10 essential boat safety tips
Most boating accidents are avoidable. That’s why it’s essential to fully understand boating rules and safety procedures before you set sail.
1. Get your licence
A Pleasure Craft Operating Card (PCOC) is mandatory for anyone who operates a power-driven boat and should be carried with you at all times while on board your boat. You can get your PCOC by passing a boating safety test available through a Transport Canada accredited course provider.
2. Take a boating safety course
While not mandatory, Transport Canada recommends taking at least one boating safety course in order to prepare for the PCOC test. The courses are designed to make you aware of safe boating practices, prevention measures, and ways to reduce risk, so that you can boat with confidence.
3. Always check the weather before you go
Weather conditions can play a big role in water safety. Before heading out, make sure that you check the latest local weather forecast and understand what it means. Once you’re out on the water, keep an eye out for sudden weather changes, as summer thunderstorms can strike quickly and without warning. Darkening clouds, volatile winds, or sudden drops in temperature can all be signs that it’s time to head back to shore.
4. Plan ahead and prepare the boat
Before taking the boat out, make sure it’s fully inspected and stocked with all of the essentials. Check the fuel levels, instrument lights, ventilation, battery charge and engine and coolant levels. Make sure you have the following items on board with you:
- Personal flotation devices
- Food and water
- Distress signals
- Tools and spare parts
- Fire extinguishers
- First aid kit
- Radio to receive weather updates
- Flashlight and spare batteries
- Rules and documentation
5. Carry navigational charts
Imagine driving a car on a road with no traffic lanes, stop signs or streetlights. That’s what it’s like when you’re operating a boat on the water, making navigation difficult, especially if you’re relying only on what you can see around you. To help make navigation safer, the law in Canada requires you to carry a navigational chart. These charts will show a detailed visual of the area, including buoys, water depths, and tall conspicuous objects.
6. Be alcohol-aware
According to the Canadian Red Cross, alcohol is a factor in over 40% of recreational boating deaths. Studies have shown that the effect of alcohol is amplified by the sun, wind and motion of the boat, which can cloud your judgement and slow your hand-eye coordination. Drinking and boating is just as illegal as drinking and driving and can be even more dangerous.
7. Avoid other dangerous behaviours
Aside from consuming alcohol while on board a boat, there are other activities that should be avoided in the interest of safety. Transport Canada warns against trying to spray swimmers or jumping the wake of other vessels. Be aware of how your boat’s wake can affect others, and use common sense when operating in crowded areas, or areas of low visibility.
8. Make a sail plan
Always be sure to inform either a family member or the staff at your local marina of your sail plan. This should include information like your name and contact information, your boat details, a list of the safety equipment on board, and the details of your trip (how many people on board, where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone).
9. Learn to swim
All boat operators and passengers should be wearing or have access to a lifejacket while on board, but if you’re going to be in and around the water, proper boating safety means knowing how to swim.
10. Understand emergency procedures
Knowing what to do and how to get help in a boating emergency can make the difference between life and death. Information that you should be familiar with includes:
- How to use a marine radio, who to call and what to say
- How to recover someone that fell overboard
- Tips for surviving in cold water
- How to react to a fire
Transport Canada provides a Safe Boating Guide (PDF) which includes minimum safety requirements, a pre-departure checklist, a sail plan template, a detailed emergency preparedness guide and much more.
No matter the type of boat you and your family will be enjoying, make sure you have watercraft insurance coverage. Speak to your insurance company to add watercraft coverage to your home insurance policy.