Boating Safety

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Operating Rules

You are legally responsible for the safety of those on your boat, any damage your boat causes to other boats and property, and all others injured by any damage you cause. Just like driving a car, if you don’t know and obey the rules, the fact that you didn’t know them is NOT a valid defense. Important: The law also says you’re GUILTY if you cause an accident because you’re “right” and therefore elect not to prevent the accident. These graphics show some (but not all) “right of way” rules. (horn signals and navigation lights are not covered here.)


Every boat has a DANGER ZONE from straight in front (the bow) to past the middle of its right side. Like when meeting another car at a street intersection, the one on the RIGHT has the RIGHT OF WAY. You must YIELD to boats in your DANGER ZONE.

Yielding to Other Boats

Powerboats must yield to sailboats and boats being rowed or paddled, except in a narrow channel. Stay well clear of all big vessels.


Be ready for trouble when a powerboat passes you in a narrow waterway. As the lead boat (which always has the right of way) stay on your side of the channel and maintain a steady speed so that the overtaking vessel can pass you safely. Use your radio to discuss this with the passing boat.


As in a car, both stay to your right & as far apart as practical, so it’s easier & safer to cross each other’s wake. (Okay to pass left, if both know the plan.) Give notice by steering to the right or left while still far apart. Then stay with that plan unless the other boat indicates otherwise. If you have a CB of VHF, use it. Be careful.

Take Time to be Safe


  • Observe the Rules of the Road
  • Carry a life preserver for each person on board: keep life preservers handy and PUT THEM ON in adverse conditions.
  • Instruct at least one of your crew in the rudiments of handling your craft in case you are injured or become incapacitated.
  • See that all hands know what to do in an emergency and where to find the safety equipment.
  • Check weather and tides before going out.
  • Check the gasoline system, and make sure that the tanks are vented and that bilges are free of vapors, oil, waste, and grease.
  • Be sure that you have enough fuel with plenty to spare.
  • Check your battery, lights, and other equipment.
  • Reduce speed through all anchorage and moorage areas.
  • Reduce speed at night and during periods of poor visibility.
  • Maintain a proper lookout at all times.
  • Take your time in buying a boat or equipment: a bad “bargain” could cost you your life.


  • Overload your boat or allow passengers to move about in a way that may change its balance.
  • Leave shore in a leaky, damaged, or poorly constructed boat.
  • Venture into dangerous or restricted areas.
  • Operate near swimmers or divers
  • Forget that your wake can endanger others
  • Use gasoline stoves.
  • Lie at anchor with a short scope of line.
  • Mix liquor or drugs with boating.

Before Refueling

  • Fill portable tanks on the dock.
  • Secure boat to dock.
  • Locate fire extinguisher.
  • Close hatch, doors, and ports.
  • Refrain from smoking.
  • Shut down engines.
  • Ground gas nozzle.
  • Don’t top off the tank.

After Refueling

  • Replace the fuel tank cap.
  • Clean up any fuel spillage.
  • Open hatches, doors, and ports.
  • Ventilate bilge blower for at least four minutes before starting the engine.
  • Use your nose to check for gas odors.


A boat operator is responsible for any damage to persons or property caused by his wake! Take time to safely refuel.

These articles are excerpts from the Washington State Boating Safety Officers Association and the OnWater websites.