Safety First in Boating

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Published on: May. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

you're on the water.

All boats that have gasoline onboard must be equipped with a fire extinguisher. It is always a good idea to make sure your extinguisher is still charged after sitting all winter.

If your boat is equipped with an ignition safety switch lanyard, always attach it to you when running the motor. It cuts the engine in case you fall overboard, preventing the boat from circling back and running over you. It also keeps the boat close so you can more easily re-enter it.

Hunters who use boats need to be especially careful. It's easy to overload a johnboat with dogs, guns, decoys, gear, hunters and hopefully some wild game. Always check the capacity plate on your vessel and be sure you're not exceeding the manufacturer's recommended load.

Boat Signals


Buoys are the traffic signs of our major waterways. “No-wake” buoys are white with an orange circle. They are commonly found in front of docks and marinas. You are required to be at idle speed between the buoy and the dock.

  • “Danger” buoys are white with an open orange diamond. They mark hazards in the water, such as shoals, reefs or shallow points. Always give these areas a wide berth to avoid damaging your boat.
  • “Boats keep out” buoys are white with an orange diamond with a cross through it. They often mark swimming beaches or dangerous areas near a dam. It is illegal to operate a boat in these areas.
  • An orange flag displayed by another vessel indicates a person in the water swimming or skiing. You must stay at least 50 yards from that vessel while above idle speed.
  • A red flag with a diagonal white stripe indicates a SCUBA diver is in the water. You must remain at least 50 yards from the flag.

Because boating traffic is usually light during winter months, it's a good idea to leave a float plan with someone who is not going with you. Always have a cell phone, dry clothes and matches in a waterproof bag, as well as flares or a signal kit to get the attention of passing boaters or someone on shore in case of emergency.

Boaters should always be alert to dangerous weather conditions. Storms usually forecast themselves with rising winds and dark clouds. Don't wait to head for

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