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By Ed Huntsman
Eighth Coast Guard District 

Recreational Boating Safety

If you own a boat, know anyone who does, or ride in a boat you need this boating safety resource.

Series: Boating Safety | Story 14

This page is intended to serve as a general resource for recreational Federal Requirements boating safety information. Should an issue or topic not be addressed here, feel free to contact Ed Huntsman, the District Recreational Federal Requirements Federal Requirements Boating Safety (RBS) Program Manager, via email at Edward.L.Huntsman or by telephone at 504-671-2148.

Here are a few “hot” links that will provide you the information necessary to comply with the law. There is also additional information that will provide you a method for completing a float plan to leave with a loved one or someone else that you can trust to make sure you get home as scheduled with the info necessary for you to be found if overdue.

Federal Requirements

Free Vessel Safety Checks

Coast Guard Boating Safety

PDF fillable Float Plan

File a Float Plan

Why should you take the time to prepare a float plan? The answer is simple... there are just too many facts that need to be accurately remembered and ultimately conveyed in an emergency situation. Without a float plan you are counting on someone else, a friend, neighbor, or family member to remember detailed information that rescue personnel need in order to find you - information that can make a difference in the outcome.

Don't think for a minute that a float plan is only for those with big expensive boats. A Float Plan is equally effective for the owner of a 10 foot kayak or flat-bottom skiff as it is for a 48-foot express cruiser, or a 90 foot sport-fishing vessel or luxury yacht. What kind of boaters prepare float plans?

• Kayakers and Stand Up Paddlers

• Sport fisherman

• Hunters

• Jet Skiers

• Water skiers

• Family day cruisers

• Private charter boat services

• Canoeists

• Rowers

• Rafters

• Sail boaters

• Power boaters

Typically, the Skipper of the vessel is the individual who prepares the Float Plan. However, any member of the crew can be assigned the preparation and filing duty.


I’d also encourage you to make sure you have a good quality VHF marine band radio, and consider investing in a quality EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).

Contact the Eighth Coast Guard District RBS Specialist, your local Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadron or state wildlife or Natural Resources Agency for additional information or boating safety class information.

The Four Principles of Boating Safety

Want to keep a good day good? Generally speaking, by following the Four Principals of Boating Safety, most recreational boaters will significantly reduce any likelihood that they will encounter anything other than an enjoyable boating experience.

The four principals are:

1) Wearing life jackets saves lives - Wear yours!

Most, if not all, boating-safety education professionals agree that the one single thing that would contribute the most to reducing deaths and saving lives would be wearing life jackets.

Statistics show time and time again that many boating fatalities could have been avoided if the victim had only been wearing a life jacket.

Wearing a life jacket while boating is like wearing a seat belt when driving or riding in a car. Find a life jacket

that is comfortable, that you like and that you’ll wear! Wear it anytime you are on a boat or even near the water or on a boat dock. And, with the new inflatable life jacket technology in the marketplace, a variety of life jackets are available for those over the age of 16 that are not bulky, hot or uncomfortable.

Don’t forget that for those boaters who are 13 years of age or younger, Federal law requires them to wear a life jacket (properly sized, fitted and worn to the manufacturer’s specifications) any time they’re on a boat that is underway (not at anchor, made fast to the shore or aground) — even when launching or retrieving your boat.

But always check with local authorities regarding local regulations. In Louisiana, for example, children 16 years of age or younger (under 17) on boats less than 26 feet in length must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket suitable for the activity in which they are engaged anytime the boat is underway (not at anchor, or made fast to the shore or aground). Also in Louisiana, all persons onboard a motorboat less than 16 feet in length propelled by a hand tiller outboard motor are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket suitable for the activity while the boat is underway. Always check with the local authorities on the body of water you’re boating on to ensure you understand operating requirements.

2) Boater education saves lives - Take a boating safety education course!

Get, be and stay prepared. Statistics show that more than 80 percent of those involved in boating fatalities have never taken a boating safety course or had any other type of formal boating education.

The States, Auxiliary and Power Squadron have excellent volunteer instructors who offer numerous classes across the District throughout the year. These classes offer introductory and basic information as well as other interesting subject areas about boats and boating. The instructors are eager, able and ready to help you learn more about operating your boat safely and proficiently. And in most cases, these classes are offered free of charge.

Once you complete the brief introductory course, check with your insurance agent as most companies offer a reduced insurance premium to educated boat owners and operators.

National Association of State Boating Law Administrator (NASBLA) certified courses are also offered by other organizations such as the Red Cross, and other boating organizations. Always ensure that the course you are taking is National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) approved and recognized by the

U.S. Coast Guard for the location at which you reside if your state requires boating safety education. There are hands-on skills courses as well that are recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard.

3) Safe boats save lives - Get a free Vessel Safety Check!

Boats that are properly equipped, in good operating condition, and safe from hazards are less likely to be involved in accidents and fatalities. While the law doesn’t require certain items or supplies such as an anchor, visual distress signals or other safety equipment on inland lakes, Federal requirements are more stringent and demanding. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Power Squadron or local law-enforcement officers would be happy to check your boat for you. Contact representatives of the Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron to request a free Vessel Safety Check (VSC). Learn what you need to have to make sure your boat is always seaworthy and ready to go. You won’t get a ticket because you don’t have what you need during a VSC, but you’ll likely avoid one in the future if you learn what you need and go get it before boating!

4) Sober boating saves lives - Avoid alcohol and other drugs while on or near the water!

Approximately 40 percent of all boating fatalities involve the use of alcohol. If you are drunk and get into an accident on the water, but are fortunate enough to survive, you will likely suffer financial and personal consequences such as large fines and the possible loss of automobile driving privileges.

Drugs and alcohol don't just impact the boat operator; passengers who have been drinking alcohol, for example, are 10 times more likely to fall overboard. And, if they aren’t wearing life jackets, possibly face drowning. You hear it all the time: Water and alcohol don't mix!

Many states are zero-tolerance and that means any boat operator impaired to the slightest degree could be arrested. Don’t risk a great day on the water—keep a good day good and go home safe.

Keeping it fun and safe!

Following these four basic boating tips will help keep you safe. The Eghth Coast Guard District joins all boating safety advocates across the country in our hopes that you and your loved ones enjoy boating during the years to come. Safe boating is no accident — keep a good day on the water good by following these four easy-to-follow basic principles.

Have questions about cold water immersion? Check out Beyond Cold Water Bootcamp's "4 Phases of Cold Water Immersion", Water Safety Congress's "Cold Water Bootcamp" or the Coast Guard Boating Safety website.

Questions about general boating safety? Check out the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety page! Paddlesports (canoe, SUP, kayak or rowing) questions? Check out the American Canoe Association (ACA) page!

Still have questions about any boating safety issue? Feel free to contact Edward.L.Huntsman.

Ed Huntsman, the District Recreational Boating Safety (RBS) Program Manager, via email at or by telephone at 504-671-2148.

Author Bio

Ed Huntsman, Boating Editor

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Recreational boating safety Program Manager, United States Coast Guard, Eighth Coast Guard District. - Retired


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