Briefings and Checklists

It is the boater’s legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their passengers. Everyone aboard should receive a safety briefing before departing from shore and complete a pre-departure checklist.

Boaters are responsible for showing passengers where the safety equipment is located and how to use it. As well as ensuring that the communication equipment is in good working order, everyone must be knowledgeable about its use. In an accident involving the driver, at least one other person on board should be able to operate the vessel. 

During the pre-launch process, the following topics should be discussed with all passengers to prevent accidents, increase safety, and speed up emergency response:

  • How to put on and use PFDs or life jackets
  • Use and placement of fire extinguishers
  • First-aid kit placement and use
  • Flares and other visual distress signals
  • Techniques for anchoring
  • Waste disposal and management
  • Procedures for responding to bad weather
  • Operation of emergency radios
  • A procedure for falls overboard
  • Line handling

Boat operators should also train passengers in a mock emergency scenario to know what to expect. 

Pre-Departure Checklist

The following is an example for a powerboat captured from A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Regulations for Recreational Boats, published by the U.S. Coast Guard (pages 70-72). Not all items apply to all vessel types or waters. Add additional items, such as Emergency Cut-off Switch (if required) based on your type of vessel.

Being Prepared

Readiness before departure includes operator and passenger responsibilities. Everyone on board should be present and attentive during the safety briefing before departure. Everyone should consider their physical fitness for any boating activity:

  • Be aware that they can enter the water and be prepared to swim.
  • Have the proper gear available to them or bring it themselves (food, water, supplies, adequate clothing – including foul weather gear).
  • Carry medications essential for the trip duration and any potential delays and be aware of side effects that may impact their trip.
  • Dress appropriately for the environmental conditions for the intended voyage.

Readiness before departure also includes filing a float plan, obtaining local knowledge, and personal readiness such as availability of food, water, supplies, adequate clothing (including foul weather gear), phone numbers for requesting assistance, sunscreen, etc.

Personal fitness, disabilities, medications, and other physical limitations should be considered before beginning any boating activity. I.e. ensure non-swimmers wear a life
jacket, essential medication is available throughout the planned trip duration, etc.

Adequate food, water, clothing, medications and other essential personal items are available throughout the planned trip duration and any potential delays.
For example: Diabetics that require insulin should provide a basic awareness of their condition, have with them the ability to check blood glucose levels, have an adequate amount of insulin and fast-acting glucose products needed for the entire trip plus extra for unplanned events such as mechanical problems or foul weather that may extend a trip longer than expected.

Boaters should be able to recognize that the knowledge standards for basic boating education represent the beginning of education opportunities and additional courses are encouraged on more advanced topics such as weather, navigation, electronics and handson boat training. Also consider the contents of a kit (a.k.a. “ditch bag”) that can be grabbed in case of an
emergency. Consider items needed for short-term and, if appropriate, longer-term survival when preparing the content of the kit.

Proper Loading

Keeping the load of the boat to a minimum can ensure the boat’s safety. The operator should consult the capacity plate to indicate the number of passengers and the weight that the vessel can accommodate. 

There is a risk associated with overloading a boat with passengers and equipment. A large watercraft, for example, can dip under water or crash into small waves if it is too heavy. Additionally, boaters must ensure that their loads are evenly distributed, as an uneven load may make a watercraft unstable.



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