Boating Safety Hints


Alcohol and the Law

  • It is against the law to operate a boat or water ski with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more.
  • If an operator’s blood alcohol level reaches or exceeds .08%, he or she is considered under the influence of alcohol and can be arrested and charged with boating under the influence and go to jail.

Safety Tips

  • Bring your life jacket, but leave the alcohol at home.  The side effects of alcohol – impaired judgment, reduced balance, poor coordination – can be magnified by the boating environment.
  • Designating a driver is not enough on vessels.  The concept works well in cars, but drunken passengers on boats can easily fall overboard, swim near the propeller or cause loading problems by leaning over the side or standing up in small vessels, causing vessels to capsize. Everyone who drinks alcohol on board is at risk. If you do drink, wear a life jacket.


  • Are you an experienced boater? You are.  But what about other boaters?  Last year in California, 98% of boat operators involved in fatal accidents did not take a boating safety course.
  • Operator inexperience, unsafe speed and inattention are the leading causes of boating accidents.  Take a boating safety course. You’ll learn the rules of the road and how to deal with emergencies.  You may even receive a discount on your insurance premiums. 
  • Taking a boating safety course covers what you can do in case you’re in a head-on, crossing or narrow channel situation. For example:
    • When approaching another vessel head on, steer to the right.
    • When two power-driven vessels approach each other in a crossing situation, the vessel on the right has the right of way.  Power driven vessels give way to manually propelled vessels or boats under sail.
    • Stay to the right of narrow channels.


  • “Teak surfing” or being dragged behind a boat is illegal and can be deadly!  Those being dragged can inhale the colorless, odorless, tasteless and DEADLY gas called Carbon Monoxide. Avoid the death zones!!
  • Swimming near or under the back deck or swim platform while the motor is running is dangerous.  You can inhale Carbon Monoxide. Avoid these death zones!  And remember that “teak surfing” is illegal. 
  • Did you know that all boats need to display a Carbon Monoxide safety sticker on their boat?  You can obtain the sticker from the California Division of Boating and Waterways. 


  1. Prevent oily discharge from the bilge.
    Keep your engine well tuned to prevent fuel and oil leaks. Place an oil absorbent pad or pillow under your engine where drips may occur and in your bilge. Check the pads often and dispose of them as hazardous waste at a marina or nearby collection center.
  2. Spill-proof your oil changes.
    For oil changes, use an oil change pump to transfer oil to a spill proof container. Wrap a plastic bag or absorbent pad around the oil filter to prevent oil from spilling into the bilge.
  3. Spill-proof your fueling practices.
    Prevent fuel spills by filling fuel tanks slowly and carefully and by using absorbent pads or rags to catch drips and spills. Don't "top off" or overflow your fuel tank and leave 5% empty to allow fuel to expand as it warms.
  4. Do not add soap.
    Never use soap to disperse fuel and oil spills. It increases harm to the environment, and it is illegal.
  5. Minimize boat cleaning and maintenance in the water.
    If possible, save maintenance projects for the boatyard. When performing work on the water minimize your impact by containing waste using tarps and vacuum sanders, and collect all drips and debris for proper disposal.
  6. Reduce toxic discharges from bottom paints.
    Minimize the discharge of heavy metals that come from soft-sloughing antifouling paints by using a hard, less toxic, or nontoxic antifouling paint. Use only non-abrasive underwater hull cleaning techniques to prevent excessive paint discharge. Remember, dry storage and reduces the need for antifouling paints and saves money.
  7. Dispose of hazardous waste properly.
    Dispose of paints, batteries, antifreeze, cleaning products, oil, oil filters and other hazardous wastes at a hazardous waste collection facility or event. Call 1-800-CLEAN-UP for a location near you. Recycle paints, batteries, oil, oil filters and antifreeze.
  8. Plan A-head! Manage sewage wastes properly.
    Never discharge sewage within 3 miles of shore. Use harbor pump-out stations and shore-side facilities. If you don't have an installed toilet, use a port-a-potty and empty it at harbor dump station or bathroom.
  9. Stow it, do not throw it!
    Keep your trash on board. Never throw cigarette butts, fishing line, or any other garbage into the ocean. Take advantage of shore-side facilities to recycle plastic, glass, metal, and paper.
  10. Reduce gray-water discharges
    Use a phosphate-free soap to minimize the impacts of greywater on the marine environment. Also minimize discharge by doing dishes and showers on shore whenever possible.

General safety hazards for ALL boat operations:

  • Illegal charters
  • Overloaded or unsafe electrical systems due to Christmas lights
  • Too many passengers affect stability of vessel - ensure compliance with maximum capacity
  • Recreational boats cannot charge passengers to board their vessels - illegal, resulting in fines
  • 05 knot speed limit strictly enforced during all boat parades


  • Nearly 14% of all accidents each year occur during the three summer holiday weekends of Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day.
  • Waterways are crowded, people are boating in groups or with many people aboard their vessels.  Distractions are numerous. 
  • Because of this, designate a person aboard the vessel to help you act as a lookout.
  • You may have people aboard your vessel who don’t normally boat.  Familiarize them with the location of the safety equipment and how to be safe aboard you boat. (Keep hands inside near dock, carbon monoxide, propeller safety, etc.)   Everyone wear a life jacket.



  • Did you know that 9 out of 10 drownings could have been prevented if only the person had been wearing their life jacket?
  • Life jackets INCREASE THE CHANCES OF SURVIVAL in the event of a sudden, unexpected capsizing or fall overboard.
  • Know how to swim??  This doesn’t matter.  Knowing how to swim doesn’t drown-proof you. Statistics show that many boating fatalities involved boaters not wearing life jackets, getting knocked unconscious and going under.  A life jacket will help keep you float until help arrives.

Today’s Life Jackets are Comfortable

  • Good news for boaters.  New stylish, lightweight and sometimes unnoticeable inflatable life jackets are now available.  Some of them don’t even interfere with tan lines.  The best feature…it may save your life in case of an accident. 
  • Are you wondering what inflatable life jackets are?  These modern life jackets are much more comfortable, lightweight and stylish than the bulky orange style most boaters know.  They may resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack.  Many inflate automatically when immersed in water. Some of them don’t even interfere with tan lines!! 
  • Other life jacket styles are available for almost any boating activity:
    • For fishing: Vest-style life jackets come with features such as pockets and clips to replace the fishing vest and keep the angler safe.
    • For personal watercraft and water sports: Inherently buoyant lighter-weight life jackets are rugged, with multiple buckles and clasps to keep them secure after impact with the water.
    • For hunting and cold weather: Full coats and suits are available in camouflage colors for waterfowl hunting and for those who boat when air and water temperatures are cool.
    • For paddling: Special life jackets are designed with large openings for arms to allow ease of movement.
    • For children: Virtually all styles are available sized especially for children – some with cartoon characters, straps for pulling children from the water and high-visibility schemes.
    • For pets: Life jackets are even available for our four-legged friends.

How to Choose the Right Life Jacket
Looking for a life jacket? Today’s jackets come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. No matter which life jacket you choose, be sure it’s right for YOU, your planned activities, and the water conditions you expect to encounter.

Try It On

  • Check the manufacturer’s ratings for your size and weight.
  • Make sure the jacket is properly zipped or buckled.
  • Raise your arms straight up over your head while wearing your life jacket and ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings, gently pulling up.
  • If there is excess room above the openings and the jacket rides up over your chin, it does NOT fit properly. Pull on the buckles.  If there is still excess room, try on a smaller life jacket.  A snug fit in these areas signals a properly fitting.

Fit Facts

  • It is extremely important that you choose a properly fitting life jacket.
  • Jackets that are too big will cause the flotation device to push up around your face, which could be dangerous.
  • Jackets that are too small will not be able to keep your body afloat.

Important Reminders

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard-approved.
  • Double check that your jacket is appropriate for your favorite boating activities.
  • Take the time to ensure a proper fit.
  • Life jackets meant for adults do not work for children. If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets.
  • On recreational vessels underway, children under 13 years old must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket unless they are below decks or in an enclosed cabin.

PERSONAL WATERCRAFT (popularly known as “jet skis”)

  • The majority of personal watercraft (PWC) related accidents occur when someone other than the registered owner is operating the vessel.  Make sure that people borrowing your vessel know how to operate it! 
  • First time boaters are more likely to operate a PWC as they find it less intimidating than a larger craft, but in reality, the high maneuverability and the off-throttle steering issues can make safe operation challenging. Make sure they are also familiar with the rules of the road. California law states you must wear a life jacket when riding a PWC. 
  • Young children aboard a PWC are not a good idea.  Riding in front, they often grab the controls, causing accidents.  Riding in back, they can fall off if not holding on tightly.
  • Remember that it is illegal to wake jump within 100 feet of another vessel, do donuts, or play chicken, or spray down other vessels.
  • When riding with friends on other PWC, keep a safe distance from them, and also a safe following distance, behind them.  Because these are jet-propelled craft, you will not be able to turn if you let off the throttle.


  • Remember to Clean, Drain and Dry your boat every time you leave a waterway!  You don’t want to transport aquatic invasive species, like Quagga and Zebra mussels to other waterways.  They ruin boats and destroy waters.  Visit to view a Boating Clean Guide Book. 
  • Quagga and Zebra mussels ruin boats and destroys waters!  Don’t let them ride with you!  Clean, Drain and Dry your boat!
  • Currently, out of state boats are being inspected at border check stations and some waterways have restrictions or inspections in place.  Visit to view a list of these restrictions and inspections.


  • Make sure that your boat is ready for the boating season.  California boating laws require recreational boats to have certain equipment on board.  Find out if you’re ready by getting vessel safety check.  The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadrons offer complimentary ones. 

Most towing accidents involve inner tubes or wakeboards rather than traditional water skiing which have declined in popularity.  Many accidents are caused by the following unsafe activities:

  • Operators looking over their shoulders, watching skiers instead of relying on the observers, resulting in collisions with other vessels or shoreline.
  • Coming too close to the shoreline and causing the tuber to be thrown onto shore during a turn.  (Tubers have no control over their direction of travel unlike skiers and wake boarders)
  • Towing tubes in donuts to give riders a more exciting ride, but instead running over the ski line and pulling tube into the propeller.
  • Not keeping the proper distance from drifting vessels in the process of retrieving skiers and striking the fallen skier or running over the ski line causing it to break and snap back into vessel.
  • Improperly approaching skier when retrieving them and striking them
  • Not turning the engine off and letting it idle when skiers are entering or exiting the vessel.  The prop can still be turning at idle and several accidents have happened when someone fell against the gear shift and accidentally moved it into gear, causing propeller injuries.
  • Wake boarders attempting maneuvers beyond skill level.