Water safety: Tips for boating and other water sports

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Water safety: Tips for boating and other water sports

Water safety is an essential part of any water sport. Remember the basics.

Are you looking forward to trading the daily grind for some time on the water? Taking out the boat, dusting off your water skis or trying a new water sport may be the ideal way to relax and enjoy the water this summer. Just remember to include water safety in your plans.


Before you head out, brush up on basic safe-boating rules.

  • Learn to swim. The American Red Cross offers swimming courses for everyone. If you're not comfortable taking a class, arrange for private instruction.
  • Take a boating-safety course. Check with the American Red Cross or the U.S. Coast Guard. Topics typically include what to do in an emergency, navigation basics, and the effects of wind, water conditions and weather.
  • Wear a life jacket. Stock the boat with enough Coast Guard-approved life jackets for everyone on board. More than 80 percent of people who drown in boating accidents aren't wearing life jackets.
  • Protect your passengers from carbon monoxide. Boat engines emit carbon monoxide, an odorless — but deadly — gas. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, keep passengers away from the engine, both in the boat and in the water. If your boat has a gas engine to generate electricity — to run an air conditioner in a cabin, for example — make sure there's proper ventilation, and install carbon monoxide detectors in sleeping and living quarters.
  • Share your plans. Make sure someone on land knows where you plan to go and when you plan to return.
  • Avoid alcohol. Water sports and alcohol don't mix. Alcohol impairs judgment, balance and coordination — all essential for safe boating.
  • Watch the weather. Head back to shore if the skies look threatening.

Water skiing

Stay safe when riding the wake.

  • Wear a life jacket. Bright colors are most visible.
  • Seek out low-traffic areas. Avoid heavily traveled boating lanes and areas reserved for fishing.
  • Stay visible. Don't ski after dark.
  • Don't go it alone. The driver needs to focus on what's ahead. Make sure there's someone else in the boat to watch you ski.
  • Understand the driver. Clarify the hand signals the driver will use for slowing down, speeding up and turning around.
  • Beware of moving propellers. Don't approach a boat with a running motor.
  • Prevent hypothermia. Wear a wet suit in cold water to prevent hypothermia, a condition in which your body temperature drops too low.

Personal watercraft

Whether you have your own personal watercraft or you're renting one for the day, the same safety guidelines apply.

  • Know what you're doing. Take lessons before you head out for the first time, or review the owner's manual periodically.
  • Wear a life jacket. Life jackets are just as important on personal watercraft as they are on boats and water skis. You may want to wear goggles to protect your eyes as well.
  • Be courteous on the water. Follow the traffic pattern. Obey no-wake zones. Be careful around swimmers, and keep an eye on other boats. Don't jump wakes or pass close to other boats.
  • Don't ride alone. Stick with a group of two or three, in case anyone has trouble.
  • Avoid alcohol. Don't drink alcohol while you're using a personal watercraft.

Getting adventurous

Want to try windsurfing, parasailing or another water sport? Safety still rules.

  • Choose activities you're confident you can handle.
  • Rent equipment from a reputable dealer.
  • Examine the equipment for signs of wear and tear.
  • Take lessons from an experienced instructor.
  • Follow local rules and regulations.

Water-related tragedies can happen in the blink of an eye. Playing it safe will help you return safely to shore.

Last Updated: 05/01/2006
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