Safe Boating Information and Resources


It’s obvious why recreational boating is very popular. Between coastlines, lakes, scenic rivers, and canal areas the options are seemingly endless. You can sail along the Rhode Island seaside, zip your motorboat down either coast in Florida, do a little fishing in northern Wisconsin, cruise to the California coastline, or take your jet ski out for a spin on the Long Island Sound - just to name a few. 

P.S. - SkiSafe offers boat insurance coverage nationwide, servicing personal watercraft in all 50 states. 

Because of the vast recreational boating opportunities, it’s important to practice safe boating and help reduce accidents and injuries. Here’s a guide outlining safety information and resources for every prudent boater. 

Recreational Boating Facts (Source: Safe Boating Council & US Coast Guard)

1. Number of Registered Boats

In 2019, there were 11,878,542 recreational vessels registered in all 50 states, a 0.22% increase from the year prior when 11,852,969 registered recreational vessels[JS1]  were reported.

2. Boating Accidents 

According to the Coast Guard, in 2019 there were:

  • 4,168 accidents
  • 2,559 injuries
  • $55 million of property damage as a result of recreational boating accidents

3. Top Contributors to Boating Accidents 

  • Operator inattention
  • Improper lookout
  • Operator inexperience
  • Excessive speed
  • Alcohol

4. Common Boat Types Involved in Boating Accidents

The most common vessel types involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (45%), personal watercraft (19%), and cabin motorboats (16%).

» MORE: Boating Safety Tips

5. States with most recreational boating accidents

  • Florida (679 accidents)
  • California (324 accidents)
  • Texas (184 accidents)
  • New York (165 accidents)
  • Missouri (145 accidents)
  • South Carolina (141 accidents)
  • Maryland (130 accidents)
  • Michigan (128 accidents)
  • North Carolina (128 accidents)
  • Ohio (128 accidents)

Safe Boating Courses

We highly recommend signing up for a formal boating safety course before venturing out on the water. All boaters that participate in instruction and education before launch will be better prepared to prevent a boating accident, making your time on the water more enjoyable. 

There are several instructional classes available from the US Coast Guard Auxiliary and the US Power Squadrons. Your state or local town may offer courses as well. 

Whether you are new to boating or an experienced boater, the educational opportunities provided in a course will only increase your skills and knowledge. The lessons learned will help you maintain basic boating safety for years to come. 

Plus, most states require you to complete a boating safety course and obtain your boater education card, otherwise known as your boat license. You can find a course in your state through the NASBLA Approved Courses Dashboard

Here are some of the classes and opportunities available:

  • Online Courses: free educational videos that teach the basic navigation rules. You can complete the course at your own pace.
  • On-Water Courses: there are several on-water training opportunities for recreational boaters.
  • In-Classroom Boating Education: you can take an in-person class with certified instructors and licensed boat captains.

Common Boating Terms and Phrases

  • Abandoned Vessel: A vessel for which the owner is unknown and cannot be located. This can cause boating safety issues and ultimately cost the taxpayers to be removed by Local, County, or State authorities. 
  • Aids to Navigation (ATONS): Charted objects available to determine position, safe course, or to warn of danger (i.e., buoys, beacons, fog signals, lights, radio beacons, range marks). They can also be electronic devices used for navigation.
  • Auxiliary Sail: Watercraft with a sail as its primary method of propulsion and mechanical propulsion as its secondary.
  • At Anchor: Held in place by an anchor. This includes “moored” to a buoy or anchored vessel and “dragging anchor.”
  • Boat: Includes every description of watercraft used or capable of being used as transportation on the water.
  • BUI: Boating under the influence, also referred to as operating under the influence.
  • Cabin Motorboat: A motorboat equipped with accommodation spaces (i.e., bunks or berths).
  • Capacity Plate: Manufacture-required information label providing maximum horsepower and weight carrying limits.
  • Capsizing: Overturning of a vessel in the water.
  • Cold Water Immersion/Submersion: Associated with two significant medical emergencies: near drowning and hypothermia. A boater’s chance of surviving cold water immersion depends on having sufficient flotation to keep their head above water, controlling their breathing, having timely rescue by themself or others, and retaining body heat.
  • Collision with Fixed Object: Striking of any fixed object, above or below the surface of the water.
  • Collision with Floating Object: Collision with any waterborne object above or below the surface that is free to move with the tide, current, or wind, except another vessel.
  • Collision with Submerged Object: Collision with any waterborne or fixed object that is below the surface of the water.
  • Congested Waters: When the body of water is either too small or narrow to safely accommodate the number of boats.
  • Crossing the Bar: Area where the deep waters of the oceans meet with the shallower waters near the mouth of rivers. 
  • Cruising: Proceeding normally, with little engine changes.
  • Documented Vessel: A vessel of five or more net tons used exclusively for pleasure with a valid marine document issued by the Coast Guard.
  • Drifting: Carried along only by the tide, current, or wind, without the use of engines.
  • Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB): Used to alert Search and Rescue in the event of an emergency by transmitting a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency.
  • Engine Cut-Off Switch: A device used to stop the engine and boat propeller in the event of the helmsperson being thrown out of their seat.
  • Excessive Speed: A speed over what a reasonable and prudent person would operate under current conditions.
  • Failure to Vent: Before starting the engine, failure to turn on the powered ventilation system that brings in “fresh air” and expels gasoline vapors from the engine compartment.
  • Fall in Vessel: Any passenger who slips, trips, or falls onboard or within the vessel.
  • Falls Overboard: Any passenger who falls off of the vessel.
  • Fiberglass Hull: Fiber-reinforced plastic hulls. The laminate consists of two basic components, the reinforcing material (glass filaments) and the plastic or resin in which it is embedded.
  • Float Plan: Provides details on the trip, including details about the boat and the people on board. A float plan is used by search and rescue personnel to assist in reducing the search area to locate the boater(s) in the shortest amount of time possible.
  • Flooding/Swamping: A boat filling with water but retaining sufficient buoyancy to remain on the surface.
  • Force of Wave/Wake: The track in the water of a moving boat; commonly used for the disturbance of the water (waves) resulting from the passage of the boat’s hull.
  • Grounding: Running aground of a vessel, striking or pounding on rocks, reefs, or shoals.
  • Hazardous Waters: Rapid tidal flows and/or currents, resulting in hazardous conditions in which to operate watercraft/
  • Hit and Run: A boat accident where the boat operator involved leaves the scene of the accident without reporting it.
  • Houseboat: A motorized vessel designed primarily with accommodation spaces with little or no foredeck or cockpit.
  • Hull Failure: Defect or failure of the structural body of a vessel (i.e., hull material, design, or construction).
  • Ignition of Spilled Fuel: Accidental combustion of vessel fuel and/or liquids.
  • Improper Anchoring: A boat is either in the process of being anchored incorrectly or incorrectly held in place in the water by an anchor.
  • Improper Loading: Loading of the vessel that causes instability or limited maneuverability.
  • Improper Lookout: Failure of the operator to perceive danger because no one was serving as a lookout, or the person serving as lookout failed in that regard. Every vessel should maintain a proper look-out at all times. This person should analyze the prevailing circumstances and conditions to fully appraise the situation and risk of collision.
  • Inboard: An engine mounted inside the confines of a vessel.
  • Inflatable Boat: A vessel constructed of flexible tubes containing pressurized gas.
  • Jet Ski: A common term used to describe personal watercraft (PWC).
  • Inadequate On-board Navigation Lights: Insufficient or improper lights shown by a boat that indicate course, position, and occupation, such as fishing or towing.
  • Life Jacket, or Personal Flotation Device: A device is worn on a person’s upper body designed to provide buoyancy in the water. All vessels must be equipped with one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. The quantity and type depend on the length of the vessel and the number of people on board and/or being towed. Each life jacket must be in good and serviceable condition, be the proper size for the intended wearer, and be readily accessible.
  • Life Jacket-Throwable: Not designed to be worn, but to be thrown to a person in the water and held by the user until rescued.
  • Machinery Failure: Defect in the mechanical propulsion of the boat that causes failure in the engine, transmission, fuel system, electric system, and/or steering system.
  • Marine Pollution: Chemicals, particles, industrial, agricultural, and residential waste, noise, or the spread of invasive organisms in the water.
  • Motorboat: A vessel equipped with propulsion machinery.
  • Navigable Waters: Coastal waters, including bays, sounds, rivers, and lakes that are navigable from the sea.
  • Navigation Rules: The Inland Navigational Rules into the Code of Federal Regulations published by the U.S. Coast Guard. 
  • Numbered Vessel: An undocumented vessel numbered by a state with an approved numbering system.
  • Open Motorboat: Craft of open construction specifically built for operating with a motor.
  • Off-Throttle Steering: Used to identify the problems associated with loss of steering control and operator instinctively releases the throttle in an emergency maneuver.
  • Operator Inattention: Failure on the part of the operator to pay attention to the vessel, its occupants, or the surrounding environment.
  • Overloaded Boat: Exceeding the designed load limits of a vessel.
  • Outboard: An engine not permanently affixed to the structure of the craft.
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB): A small, relatively low-cost, battery-powered device that sends out a distress signal once every 50 seconds for a minimum of 24 hours. 
  • Personal Watercraft (PWC)Craft designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the craft rather than within the confines of a hull.
  • Pontoon BoatA boat consisting of a rigid structure connecting at least two parallel fore (front) and aft (back) rigid sealed buoyancy chambers.
  • Registration: Issued by government authority and required to be aboard the vessel at all times. Also known as the Certificate of Number.
  • Restricted Vision: When the vessel operator’s vision is limited by glare, sunlight, bright lights, a dirty windshield, spray, a canopy top, etc. 
  • SailboatA boat intended to be propelled primarily by sail. 
  • Sharp Turn: An immediate or abrupt change in the boat’s course of direction. 
  • Sinking: Losing enough buoyancy to settle below the surface of the water.
  • Starting in Gear: The engine is started with the transmission in forward or reverse. 
  • Steel Hull: Hulls of sheet steel or steel alloy.
  • Sterndrive: An inboard/outboard engine system, with the engine inside the hull connected to an external lower unit containing a propeller. Steering is achieved by turning the lower unit.
  • Towed Water Sports: Engaging in a type of water activity while a person outside the vessel is being towed.
  • Towing: Engaged in towing another vessel or object. 
  • VHF Marine RadioEffective device for marine communications. VHF marine radios withstand rough weather and, if mounted to the boat, have Digital Selective Calling, to help aid in the rescue.
  • Wake: Water surface turbulence left by a moving boat.
  • Weather: Used to signify a stormy or windy condition, usually rough or high seas, and dangerous operating conditions.
  • Wood Hull: Hulls of plywood, molded plywood, wood planking, or any other wood fiber.

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