Before you can put on your boat shoes and ask everyone to call you “captain,” you need to learn how to pilot a boat safely. Not only will it keep everyone onboard safe, but it’ll also help to keep your custom powerboat in working condition (and above water).
Before you head out on the water for the first time, be sure to brush up on boat safety techniques.
Carry All Required Gear
The U.S. Coast Guard wants to make sure everyone stays safe out on the water. To do that, they have a list of mandatory equipment that all vessels need to carry. If you’re caught without any of these pieces of equipment, there will be some fines in your future.
- One life jacket for every person on board
- One throwable type IV floatation device
- Fire extinguisher
- Horn or whistle
- Visual distress signals – at least three day-use and three night-use combination ignitable flares. You can also use three day/night combination flares or orange distress flags for day substitutes and electric SOS signal lights for night substitutes.
Although they’re not equipment to carry, the law also requires that you have working, up-to-code navigation lights on your boat. Every Mystic custom powerboat comes with navigation lights that meet federal codes; just make sure they work before hitting the water.
Carry All Recommended Gear
Just because it’s not required doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Here’s some additional safety equipment you should carry to stay safe while cruising the waterways:
- VHF radio – Cell phones don’t always have a signal on the water. Make sure you have some way to contact help if you get stranded.
- Towline – If you run out of gas or get disabled, you’ll need a tow in. Dock lines aren’t strong enough to tow a boat, so make sure you carry a dedicated tow line that’s at least eight to ten boat lengths long.
- Marine medical kit – These kits are waterproof and contain medical equipment geared toward common boat-related injuries.
When you’re out on the water, it’s not always easy to find help. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Even if it’s not required, carry all the safety equipment you think you might need.
Know Your Boat
Any time you use a piece of equipment—including a custom powerboat—it’s important to understand its capabilities. If you push it beyond its capabilities, you could be putting everyone in danger.
Before setting out on the water, be sure you understand your boat’s limitations. Know its size, capacity restrictions, weight limits, and any other information to help you stay safe in your custom powerboat.
When you’re out on the water, take it slow at first. All boats handle differently, so until you get a feel for how your boat handles and its capabilities, err on the side of caution.
Rules of the Waterways
Just like driving on the highway, there are navigational rules for boating. Just because there aren’t any lines doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. Following these rules will help you stay safe and avoid collisions with other boats.
Whenever you encounter another boat at a 90-degree angle, right of way goes to the boat with the other on its left (port) side. The boat with the other on its right (starboard) side should slow down and steer away.
If you’re approaching another boat head-on, neither has the right of way. They should each move slightly to the right (starboard) until they pass—just like driving on the road.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
One of the biggest safety concerns on the water is the weather. Bad weather can easily steer you off-course, diminish visibility, or even damage your boat. Before you set out, even for quick trips, make sure you check the weather. You can even listen to NOAA Weather Radio on your VHF radio.
In certain locations, like central Florida, the weather can change in an instant. When this happens, the forecast you listened to might be out of date. Even if the weatherperson says it’s smooth sailing, look for dark clouds and feel for wind or sudden temperature changes. These are good indicators that you should pick a different day to head out on the water.
Submit a Float Plan to Friends or Marina Staff
A float plan (or rescue plan) is a form that includes basic information about your boat and your travel plans. You should always fill one out and leave it with a responsible person on shore—either a friend or a marina attendant—so someone knows where you are.
Your float plan should include any information someone would need to find you during an emergency:
- Name, address, and contact information of the owner
- Names of everyone onboard
- Emergency contact
- Boat registration number
- Boat description
- Time of departure
- Estimated time of arrival
- Proposed route
You can download a float plan online to make filling it out easier. That way, you won’t forget to include any important information.
Get a Vessel Safety Check
How can you be sure your boat meets all Coast Guard requirements? Take it to the source!
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers free vessel safety checks to make sure your boat is up to code. They’ll come to your boat—whether in the marina or driveway—and look it over. Once you’ve passed inspection, they’ll give you a decal proving that your boat has been inspected and up to federal standards.
If you fail, don’t worry; they won’t give you a citation. They’ll give you a written report of the violations and tell you how they can be corrected. Once you get everything in order, just get another inspection.
A vessel safety check is the best way to be sure that your boat is safe and ready for use. They do expire annually, so make sure you get your custom powerboat inspected once a year, preferably before boating season begins.
Take a Safety Course
The best way to learn about boat safety is to learn from a professional. There are dozens of boating safety courses available, both online and in person. They’ll walk you through the ins and outs of boat safety, so you can get the skills you need to stay safe out on the water.
In many states, completing a boat safety course is a requirement to operate a watercraft. Be sure to check the local and state laws to learn about any boat operator requirements.
Stay Safe in Your Mystic Custom Powerboat
Boating can be a dangerous pastime if you’re not careful. Following all suggested safety precautions is the best way to stay safe, prevent damage to your boat, and have fun out on the water. If you obey boat safety rules, you’ll enjoy peace of mind as you cruise the waterways in your Mystic custom powerboat.