Ride or Sail Responsibly This Holiday Weekend

Safe Boating Awareness Week is being celebrated across North America from May 19th - 25th, and with the Memorial Day weekend ahead of us, many of you will find it a perfect time to get your boat off the trailer or docks and out to sea.

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Boating Participation Increases to 73 Million Americans in 2006

Safe Boating Awareness Week is being celebrated across North America from May 19th - 25th, and with the Memorial Day weekend ahead of us, many of you will find it a perfect time to get your boat off the trailer or docks and out to sea. A lot of other people will have the same idea, so expect some congestion. You can also expect some people to be on the water for the first time, some for the first time this year; all with boating skills ranging from complete novice to 'a little rusty'. Under these circumstances, it’s important that you and your family play it safe and pay attention!

Rules of the Road

We can't stress it enough that you know the rules of the road, follow the rules of the road and do not assume that anybody else on the water knows the rules of the road. They’re supposed to know, but alas, they may not. But what are the basic rules?

Classic circumstance #1: two boats approaching each other head on. The preferred course of passing is port side to port side, that is, you would steer your boat toward your starboard as you face the bow when approaching the other vessel. However, it's only necessary for just one boat or either boat to take action and avoid the other.

If you were in a situation where you’re lined up ‘starboard side to starboard side’ and can pass safely, that’s perfectly fine. Don’t try to maneuver around using the other approach if it means you have to cut across the path of the oncoming boater.

Classic circumstance #2: One boat is passing another from the rear. The vessel that is doing the passing is obligated to stay clear of the other, and the boat that is being passed is responsible for holding a steady course and speed. These rules apply whether the boat that is passing is approaching from directly behind the other boat or from the port or the starboard side of the rear of the other boat.

Classic circumstance #3:
Two boats crossing paths. If you see a boat that will cross your path from your port to your starboard, you have the duty of maintaining a steady course and speed. If you see a boat that will cross from your starboard to port, you have the responsibility to take some evasive action, which typically would be to swing to your starboard and go behind the other boat.

Rules for Sailing Vessels:
When two sailing vessels are looming towards one another, one should avoid the other as follows: if each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side needs to keep out of the way of the other. If both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is windward should keep out of the way of the vessel on the leeward. The windward side is deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried or, in the case of a square rigged vessel, the side opposite to that on which the largest fore and aft sail is carried.

If your vessel is moving with the wind on the port side and you see a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or on the starboard side, just make sure to keep clear of their path.

* It's important to remember that powerboats must yield right of way to sailboats and swimmers. It doesn't take much effort to slow or turn, and you may get a smile or a wave in return!

Safety Gear
Also we really want to emphasize that the single most important piece of safety equipment on your boat is a personal flotation device (PFD). Federal and state rules require that all passengers in a boat have a PFD approved by the U.S. Coast Guard that is suitable for their size; which means adult-sized life vests for adults, child-sized life vests for the kids.

Another point about PFDs – wear them! Most fatalities on the water occur when a boat capsizes or a passenger simply falls overboard. In circumstances like this, the only PFD that really does you any good is one that you’re actually wearing.

Weather Tips

You can’t have a boating safety article without mentioning the Weather; our acclaimed friend or foe of the yachting community. Calm winds and seas make for enjoyable power boating, waterskiing and fishing. A fresh breeze and a light chop provide an exhilarating sailing or wind surfing experience. But the sudden emergence of dark clouds, shifting and gusty winds, torrential downpours and lightning can turn a day’s pleasure into a nightmare. Be sure to check forecasts in advance and keep your eye on weather patterns to the East because that’s the direction from which storms approach. Just the same, stay alert even in clear weather, whether it’s Memorial Day or any other day in the Summer.

Weather Information Broadcasts*



NOAA Weather Radio

162.400 MHz

(continuous broadcasts)

162.425 MHz


162.450 MHz


162.475 MHz


162.500 MHz


162.525 MHz


162.550 MHz

Coast Guard Marine

Selected frequencies

Information Stations

within the MF/HF marine bands: 2-20 MHz

Coast Guard NAVTEX

518 kHz

Coast Guard VHF (Channel22A)

157.1 MHz

National Institute of Standards and Technology

2.5 MHz, 5 MHz

Time and Frequency

10 MHz

Stations WWV and WWVH

15 MHz, 20 MHz

Commercial AM and FM Radio Stations  

For additional information, please visit

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