Your Boat Safety Checklist
Do you whistle while you sail? Or do you allow anyone else on board to whistle? If so, perhaps you don’t know the old Royal Navy superstition that if you whistle while you sail, you’ll summon up stormy seas.
While that may be a mariner legend, it’s a fact that being mindful of risks and taking appropriate action are essential elements of boating safety.
Countless books and websites catalog the many safety measures you can take to protect your watercraft but they boil down to 5 key safety measures for your boat safety checklist.
The condition of your boat.
Maintenance can be a chore, but it’s unforgivable not to routinely check your boat for problems that could put your boat, your passengers and yourself at risk.
This includes ensuring you have all the key safety gear on board including lifejackets (see below), carbon monoxide detectors, life belts, distress signals, tools and spares, fire extinguishers and, where appropriate, good, communication and navigation equipment in tested working order.
Depending on your level of skill, you may be able to carry out most of the maintenance tasks yourself. But there’s no shortage of professional boat maintenance services, especially here in Maine.
And just to make it easier for you, the US Coast Guard (USCG) Auxiliary and US Power Squadrons will carry out a free safety check. They’ll even come to you to do it. See their Vessel Safety Website.
The skill of the skipper.
There’s no substitute for experience when it comes to sailing, but no-one should ever believe they know it all. There are always new things to learn, and sometimes they are learned the hard way – when an accident happens.
In fact, with changing regulations and navigation technology, it’s essential for everyone to keep up to date with their sailing skills.
The US Coast Guard has a useful list of courses.
In Maine, see https://tinyurl.com/ME-boat-courses.
Wearing of life jackets
You should have a coast guard approved life jacket that fits for each person on your boat. It’s the law in Maine and in many other states. The Maine Warden Service recommends lifejackets should be worn at all times and they’re compulsory for anyone 10 or under.
Boats longer than 16 feet are also required to carry a throwable personal flotation device (PFD).
Life jackets should be checked and tested at least once a year, and should be readily accessible in emergency.
Yes, booze is one of the biggest causes of boating accidents. If you must drink, adopt the marine equivalent of a designated driver – have a non-drinking skipper (that means either you or someone with the requisite boating skills).
In Maine, marine officials work with the Coast Guard to look out for imbibers who can be breath-tested and charged with Boating Under the Influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs.
Respecting the weather
A well-known New England saying is “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” It is imperative when boating in Maine you check the weather conditions for your area.
The place to keep up to date on the weather is the National Weather Service’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website. They have a searchable map for wherever you are on water.
One final thing: Safety experts say that when you plan to take to the water, you should always prepare a float plan. This is a record of your boating intentions that you leave with someone on land you can rely on.
More Rules for Safe Boating in Maine
Maine has almost 3,500 miles of coastline. Marine officers and the Coast Guard, are especially active during the boating season. They can and do use random safety inspections that can include boarding your boat.
You can download rules and regulations from the Maine Department of Fisheries & Wildlife here: https://tinyurl.com/ME-boat-regs
More Crucial Protection
Although boat insurance is not a legal requirement in Maine, you’d be taking on a huge risk if you set off without it. It’s not just for protecting the significant investment you’ve likely poured into your boat.
It’s also about covering yourself against the liability risk of your passengers being injured or even killed, and any associated medical costs.
By the Way…
The British Royal Navy had one exception to the rule about whistling: the chef. He was allowed to whistle because it proved to his shipmates that he wasn’t eating the food he was supposed to be cooking!