Recreational Boating Activity Safety Guide


The more you know about boating, and safe boating practices, the better odds that your time on the water will be safe. Because of the many recreational boating opportunities and activities, it’s important to remind ourselves of the necessary precautions and preparations as we continue through the season. 

» MORE: Safe Boating Information and Resources

Here’s a closer look at specific recreational boating activities and some actions you can take to ensure you’re staying safe on the water all season long.  

Water Skiing and Wakeboarding 

Popular waterways are likely to be packed during the summertime, with many vessels towing water skiers and wakeboarders. 

Here are our top tips when participating in towed activities:

  • Have an observer onboard, in addition to the boat operator. The observer is specifically in charge of watching the person being towed. 
  • Water skiers or wakeboarders should use hand signals to communicate with the observer and vice versa. Some key signals to coordinate are - “cut motor”, “turn”, “speed up”, “speed down”, “stop”, etc.
  • Only go water skiing and wakeboarding in between the hours of sunrise and sunset. 
  • Anyone being towed must wear a securely fastened US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device. The preferred life jacket for these activities is the type III special-purpose device that’s impact-rated, form-fitting, and affords good visibility to the skier.
  • The person being towed is considered a passenger and should be counted towards the maximum passengers allowed on the vessel. Exceeding that number can be extremely dangerous for all passengers aboard.  

» MORE: About SkiSafe | The Water Ski Community


Avid fishermen often consider themselves sportsmen rather than recreational boaters. Their boats are specifically designed for these purposes. Bass outboard boats, for example, are on the smaller side and built for fishing in mainly freshwater areas. They have swivel chairs, allowing fishermen to cast out at any angle, and large bins to store tackle, rods, lures and caught fish. 

Fishing During Cold Weather SeasonsEven if you’re only using your boat primarily to fish in out-of-the-way spots, all boat laws and safety rules still apply. Because of the massive crowds during the peak of summer, many sportsmen choose to head out in the fall and winter seasons. The waterways are less chaotic and there are opportunities to hunt new fish species. However, cold water can be a serious hazard. If the boat capsizes and its passengers are immersed in freezing temperatures, the risk of hypothermia and serious injury can result. There will be fewer boaters and marine patrol on the water during this time and thus slower response times. 

  • Tip: Have a float plan, don’t overload your boat, and always wear your life jacket! 

Fishing During Peak Season

If you’re fishing during peak boating season, try to stay out of the main boating channels so you don’t have to constantly move to avoid other boating traffic. Conversely, if you’re pleasure boating and see someone fishing from their boat, be courteous and steer clear of them. Your wake could fill their boat with water, pull their anchor loose, or cause a passenger to fall overboard. Plus, their lines or nets could be dangerous to you.

  • Tip: Remain cognizant of your wake and the wakes from other boats as you move around. 

Personal Watercraft

Personal watercraft (PWC) can be a lot of fun if they are operated responsibly. PWCs are susceptible to accidents and its passengers are at risk of injury - same as any other boat. Therefore, you will need to fully know and understand the specific safety measures involved with personal watercraft. 


Before operating personal watercraft, it is important to learn as much as possible about the craft. Here are some essential things to know:

  • Personal watercraft has a jet pump and nozzle for propulsion and direction, unlike a conventional boat, which has a propeller and rudder to drive itself through the water.
  • Similar to a motorcycle, the speed is regulated by throttle controls located on the handlebars. Once the throttle is released, the operator no longer has directional control of the vessel, since water is no longer being pushed through the directional nozzle. The vessel will continue on its present course.
  • PWCs are relatively light and can easily flip or become airborne. 
  • Most vessels have a low profile, making it somewhat difficult to be seen by larger boats on the water. To help with visibility, operators should wear bright-colored life jackets to be better seen. 
  • Operators should be mindful of adjacent docks and other hazardous objects. Speed limits are usually restricted within a certain distance of shores, docks, and other anchored boats. 
  • You shouldn’t operate your PWC in congested areas. Always keep sufficient space with other PWC operators to avoid potential collisions. Stay clear of other boats on the water, especially in areas with busy boat ramps, marinas, and channels.

Reckless Operation

  • Wake jumping too close to other vessels
  • Weaving through congested traffic
  • Last-minute swerving to avoid collision

» MORE: Operating Personal Watercraft

Specific Safety Regulations Regarding PWC Operation 

  • Life jackets must be worn by each passenger.
  • Engine cut offs must be functional and attached to the rider (if the watercraft has one).
  • Horn or whistle must be capable of a two-second blast and audible up to a ½ mile.
  • Visual distress signals must be onboard - like a fluorescent orange flag or other appropriate US Coast Guard-approved distress signaling device.
  • Operation between sunrise and sunset. Operating a PWC at night is extremely dangerous.
  • Boating under the influence is prohibited on all watercraft, including personal watercraft 

Education Requirements 

Anyone operating personal watercraft should complete an approved boating safety course before heading on the water. This will afford you an approved boating safety certificate, which should be carried at all times when operating the personal watercraft. 

For extra practice, have someone who knows what they’re doing take you out for a ride and show you how to properly operate the vessel. Have them explain the operation, as well as the rules of the road for the waterway. When you’re ready to go it alone, go to an area that’s free of traffic and obstructions. 

Operating with Children

If an individual cannot hold onto the person in front of them or cannot keep both feet on the deck to maintain balance during operation, it’s strongly recommended that this person does not ride. This mainly pertains to small children. If the child is big enough to reach their feet to the ground, they should never ride in front of the adult operating the watercraft. This could lead to serious injuries. 

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