Pre-Departure Checklist & Passenger Communication

Boaters are legally responsible for their passengers. Before leaving shore, a safety briefing should be conducted with everyone on board, and a pre-departure checklist should be completed. An example of a pre-departure checklist is included in the section above.

Operators should show passengers where all safety equipment is located and how it should be used. It is also important to ensure that communication equipment works and that everyone knows how to use it. At least one other person on board should know how to operate the vessel in case something happens to the driver. Important topics to be briefed with all passengers before launch to prevent accidents, increase safety and reduce emergency response time are:

  • Location and use of PFDs/life jackets, and how to properly put them on
  • Placement and use of fire extinguishers
  • Location and use of flares or other visual distress signals
  • Placement and use of the first-aid kit
  • Discharge and management of waste procedures
  • Anchoring procedures
  • Emergency radio operation
  • Adverse weather response procedures
  • Line handling
  • Falls overboard procedure

Boat operators should also conduct a mock training with passengers so they understand and know what to expect in emergency situations.

Safety Equipment

Having the proper equipment on board a watercraft can save boaters’ lives and the lives of their passengers. Boaters who have sound equipment that is easily accessible to all on board will be much better prepared to react to any problems or emergencies that may arise on the water.

Boat operators must understand the importance of carrying all necessary lifesaving equipment and explaining all safety instructions to guests.


The most important safety priority for boaters is to ensure that all persons on board are wearing a lifejacket at all times. There are many scenarios on the water that may cause a passenger to lose their balance and fall into the water. Wearing a PFD significantly increases the probability of survival in these situations.

Recreational boating statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard point out that nearly 70% of water deaths are caused by drowning, and 90% of the deaths occur when a person is not wearing an appropriate life saving flotation device. Not only is it essential to wear a personal flotation device (PFD), but also to ensure before each boating trip that each flotation device on board is working correctly. Boaters should check to make sure that each life jacket is in good condition (buckles, seams, zippers, etc.) and follow any manufacturer instructions to confirm that the device will work properly if needed. Boaters who fail to carry sufficient PFDs or who carry improper PFDs are subject to fines and citations.

Proper Loading

For maximum safety, operators should always strive to keep as small a load as possible on the boat. Operators should reference the capacity plate, which indicates the maximum number of people and maximum weight allowable to operate the boat safely. Overloading a boat with equipment and people is very dangerous. Too much weight will make a watercraft unstable and it may dip under water or allow small waves to crash onboard.

Operators should also ensure that their loads are evenly distributed, as an uneven load, can also make a watercraft unstable.

Loose equipment should be secured where necessary to avoid the potential for injury should an article become dislodged during a sudden bout of turbulence.