Safety at Sea

June 05, 2015
Safety at Sea

You have just purchased your first boat (you’ve always wanted a boat) and you cannot wait to get out on the water and explore everything a seafaring life has to offer. By all means get out there and have fun, but make sure you know the correct safety procedures before pushing the throttle as far as it can go.

Check out our rough guide to being safe at sea!


First up, wherever you are – unless you plan on hiring your own personal skipper – you’ll need an official boat operator’s license before you take your new vessel out for a spin. Boating licenses are usually obtained through the same transport safety authorities from where you will get a regular road vehicle license. The skills and indeed the safety measures you will learn on your course are not only legally necessary, but will prove invaluable during your time on the water.


As an operator of a sea-going vessel, you are responsible not only for your own safety but for the safety of your passengers and towards other members of the public. Before launching the boat or leaving the docks it is imperative that you follow the correct marine safety procedures.

Make sure you:

  • Plan where and for how long you are going to be out on the water.

  • Check the current tides and make sure you know when they are going to be low in case this places restrictions on when you can leave and when you can return to the shore.

  • Check all equipment is functioning correctly before launching the boat, paying special attention to your radio and safety equipment.

  • Ensure that your bungs are firmly secured making the vessel watertight before departing.

  • Make sure all people on board have a life jacket and that children are wearing one at all times and are seated once the boat is underway.

  • Radio in to the local coast guard providing them with trip details including your expected return time, date and where you plan on going.

You should also have the following safety equipment on board:

  • Personal flotation devices (lifejackets) for each person on board and one which can be thrown (lifebuoy)

  • Marine radio

  • Working signal lights

  • Emergency kit containing flares

  • Inflatable life raft

  • Fire extinguisher

  • EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon – turn this on only in an emergency so that search and rescue services can locate your vessel

  • An anchor

  • Compass

  • Bucket with rope (can also act as a bailer)

  • Waterproof torch that floats

boat planing


By law you will need to have a personal safety device on board your vessel for every person going on the trip. Where you are in the world, the class of vessel you are operating and the activities you are performing will each determine who has to wear a lifejacket and when.

As a general rule, it’s best to make sure that all children the age of twelve and under are wearing lifejackets at all times. If you are in an open area of the vessel and it is in motion, you should also be wearing one, even if you are an adult.

In rough conditions it is good practice to make sure everyone is wearing a lifejacket.

If you are not sure about the laws relative to lifejacket use, check out your state government’s marine safety authority website for details specific to your vessel type and the kind of boating you like to perform.


One of the most important pieces of kit on your boat, your radio can provide you with up to date weather reports and offers you direct communication with the coast guard and emergency services.

A trip report should always be issued before you depart so the local coast guard has a record of your departure and return times as well as your destination. In addition, you should always let someone know back on the shore when you expect to return so they can notify the proper authorities if you do not. Coastguards will not check automatically if you have returned safely but you can always radio in confirming your return.

Check your transport safety authority’s website for the various radio frequencies you can tune into for information and to communicate with the correct authorities.


This one might be so obvious that it is an easy enough mistake to make. There aren’t any gas stations out on the ocean, so you’d better make sure you have plenty of fuel on hand for your trip. You should calculate your expected fuel consumption before leaving.

A good rule to follow 1/3 out, 1/3 in and 1/3 in reserve. If you are travelling so far from shore that you will use up 50 percent of your fuel on the way out, this leaves you with nothing in reserve to account for unforeseen circumstances which may require you to travel for longer. It is good practice to have reserve fuel in a sealed waterproof container on board as backup.

If not maintained correctly petrol or diesel powered vessels are a natural hazard to the marine environment. Check your fuel lines, fuel tank and motor regularly for any leaks and look after the ocean that you love exploring.


The ocean is a trying place, even for your boat. Sea water is incredibly corrosive and even though your boat is designed to resist the impact of the elements, componentry naturally deteriorates with use over time.

Make sure you regularly inspect your vessel checking for signs of natural wear and tear and signs of unnatural damage. If your vessel is moored at a dock, it is even more important that you check for signs of distress as it sits in water all year round. The key areas to check and maintain are the motor, your fuel, fuel tank and lines, the boat's structure and the batteries. Make sure it is serviced regularly and you shouldn’t have any trouble at sea.

Launching and Retrieving

Launching your boat can be a hazardous process. From reversing your trailer to driving your boat back on to it at the end of the day, there are a number of simple things that can go wrong.

Make sure you are launching your boat from a location that is safe and that it is legal to launch there. Launch ramps are the best place to do this as they have been chosen for their location in relation to the tide and are usually sheltered from the elements

In order to launch from the beach, you will either need a vehicle that can tow a boat out of the surf, or will need the assistance of a tractor at the local boating club. Not all beaches are suited to launching so make sure you research where to launch first.


Learning how to anchor safely is hugely important for anyone new to boating. Anchoring allows you to bed down for the night, perform certain kinds of fishing, and even leave your boat unattended while you explore the mainland.

Before dropping anchor, make sure you are not in restricted waters and are well out of the way of any shipping routes. It is best to anchor in areas that are protected from the elements. Be sure to allow for the fact that your boat is going to swing around to face the wind and check that it won't hit anything as it does.

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