Need-to-know tips for beginner boaters

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Tallahassee, Florida. May, 2021.- With summer drawing near, it’s no secret that anglers want to be on the water. Learn about everything from boat ramp etiquette to need-to-know safety tips for boating in Florida.

Preparation and launching:

A busy boat ramp can be intimidating. However, an understanding of some very basic principles can help keep you safe and confident before you even arrive at the ramp.

Caption: Boater using a boat ramp in St. Marks, FL

  • Have a float plan. This includes where you will be boating, when you expect to return, communication equipment onboard, the type of boat you’re operating and more. Download a fillable float plan PDF from MyFWC.com/Boating by clicking “Boating Safety” then “Float Plan.” Leave your float plan with someone trustworthy who is staying onshore and can notify FWC or another rescue organization in case of an emergency.
  • Be weather aware. Check the weather before you head out and frequently get an updated report while on the water that includes weather conditions, tides, wave forecast, wind and warnings. Weather.gov/marine is a great resource.
  • Before you take your boat to the ramp, be sure you have all items necessary for boating success and safety on the water. Visit MyFWC.com/Boating and click “Boating Safety” then “Safety Equipment” for a complete list that includes personal flotation devices, a sounding device, fire extinguisher, navigation and much more.
  • Whether you’re preparing to launch or about to make your drive home, do your best to prepare your vessel well away from the actual ramp as much as you safely can (leave that safety chain on until you launch and put it on as soon as you winch your boat up).
  • Two is better than one. Launching and retrieving your boat is easiest with two people. One person can drive the towing vehicle while the other operates the vessel. While having two people is not required, inviting a friend to come along is a great way to learn and can make it much easier!
  • Once your vessel is off the trailer and in the water, it should be moved from the launch lane so other boaters can access the lane as well.
  • When getting off the water, always ensure that your towing vehicle is at the ramp and ready to retrieve your vessel before pulling your boat into the launch lane.
  • Do not power load your boat onto the trailer. Power loading is using the boat’s motor to load and unload the boat from the trailer. Power loading can damage the boat ramp and cause problems for other boaters. Click here to watch a short video about the negative impacts of power loading.
  • Be mindful of where you park. If you’re launching a paddlecraft and don’t have a trailer, don’t park in a space that is designated for a trailer.

The boat ramp is a shared area for all boaters and preparation is key. Following these steps will boost your boating confidence and allow you to launch and recover your vessel safely and efficiently.

On the water:

Once you’re on the water, smart decision making is key! In the blink of an eye, an unfavorable situation can arise. Be sure you’ve completed all necessary boating safety courses before getting behind the wheel of any vessel. Remember that if you’re the one driving, you’re responsible for not only your own safety, but also that of everyone else on your boat. Follow the guidelines below and learn more at MyFWC.com/Boating by clicking “Boating Safety” then “Boater Safety Courses.”

Caption: Boaters enjoying a nice day on the water in St. Marks, FL

  • Steer clear from drugs and alcohol! It is dangerous and a violation of Florida law to operate a boat while under the influence. Staying away from these substances can help you avoid becoming a statistic. Learn more at NASBLA.org.
  • Wear your life jacket! It could save your life. You are required to have a properly fitting life jacket onboard for all passengers. Life jackets must be U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) approved, in serviceable condition and the appropriate size for the intended user. Children under the age of six years old must wear a life jacket at all times while on a vessel less than 26 feet in length. Additionally, each person onboard a personal watercraft and anyone being towed behind a vessel must wear a USCG-approved life jacket as well. Of course, life jackets will only work if you are wearing one – so we encourage you to WEAR IT!
  • Don’t let your trash make a splash. Stash the trash while boating and be sure that your garbage stays onboard, preferably in a garbage can or a bucket with a lid, then dispose of it in a proper receptacle onshore. Proper disposal not only keeps shorelines clean, but can also save wildlife. Learn more at MyFWC.com/StashTheTrash.
  • Speed kills. Abide by posted speed zone signs and slow down for swimmers, paddlecraft and vessels not underway, as well as areas known to have manatees or large jumping fish. Be aware of waterway markers and check out these helpful tips on what to do if you see a manatee while boating.
  • Help protect seagrassescorals and other vital marine habitats. When boating near seagrasses, carefully pole or drift your vessel through shallow areas to avoid causing propeller scars and groundings, which can severely damage often-fragile seagrass meadows and the species that depend on them. Never anchor on coral reefs, but instead drift-fish or tie your boat to available mooring buoys. Being aware of and protecting marine fisheries habitats is a huge part of being a responsible boater!
  • Except in the event of an emergency, it is unlawful to moor or fasten to any lawfully placed navigation aid or regulatory marker. When considering where to anchor your vessel, be considerate of anchoring limitation areas.
  • Do not pass through a “No Motor Zone” if you are operating a motorized vessel. There are no exceptions here. Both internal combustion engines and electric engines must abide by this.
  • Choose a safe seat! All passengers on the boat should be aware that it is illegal to ride on the bow, gunwale, transom, seat backs, seats on raised decks or any other place where there may be a possibility of falling overboard.
  • All operators of recreational boats less than 26-feet in length that have an installed engine cut-off device must wear an engine cut-off switch link. This device helps prevent accidents by cutting off the engine when the vessel operator is not at the helm.
  • All in all, a comprehensive understanding of information found at SafeBoatingCampaign.com and MyFWC.com/Boating can greatly increase boater knowledge and confidence. After all, knowledge is power! Bookmark these pages on your computer or mobile device, revisit them as needed and share them with other boaters.

Equipped with this knowledge and understanding, we encourage you to get out on the water and make a Florida memory today! Visit the links below for additional information critical to success, safety and confidence on the water.