1. Life Jackets. You are required to have a U.S.Coast Guard approved life jacket for everyone onboard. Federal Law states that children under the age of 13 are required to have a PFD on whenever the boat leaves the dock (some exceptions). 750 people died in boating accidents in the United States last year, according to the USCG. 85% of those who drowned were NOT wearing a life jacket, even though, in most cases, PFDs were aboard at the time of the accident. It's not good enough to stow a PFD or just sit on it, you've got to wear it! There is rarely enough time to grab a life jacket, much less get it on before you are in the water. Accidents happen unexpectedly and quickly. With today's new, lightweight inflatable and other comfortable designer PFDs, there is no longer ANY excuse for not wearing a life jacket.
Life jackets float, you don't! Wear them!
2. Take a boating safety course. They're educational, fun and available at little or no cost. I know for a fact that the United States Power Squadrons teach everything from basic boating to costal piloting to celestial navigation.
3. Follow the Navigation Rules. You need to know all about beacons and buoys, "Red Right Returning", which boat is the "Stand-on vessel", which boat is the "Give-way vessel" and so on. It wouldn't be a good idea to drive a car and not know what any of the road signs mean. Likewise, it's not a good idea to drive a boat and not have a clue as to what the "signs" mean.
4. Get a Vessel Safety Check. A Vessel Safety Check is a non-enforcement, courtesy examination of your vessel to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and/or federal regulations. The examiners are specially trained members of the United States Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. In addition to the Vessel Safety Exam itself, the VSC examiner will also discuss other safety issues that will help make you a safer boater. Vessels that pass the VSC exam can display the distinctive VSC Decal on the port side of the windshield.
5. DON'T BOAT UNDER the INFLUENCE! Boating Under the Influence (BUI) or Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) are both just as dangerous and deadly as drinking and driving a car. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs everywhere on the North American continent and in most of the rest of the world. There are stringent penalties involved with BUI / BWI Laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and/or jail terms. Authorities are not kidding about enforcing this!
6. NEVER leave a small child unattended on a boat or on the docks of a marina. A life jacket on a child is a must, BUT IT IS NOT a babysitter! None of us would ever consider letting one of our children participate in any sport without the proper, protective, safety equipment. Nor would we intentionally let them go into harm's way. Thus, we need to take that same attitude about boating safety for our children and grandchildren.
Remember, Captain, you're in command. Make sure that you and your crew return to your dock the same number of times that you leave it!