Boat Safety Basics

Whether you have a Harris pontoon, a Sea Ray cruiser, Lund Mod-V or any other boat type—as the captain—you’re responsible for keeping your family and friends safe on the water. So, that means knowing and obeying safety guidelines. While we’ve compiled a list of the most basic safety rules and regulations, state laws and local rules can vary, so you’ll need to do a bit of your own research as well.

Remember how learning the rules of the road seemed overwhelming at first? Boating might feel the same. But as you explore your local waterways, the rules of boating will feel more and more natural, letting you and your passengers enjoy a fun, safe day on the water.

Before You Go

Prepare your boat and passengers before your adventure begins to minimize the risk of injury.

Know Your Boat

Read and follow the instructions and warnings in your boat’s owner’s manual.

Wear Your PFD

Your personal flotation device (PFD)—or life jacket—could keep a small mistake from turning deadly. There must be a properly sized PFD for every person on board, and children under 13 must wear theirs at all times.

Follow the Weight Limit

Find the decal in your boat that indicates the boat’s weight limit, and make sure your guests and their cargo don’t exceed the limit.

Know the Rules

State laws and local rules can vary. Do your research to make sure you know the requirements.

Check Your Equipment

Inspect your boat, PFDs, and other safety equipment before you head out.

Mind Your Seating

Make sure passengers sit in locations where they’re not at risk of falling overboard or blocking the driver’s view.

At the Fueling Station

Safety against fire begins well before your boating adventure. You can never be too cautious when handling fuel, so make sure to follow these steps when proceeding to the pump:

  • Close all vents, doors and hatches.
  • Open and allow your engine compartment to ventilate.
  • Move any portable tanks outside the boat.
  • Ground the nozzle to the tank opening.
  • Extinguish any flames on board (e.g. from lit cigarettes, cigars, pipes or cook tops).

While on Your Boat

Because boats don’t have brakes, avoiding collisions takes more effort and foresight than it would in a car. Keep an eye on the conditions, water, and other boaters to anticipate any dangers that can come your way and work to avoid them ahead of time.

Boat Sober

Drinking and boating is just as illegal and dangerous as drinking and driving. Make sure there’s a driver on board who will stay sober.

Watch the Weather

Conditions can turn quickly. Check the weather often, keep an eye on the sky, and know the safest—and quickest—way off the water.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Keep an eye out for swimmers, skiers, and other hazards. Be sure to look where other boats are headed and give them plenty of room.

Follow Wake Restrictions

Slow down in no-wake zones and observe no-wake hours.

Be Prepared

Wear your lanyard cut-off switch so the engine will shut off if you’re thrown from the helm.

Board Safely

Approach someone in the water on the driver’s side so you know where they are. Idling isn’t enough to prevent propeller strikes or carbon monoxide poisoning. Shut off the engine when picking up swimmers or skiers, and have them use a boarding ladder.

Participating in Water Sports

When you’re towing a water skier, tuber, or wakeboarder, they’re off the boat and more exposed to hazards. You’re responsible for their fun and their safety.

Protect Your Rider or Skier

Always have an observer on board to watch and communicate with the rider or skier using the universal hand signals.

Use Your Flags

Each state has different laws regarding flags that indicate a boat is towing someone. Follow your state’s laws and carefully watch for flags on other boats.

Watch Your Area

Don’t participate in watersports near shore, swimming areas, shallow water, unknown waters, anglers, or divers.

Be Mindful of Your Tow Lines

Make sure your tow lines don’t injure passengers or get tangled in the propeller.

Continue Your Education

All these safety tips come down to one thing: vigilance. Always know your surroundings. Always know where your passengers and riders are. Always know local hazards, laws, and rules. And always remember that keeping your passengers’ safe—and having fun—on your Brunswick boat is your responsibility.

Many organizations host boating safety courses. Find local licensing resources at® or discover in-person, on-water training courses available near you via BoatClass

Essential Safety Gear for Your Boat

You’re only as good as your gear. Stock your boat with the necessities and stow any other items you think could come in handy. Use these checklists to make sure you have everything you need to keep your crew safe or help in the case of an emergency.

Check out the Essential Safety Gear checklist to make sure your Brunswick boat is outfitted with everything you need to keep your friends and family safe on the water.

Items Required by Regulation

The US Coast Guard requires certain items on your boat at all times.

  • PFD
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Visual distress signals
  • Sound signals
  • Ventilation on boats using gasoline
  • Backfire flame control on boats using gasoline

Recommended Items

Outfitting your boat with the right items will help you and your crew stay safe. Your needs may change depending on where you boat.

For everyone:

  • First aid kit
  • Watersports flag
  • Anchor
  • Sunscreen
  • Extra water and food
  • Backup propulsion, like oars
  • Boarding ladder
  • Carbon monoxide detector
  • A set of oars or a paddle

For boaters on nearshore waters:

  • Float plan
  • GPS
  • Compass
  • Depth finder
  • Tool kit and safety knife
  • VHF radio

For boaters on offshore waters:

  • Everything above
  • Life raft
  • Searchlight and strobe light
  • Radar and radar reflector
  • Sea drogue
  • Man-overboard recovery gear
  • Automatic identification system (AIS)
  • Radio direction finder
  • Long-range communication gear
  • Weather information system
  • An emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB)
    or emergency locator beacon (ELB)

For boaters on river waters:

  • Throw bag
  • Helmet

Engage With Your Community

Another great way to be accountable for your safety is to build a community around you. Engage with other boaters and even your boat manufacturer to stay in the loop for safety information and more. Brunswick is proud to offer marine enthusiast access to Ripl—a boater’s community that offers free access to member-only news, events, and discounts.

Join Ripl