Great Lakes Coast Guard highlights boat operator responsibilities

CHICAGO — As the annual observance of National Safe Boating Week launches Saturday and the boating season across the Great Lakes gets underway, the Coast Guard is highlighting the responsibilities of boat operators, including the results and dangers of operator inattention, insufficient lookouts and inexperience.

National Safe Boating Week, which runs from May 20-26, is an annual observance sponsored by the National Safe Boating Council, endorsed by the U.S. Coast Guard and promoted by multiple state and local agencies throughout the U.S.

In 2015, more than 1,400 accidents were attributed to operator inexperience, operator inattention or from not having a proper lookout, which resulted in nearly 900 injuries and 112 fatalities. In the eight states surrounding the Great Lakes, there were 247 accidents resulting in 176 injuries and 17 fatalities in 2015.

These statistics highlight the important and life-dependent responsibility that rests on the shoulders of boat owners and operators. Just like the driver of a car is responsible for the safety of his/her passengers by knowing the rules of the road, having proper emergency gear, driving defensively, keeping aware of other vehicles and hazards, and knowing how to call for help, it is imperative that boat operators recognize the same responsibility.

Without the proper knowledge, preparation and experience, a planned day of fun in the sun can turn dangerous and deadly, quickly.

The Coast Guard recommends that boat owners and operators:

  • Take a boating safety course to learn the “rules of the road” and boating safety best practices. To find a safety course near you, contact the Coast Guard Auxiliary by visiting
  • Make sure you have enough Coast Guard-approved life jackets on board your vessel for every passenger, and that they’re easily accessible. Don’t store them underneath a seat or below deck. Better yet, wear them! Donning a life jacket is much harder once you’re in the water, especially if you’re injured.
  • Designate a lookout on your vessel, other then the operator, every time you get underway. Lookouts should monitor the surroundings for other boats, swimmers, kayaks, floating debris, and traffic around breakwalls and piers.

“Having a designated lookout can be one of the most important things to have aboard while underway,” said Mike Baron, the recreational boating safety specialist for the Coast Guard 9th District in Cleveland. “Keeping a proper lookout helps boaters to see potential hazards and take proper action to avoid them before they become a problem.”

  • Share the Road…. or waterways in this case. Just like you maintain a safe speed on the road and are cautious of larger vehicles such as trucks and buses, maintain a safe speed on the water and stay clear of ships, water taxis, towboats tugs and barges. And, be aware of your wake to avoid potential harm to other boaters, kayakers and personal property.
  • Always check the weather before getting underway, and continue to monitor the forecast. This can be done by tuning into TV, radio or via weather band radios, and by keeping your eyes to the skies. Conditions can change rapidly, particularly on hot humid days.
  • Get a free vessel safety check to make sure your boat is in proper working order and that you have the proper emergency gear such as flares and fire extinguishers. Just like you take your car in for a scheduled check up, vessel safety checks are the best way to learn about problems with your vessel that may create a danger to you and your passengers. Safety checks are offered by experienced members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons.
  • Let someone on land know where you are going and when you expect to return. For longer trips, file a float plan with someone on land and provide pertinent information such as description of your boat, who is on board, where you’re departing from, your destination and time of arrival.
  • You don’t drink and drive, so don’t drink and boat. Alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating, and is just as dangerous and illegal as drinking and driving a motor vehicle. Alcohol is even more hazardous on the water. The marine environment such as motion, vibration, engine noise, sun and wind can accelerate a drinker’s impairment.

For information on vessel safety checks, visit

For information on boating safety courses, visit

To download the Coast Guard Boating Safety App, visit

For more information on National Safe Boating Week and safe boating, visit

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