It is always good to know the real facts about something.  However, it is all too common that we end up hearing and sometimes believing untruths about all types of things. Boating is no exception.  Let’s take a look at some common misconceptions that people have concerning boating safety.

  1. My boat has headlights ­­- Some boats have lights on the front. No, I’m not talking about navigation lights. I’m talking about the clear lights that face forward and light the area in front of the boat just like car headlights do. This leads many people to believe that they are headlights. Have you ever been on the water at night and seen a pontoon boat cruising across the lake with its so-called “headlights” on? I have. They are not headlights. They are docking lights and are meant to be used when approaching a dock or boat ramp. It is important to know that you should not use them when cruising open waters. Having these lights on will blind operators of oncoming vessels and make it difficult for them to navigate at night. Keep them off unless you are approaching a dock or boat ramp.
  2. Sailboats always have the right of way – One of the tenets of the rules of navigation is that sailboats have the right of way over power boats. But do they always have the right of way? The answer is no. A sailboat has the right of way over power boats when it is under sail. If a sailboat has its engines running, it is considered a power boat.  At that point, the rules that apply to two power boats approaching each other would come into play. In fact, if a sailboat is being propelled by its engines it is considered a power boat even if the sails are up.
  3. A boat has the right of way over personal watercraft – This is just not true. Since a boat is typically the larger of the two vessels, some people believe that PWCs should just get out of the way. In reality, a PWC is just a small boat and has the same rights on the water as any other power boat. That being said, I often ride personal watercraft and I will say that I do make sure to not get in the way of other vessels regardless of who has the right of way. It is a lot easier for me to see them than for them to see me. It just seems like common sense.
  4. Good swimmers do not need a life jacket –Being a good swimmer does not negate the need for a life jacket. You may be perfectly comfortable being on a boat while not wearing one. You may even be comfortable jumping into deep water and swimming around without one. Keep in mind that these are most likely under ideal conditions. Things can change suddenly. What if you find yourself on the water when severe weather approaches or you find yourself in a situation where the vessel is taking on water? If you are in a boating accident and are not conscious, your swimming skills cannot help you. These are situations where a life jacket literally can mean the difference between life and death. Also, keep in mind that having a suitable life jacket on board for each passenger is required by law.
  5. I’m not driving the boat so I can drink as much as I want – Have you ever been out with someone who has had too much to drink and you have to take care of them. It’s not easy and most of the time is not a lot of fun either. You spend your time and effort to ensure they do not become a danger to themselves or anyone else. It can be a daunting task. Imagine trying to do this while on a boat. Falling on the ground is one thing. Falling overboard is an entirely different situation. Now imagine the captain trying to safely operate the vessel and keep an eye on his/her passengers at the same time. It’s just not a good combination.
  6. Driving a boat is just like driving a car – No, it is not. If you have driven a boat before, then you already know this. Cars are not affected by current and wind and they do have brakes. Cars steer from the front, boats steer from the rear. When driving a car, you do not have to worry about unseen obstacles that may be below the surface. In a car, you can shut the engine off and put it in park and it will not move. A boat is never totally still unless it is not in the water. These differences surely do not make driving a boat impossible, just different. Be sure to know how to handle your vessel and never handle it in a way that exceeds your capabilities.
  7. Lakes are much safer than the ocean – Lakes are different than the ocean but not necessarily safer. Sure, there is little chance of getting lost at sea or having your vessel overtaken by pirates. But lakes have their own concerns when it comes to safety. You are more likely to have a collision while boating on a lake because they tend to be more crowded. While you can come across inexperienced boaters in either environment, it is more likely on a lake due to the higher likelihood of the “holiday boater.” These are individuals who may own a boat but only use it a few times a year. People who boat in coastal areas tend to use their boats more often and therefore have more experience. Bad weather can stir up dangerous waters in either situation but sometimes lakes are more affected by weather because they tend to be more shallow than the ocean. You can get into a dangerous situation on any body of water. Be diligent no matter where you are boating.

Keep these things in mind the next time you plan an outing on the water. It may save you or someone else from having a bad day.