The BoatUS Foundation: Keeping Boating Safe in US Waters

The BoatUS Foundation is a world leader in promoting safe, responsible boating. The organization provides educational outreach to boaters and supports partner organizations across America.

With millions of boaters on the water, the BoatUS Foundation’s principal goals are to reduce boating fatalities and accidents and to increase stewardship of US waterways to keep boating a safe, enjoyable livelihood or hobby for all. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the organization is primarily funded by individual donations and grants.

The BoatUS Foundation provides guidance on a variety of boating safety topics, including the following:

Life Jackets

Personal flotation devices are the single most important consideration for any sailor. With 90% of drowning victims not wearing a life jacket, the foundation provides advice and information on choosing the right life jackets to keep everyone onboard safe.

Navigation Rules

Published by the US Government Printing Office, Navigation Rules provide boaters with vital instructions on how to avoid collisions. Every vessel measuring 12 meters (39.4 feet) or more is required to keep a copy onboard.

Alcohol and Boating

As many as half of all reported boating accidents involve alcohol. Unsurprisingly, law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly strident in their efforts to persuade boaters to avoid alcohol consumption until they are safely onshore. In a majority of states, operating a boat with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher is illegal.

Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol is also a federal offense that incur a fine of up to $5,000, with offenders serving jail time in some cases. State laws on boating under the influence (BUI) are becoming increasingly robust and impose penalties. In some states, sanctions may also be applied against the offender’s driving record, and their boat may be seized and sold at auction.

Marine Communications

Cell phones provide a valuable line of communication, enabling boaters to keep in touch with people on land while they are out on the water. However, they quickly can lose service if the boater is too far from land-based towers, and they don’t allow boaters in distress to reach several other boaters at once. For these reasons, cell phones are no replacement for Very High Frequency (VHF) radio, which has been used by sailors all over the world for decades and remains the go-to mode of communication for sailing vessels.

Cold Water Boating

Boating in cold waters can be invigorating and even exhilarating. However, boating in these conditions also comes with the risk of hypothermia and death if someone falls overboard.

For a good rule of thumb to tell if special cold water precautions should be taken, add the current air and water temperatures together. If the result is less than 100℉, boaters should ensure that all aboard are dressed for the water temperature — not just the air temperature. All should wear a properly fitted jacket and hat.

Bringing an extra set of dry, warm clothes in a dry bag is also a good idea just in case someone gets wet. A thermos of coffee and energy bars can come in handy as well. Of course, life jackets are always necessary. Note that you can buy special cold water life jackets with extra insulation.

Fire Extinguishers

In the United States, all vessels must be equipped with a B-1 fire extinguisher, with larger vessels required to carry more. The BoatUS Foundation recommends a tri-class fire extinguisher.

Having the requisite number of fire extinguishers on board is one part of the solution — the other is knowing how to operate them properly. Make sure to read the directions for your fire extinguisher and understand what it can and cannot do.

Flares and Distress Signals

Visual distress signals are a vital component of any boat’s safety equipment, enabling boaters to summon help when in immediate or potential danger. The BoatUS Foundation website offers helpful information about visual distress signal requirements and which are right for your boat.

Carbon Monoxide

Known as the silent killer, this odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is undetectable by the human senses. It is produced by engines run on carbon-based fuels like gasoline, and is capable of killing within a relatively short timeframe. It is essential for boaters to acquaint themselves with the symptoms of CO poisoning and arm themselves with the knowledge of what to do in the event of exposure.

Crew Overboard

When a crewmember falls overboard, time is of the essence to avoid hypothermia. Quick thinking and coordinated actions are vital to stage a successful rescue. Falling overboard can happen on a vessel of any size, and many accidents are preventable with a few common-sense steps. From maintaining three points of contact with the boat to avoiding standing and sudden movements, the BoatUS Foundation website provides comprehensive guidance to help keep sailors safe.

In addition to its resources on the safety topics above, the BoatUS Foundation runs several boating safety programs for individuals and organizations. For example, the Kids Afloat program allows organizations that provide boating and kayak trips for children to purchase kid-sized life jackets for just $5 each — a significant discount.

Douglas Healy is a Springfield, Missouri-based attorney with nearly 20 years of legal experience.