guard and several partner organizations offer a wealth of information online to assist would-be boaters in taking necessary steps to prevent outings from becoming tragic. While some suggestions will vary by type of water vessel, there are general safety guidelines that apply whether you venture out in a kayak, canoe, sailboat, jet ski, pontoon, motor boat or another form of water transportation. It is strongly recommended that all recreational boaters review boating safety rules before each trip.

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation offers a handy checklist of ten basic boating safety tips including: proper use of life jackets, checking local weather conditions, avoiding alcohol consumption and developing a float plan. Cold water survival is an issue for all boaters, but especially so for canoe and kayak users. Wearing a life jacket can mean the difference between life and death.

There are several types of life jackets one can purchase. Factors to consider in selecting the appropriate life jacket include age of the person and type of water vessel or water activity. Though regulations regarding life jacket use may vary from state to state, all require that there must be at least one correctly-sized U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, easily accessible and not in the original packaging, for each person on board.

For larger boats that will be a distance from shore for some time, you are advised to include a basic first aid kit, fire extinguisher, marine VHS radio and cell phone, signaling devices, tow ropes and an anchor. Even on the smallest of vessels, bringing a cell phone in a waterproof bag can be a life saver.

Also helpful is taking a boating course, learning to swim and obtaining a free vessel safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard. Every state has their own regulations regarding life jacket use, boat operation and often offer boater safety courses. Be sure to check with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to learn Michigan’s boating rules.

Each year in May, as the boating season gets underway, the National Safe Boating Council sponsors a week-long campaign, Wear It!, that encourage safe and responsible boating while stressing the importance of wearing life jackets. They offer an interactive website for young children to learn about boating safety, fishing, and other water-related topics.

For adults who wish to learn more about water-related issues, Michigan State University Extension is another excellent resource. They provide information about water quality; lakes, streams, and watersheds; and address issues impacting the Great Lakes via their Sea Grant program.

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