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Enjoy the Off-Season, But Plan for Emergencies

Proper planning can help reduce the risks of off-season boating.
Boating Safety

Before You Head Out:

•     Take a boating safety course as well as a first aid and CPR course.

•     Consult a chart and familiarize yourself with the area. Know where to wait for help and how to summon it, if you need it.

•     Make sure your boat has enough fuel and is in good operating condition for winter weather. Ensure you have the required safety equipment on board, including flares or other visual distress signals, and that your running lights are in working order.

•     Check the weather forecast. If it calls for rain, snow, fog or high winds, it is most likely not a good time to be on the water.

•     File a float plan. Tell a friend, family member or someone at the marina exactly where you are going, who is boating with you, and when you plan to return. Don’t stray from the plan, and if you do, alert the person holding your float plan.

•     Carry a VHS-FM marine band radio. In some inland waters a CB radio may be more appropriate. Use your mobile phone only as backup and put it in a waterproof container designed for cell phones.

•     Take a GPS along with pre-set coordinates. If fog rolls in, you could become disoriented. Make sure you have extra batteries.

•     Take along a well-stocked first-aid kit.

•     Pack a basic survival kit including blankets, matches, disposable lighter, some dense-calorie food and warm beverages like coffee or cocoa in a waterproof bag. Do not drink alcohol while boating. It can impair your judgment and may speed up hypothermia should you fall in the water.

•     Invite a friend. Boating with at least one additional person means that if someone is injured or falls in the water, the other can summon assistance or help them back into the boat.

What to Wear

•     Dress in layers, and recognize that even slight changes in the weather can make hypothermia a threat.

•     Take along extra dry clothing in a waterproof bag.

•     Wear good quality, non-slip footwear; wear socks, even with sandals.

•    Wear your lifejacket or float coat/jacket. Cold water quickly saps your strength. Life jackets provide added insulation. If you fall overboard, wearing a life jacket could give you the time you need to safely re-board the boat. The first reaction when hitting cold water is to gasp and suck in water. A life jacket can give you crucial minutes to regulate your breathing after the shock of falling in.

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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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