Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner, and this unofficial kickoff to summer deserves some preparation—especially if you’re planning on boating over the weekend. Here at Discover Boating, we’ve compiled some simple Memorial Day boating tips that will help you and your crew enjoy safe and fun days on the water during this busy holiday weekend.
Follow these pro tips to help with advanced planning, and take notes on how to use good common-sense and basic boating etiquette to improve your situational awareness during your outings.
1. Plan Ahead for the Holiday Weekend
Of course you’re excited for a three day weekend on the water—but before you hop onboard and shove off the dock, be sure to spend some time visualizing and mapping out the upcoming day(s) of boating ahead.
- Invite only the number of people who will safely fit aboard. Boating with more than the maximum capacity of the vessel is not only unsafe, it’s also illegal.
- Get a weather report and a forecast for the day. Keep an eye out for changing or deteriorating conditions, and have an exit strategy if necessary.
- File a float plan—this can be official and filed with an organization like a towing provider or marina, or just brief details of where you’ll be and when you’ll return shared with a responsible party like family or friends. Someone will need to alert the authorities if you don’t arrive as expected, so don’t forget to check back in when you’re done.
- Designate a Sober Skipper, and set clear rules and guidelines when it comes to alcohol consumption onboard (if applicable for your crew). Make sure your passengers understand and agree to these rules before they step onboard.
2. Prep Your Boat (and Trailer) in Advance
Inspect your boat—whether it’s a bowrider, center console, fishing boat, PWC, motoryacht or sailboat—and be sure it’s ready to go out.
- Bilge pumps, running lights, engines, and all critical onboard systems should be in working order.
- If you have a trailer, follow a Pre-Trip Trailering Checklist—be sure to inspect your break lights, tire pressure, wheel bearings, and tie down equipment.
- Carry and display current registration decals (for both your boat and trailer), as well as any necessary boating or fishing licenses, education or safety course certificates, and any needed Coast Guard documents.
- Bring extra fuel if you’ll be towing a lot for watersports, or if you’re planning on going on an extended coastal passage.
- And of course, don’t forget the drain plug before launching!
3. Use a Pre-Departure Checklist and Check Your Onboard Gear
Required boating safety equipment differs by size and type of vessel—if you’re unsure about your bare minimum needs, be sure to check out our Boating Safety Checklist & Safety Equipment List. At a minimum, start with these “must-have” items:
- Appropriately sized and U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets for everyone aboard. Children 12 and under must always wear a life jacket while on a moving vessel.
- Fire extinguisher(s). The number and type are dictated by the type of vessel.
- Emergency medical kit with fresh supplies onboard. In case you end up boating at night, carry flashlights, warm clothing, and extra food and water.
- Visual and sound signaling devices, to get assistance in case of an emergency.
- Cell phone or VHF radio to help you communicate and reach help if necessary.
- If your boat comes equipped with an engine cutoff switch (ECOS), be sure to have it onboard and use it. This stops the engine in case the driver falls overboard. As of April 2021, there are new rules set out by the Coast Guard requiring the use of an ECOS link.
4. Get Your Crew Involved
Educate your friends and family about some of the basic expectations and tasks that they can expect during a day of boating. By involving them, you’ll also help to expand their own boating skills for future on-water adventures.
- When guests come aboard, show them where life jackets are stowed and how to put them on. Also show them where fire extinguishers are kept and how to use them (pull the pin and aim at the base of the flames).
- Demonstrate the proper use of a VHF radio when calling for help.
- Take a minute for a quick safety briefing including how to manage docking lines and fenders.
- States differ on the minimum age required for a person to operate a motorized vessel. So it’s a good idea to learn the rules in your state, and then share what you’ve learned with your guests so there won’t be any unreasonable expectations.
- Discuss the possibility of seasickness and what to do in case anyone feels unwell—see 5 Ways to Prevent Seasickness.
5. Get Ready for Crowds—and Get Familiar with the Boating “Rules of a Road”
If you’re going boating on Memorial Day weekend, you definitely won’t be the only one. Head into the weekend with realistic expectations, knowing there will likely be long lines at the boat ramps and crowded waterways heading in and out of marinas or inlets.
Memorial Day, along with the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend, are known to be three of the busiest boating weekends of the year. Before heading out, here’s some additional things to keep in mind while out on the water:
- Review the rules of the road for boating before pushing off the dock. Refresh your memory on what is a give way and stand on vessel. At the very least, remember that a boat that is overtaking another does not have the right of way. With two boats on a collision course, the boat on the right has right of way. In case of a head on meeting, try (if possible) to turn to starboard (right) and pass port-to-port or left-to-left.
- Expect crowds at the launch ramp where it can get chaotic with moving boats, trailers and even people in the water—get a refresher course on good launch ramp manners in Boat Ramp Etiquette 101. If possible, try to reserve a launch time. Launch and clear the ramp as quickly as possible to give other boaters their time. Don’t tie up at a launch dock for longer than allowed.
- Maintain a safe speed at all times and familiarize yourself with local boating speed zones—see Boat Regulatory Zones: What is a ‘No Wake’ Zone? Especially around ramps, docks and beaches, operate at slow speed because boats can’t stop like cars can. Navigate on the correct side of a channel or waterway (based on markers) and slowdown in narrow channels and blind turns.
- Keep a proper lookout at all times. Whether you’re towing a water skier, kayaking or coming into an anchorage, situational awareness is critical. Check for other boats, swimmers, divers or hazards and know the local currents and tides.
- Always act with courtesy and recreate responsibly. Other boaters may not know as much as you do so insisting on your right of way won’t avoid a collision. Watch your wake around swimmers or those on small, human powered craft like canoes or standup paddle boards.