Whether you’re an experienced pontoon boat owner or a newcomer ready to discover all the fun owning a pontoon boat can offer, safety should be your number one priority. It’s easy to overlook a detail or two when you’re eager to get out on the water or when you’re riding across the waves with the sun on your face and wind in your hair.
Make sure you’re ready to have a fun — and safe — day on the water with the following pontoon boat safety checklist.
First Things First
- Take an approved boating safety course, in person or online. These free courses will teach you much of what you need to keep yourself your crew safe on the water, including the “rules of the road” for when you encounter other boaters and the meaning of navigational and warning markers. (For a list of available courses, visit the U.S. Coast Guard website)
- Make sure your vessel is registered with your state and numbers clearly affixed.
Gather The Necessary Gear
- One properly-fitted life jacket is required for every passenger on board. Most states require children under 12 to wear their lifejackets at all times while on board. Passengers should wear them, too, or at minimum know how to quickly access.
- One throwable personal floatation device.
- Required signaling devices. These can include three combination day/night use pyrotechnics (flares) and one orange distress flag. A sound-producing device is also required; backup your onboard horn with a whistle in case of battery failure.
- Fire extinguisher. Check expiration date!
Unsure of the requirements for your local area? Check with your dealer to make sure you have all the necessary equipment before heading out on that maiden voyage.
Before You Leave The Dock
- When taking delivery of a new pontoon boat, make sure you get a full and complete walkthrough of your new vessel before you leave the dealership. This walkthrough should include the location, operation and function of all controls, including all safety gear on board.
- Designate a backup captain. Make sure s/he knows how to properly run the boat and get back to shore in case of emergency.
- File a float plan. These can be more or less detailed depending on the body of water, but in general make sure someone knows who’s on board, where you plan to go, and what time you plan to return.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a contributing cause to nearly half of all boating accidents. As the captain, never drive under the influence.
- Check the weather forecast.
- Verify operation of navigation lights, horn, and engine cutoff switch (ECOS).
- Make certain you have enough fuel to handle your plans for the day and top off if necessary.
- As the captain, always wear the engine cutoff switch (ECOS).
- Operate at speeds that are safe for both conditions and passenger load/experience.
- Obey the Navigation Rules, commonly referred to as the nautical rules of the road. These rules, which cover common right-of-way situations, are a key component of any boating safety course.
- Avoid erratic maneuvers that other boaters may not anticipate or put passengers at risk.
- Make sure all crew is seated anytime the boat is in motion.
- Shut off the engine and disconnect the engine cutoff safety switch before any passenger gets in the water, gears up to ski or tube, or gathers on the swim platform.
- Always verify no one is in the water or near the propeller(s) any time you start the engine.
Other Boating Gear To Consider
- First Aid Kit
- VHF Radio w/Weather Alerts
- Waterproof flashlight
- Skier-down flag
- Smartphone…with charger
- Basic tools
Find more pontoon boat safety tips, including links to approved boating safety courses, here.