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5 Common Boating Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them

Prevent simple mistakes by following these tips.
Boating Safety

Everything’s gone digital and nautical charts are no exception. Digital charts are available for use with marine GPS units or even your laptop computer.  You can find digital charts for nearly all coastal areas, as well as for many of the larger lakes.  Go online and you’ll find a world of resources. There are, however, a few drawbacks to anything electronic. They can be a little spendy and if you lose power you lose your chart. You can get paper charts much cheaper and they don’t require batteries. Paper charts are available from many commercial providers as well as from the U.S. government. You can even find print-on-demand versions online.  Whatever source you choose, just make sure they are up to date.

4.  Getting lost at night. Many people go out during daylight hours and rely on recognizable land features to find their way home. There’s a difference, however, between what the shoreline looks like during the day and what it looks like at night.  At sunset recognizable features disappear and are replaced by unfamiliar and confusing lights on shore.

Each year the Coast Guard gets countless calls from boaters who have gotten caught on the water at night and no longer recognize the shoreline. Often boaters will report that they see a flashing red light, in hopes we can pinpoint their location.  But since a marine radio signal can transmit over many, many miles there may be literally hundreds of flashing red lights in the area, so this type of information really isn't very helpful in locating a boat.

If you’re inexperienced at night navigation, allow plenty of time to get back to port before the sun goes down.  A smart boater will make a few runs at night to become familiar with the area where he or she boats and to know what his favorite area looks like after dark.  Again, use a nautical chart.  The chart will tell you where the Aids to Navigation are located, how they are lighted at night and what landmarks you may be able to see once the sun goes down.  Always pay attention to where you are going while it’s light.  Carry a VHF-FM marine band radio and if you become disoriented at night, the Coast Guard or local shore patrol may be able to use your radio signal to locate your position and reorient you. 

Boating Chart

  A capacity plate, affixed to the hull of mono-hull boats up to
  20 feet in length, indicates the maximum load at which the
  boat can safely operate.

5.  Overloading the boat.  This is one of the most common causes of swamping, capsizing and sinking, especially in small, open-constructed boats. Even empty, these boats may have little freeboard – the distance between the rail or top edge of the boat and the waterline – and even less when fully loaded with occupants, coolers and gear. It’s easy to overload small vessels unintentionally and an overloaded boat is more likely to capsize, even in relatively calm waters.

So keep in mind your boat’s maximum load capacity. On most mono-hull boats up to 20 feet in length, this information can be found on the capacity plate, permanently affixed to the hull. It notes the recommended maximum horsepower rating and maximum load weight at which the boat can safely operate, as determined by the manufacturer.

If a capacity plate isn’t present, contact the manufacturer of your boat and ask for capacity plate information.  Always remember, the “maximum safe weight” includes people AND gear.

Then when loading your boat, remember to load the heavy stuff low in the boat and towards the center line.  If possible, secure the load so it won’t shift as the boat moves through the water.  This will keep things on an even keel and help keep the boat steady.

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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit

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