Memorial Day, the official kickoff to summer and the unofficial start to boating season, takes place each year around the end of May. While Memorial Day is a special day of remembrance established to honor and remember those we have lost fighting in our United States armed services, it is also a weekend of celebration. All over the country, American flock to the beaches, to backyard BBQs, and of course, to the water.
As you prepare for this popular long weekend of Memorial Day boating adventures, take a minute to plan what you’ll need, where you’ll go, who’ll be along and what precautions you can take to keep this outing safe.
Follow these ten tips to ensure you and your crew enjoy a great Memorial Day boating weekend.
1. Follow a pre-departure checklist for your boat and trailer
Prepare your boat by checking that all systems (propulsion, electronics, lights, bilge pumps, etc.) are in working order and that your insurance and towing membership are current. Then, run down a list to ensure you have all the necessary gear and safety equipment onboard (see our Boat Safety Equipment Checklist)—and that each item is in good condition.
- Add or refresh your safety gear, such as fire extinguishers, flares, or your first aid kit.
- Ensure you have enough life jackets for everyone who’ll be aboard, including kids and pets.
- Carry extra gear like flashlights, rain gear and a battery pack for your cellphone.
- Check your electronics including the VHF radio, chartplotter and radar if you’ll be out at night or in fog.
- Check that the engine cutoff switch (ECOS) is working and wear it during your trip.
Don’t forget about the trailer—check breaks, lights, tires, axels, safety chains and registration decals.
2. Plan your itinerary for the day and invite your crew
Decide where you want to go. If this will be your first trip of the season, make it nearby for less stress.
Ahead of the trip, you’ll also want to consider who is on your guest list. Keep the number to a safe limit per your vessel’s capacity limit. It’s also helpful to send a list to your guests to inform them of how they should dress and what they should or shouldn’t bring.
If you do plan on indulging in a few adult beverages, be sure to have a designated driver which may well be you if you’re the only who knows how to operate the boat. A BUI is as serious as a DUI.
3. File a float plan
It’s always a good idea to file a float plan with your on-water towing provider or just let a friend know where you’re going, with whom and when you’ll be back so someone can take action if you don’t return on time.
4. Pack the right provisions
Pack the day’s provisions including snacks or food for grilling. Prepare as much in advance as possible. Not only will it be safer to have vegetables that are pre-cut or meat that’s pre-cooked, it’ll mean you’ll be able to enjoy more time with your guests.
Bring plenty of water, especially on a hot weekend, and discourage excessive alcohol intake. And of course, don’t forget the SPF! Bring along plenty of sunscreen for the whole group.
5. Go over a quick safety briefing with our crew
When guest arrive, do a safety briefing. You can review things like…
- Show them where life jackets are stowed and how to put them on.
- Point out locations of fire extinguishers and how to use them and show them how to make a call for help on the VHF radio if your boat has one.
- Address motion sickness and tell guests to let you know if they’re feeling unwell.
6. Review the ‘rules of the road’ before you get out on the water
It’s not a bad idea to give yourself a refresher on the ‘rules of the road’ for boating, because the weekend will be busy with lots of on-water traffic.
- Pass oncoming boat traffic port-to-port;
- Maintain course and speed when being passed by another vessel;
- And remember, “red-right-returning” when coming back into a harbor
Also take time to review the proposed itinerary and look at it on the chartplotter or on a paper chart. Take note of any hazards to navigation, closed areas, channel markers and anchorage designations. Enter waypoints into your plotter if needed.
7. Be ready for crowded waterways, launch ramps and fuel docks
Similar to the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends, Memorial Day boating always brings the crowds. Knowing that the weekend will be busier than usual, build in extra time for every part of the day. The launch ramp and fuel dock will be busy and anxiety will make tempers flare so don’t ruin your weekend before it starts.
Likewise, when you’re out on the water, boat defensively. You don’t know the level of experience of the boaters around you so don’t make assumptions about their intentions or behavior. Always take the high road and boat with courtesy.
8. Be aware of ‘no wake’ zones and operate appropriately
Maintain a safe speed and know the local no wake zones. Always have a lookout and approach swimming zones, sand bars, ramps, docks and beaches slowly.
9. Stay cautious and alert when boating after dark
If you’re boating at night, turn on your navigation lights at dusk. This is also the time to keep an eye on your guests and ask them to keep lights (cellphones or flashlights) to a minimum to not ruin your night vision.
If you’re out to see fireworks, don’t anchor right below them to avoid having an ember land on your guests or on deck. Have a plan to exit the area safely after the show because you won’t be alone and many around you may not be sober.
10. Have a plan for clean-up
Although we all never want great boat days to come to an end, it’s always good to think ahead about the end of the trip or evening. This includes cleaning up and securing the boat. If you need to load onto a trailer, arrive early or leave it to the next morning if possible.
Memorial Day boating is always an exciting start to the season, and running the trip or weekend through your head beforehand will make everything smoother, safer and more fun.
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