Water Sports

Chris Riley by Chris Riley Updated on August 20, 2019. In

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Many people who operate boats do not consider themselves “boaters,” because boating is only incidental to their major activity. In fact, everyone who is in a boat is a boater, whether the reason is to fish, hunt, or just drift around.

Hunting and FishingFishermen

A number of hunters and fishermen drown each year, simply because they do not act as responsible boaters. They overload the boat, stand up, don’t wear PFDs or fail to take other precautions required when boating. A person who stands in a boat does not have the same balance as someone sitting down. A person who fires a gun while standing may easily lose balance and fall overboard.

DON’T operate around boaters who are hunting. Generally hunters don’t want to be around other boaters any more than other boaters want to be around those hunting from boats. As a rule, if you see someone in a boat who appears to be hunting just keep clear.

When operating around boaters who are fishing, take extra care to control your wake. People often stand up in their boat to cast or reel in a fish. Your wake could tip the boat and cause someone to fall overboard. Remember you are responsible for your wake.

If you are the boater who is fishing, remember never to anchor in narrow channels or shipping lanes and do not tie up to aides to navigation.


SwimmerAlways swim close to shore and avoid areas where boating is heavy. Do not swim alone away from the boat. It might be a good idea to tie a line to the boat with a life ring or type four throwable device attached. This could be reached by a tired swimmer and he or she could pull themselves back to the boat. Be sure to get the line back on board prior to getting underway to avoid getting it fouled in your prop.

Be alert for swimmers in the water. Don’t assume that they will always restrict themselves to designated swim areas.

Be particularly careful when approaching an anchored or drifting boat. There may be swimmers in the area.


DiverYou may run across boats engaged in diving operations almost anywhere so keep a sharp lookout and scan the water ahead of you. Boats engaged in diving should show a rigid replica of the internationally recognized “Alpha Flag”. This is a blue and white flag with a swallow tail. Additionally, the traditionally used “Divers Down” flag should be flown from the boat or from a float over the divers. This red flag with a diagonal white stripe should be easily seen on the water.

If you spot either or both of these flags keep well clear (at least 100 to 200 feet depending upon state law) from the vessel and diver down flag, if floating. Also watch carefully for bubbles breaking the surface. It could indicate that a diver has strayed from the area and may not be near the dive boat.


Board sailingThis relatively new but exciting sport has become more and more popular over the past few years. It, like all other on-the-water activities, can have its dangers.

You first learn the concepts of board sailing from an experienced instructor. When you are just beginning to venture into the water do so in a small confined area in light weather. Heavy winds may be fun for speed but the effort it may take to get you back to the place you started may be exhausting. Don’t overdo it.

Be sure to have a tether attached to the board in case you fall off. This allows you to get to the board prior to its drifting away from you, possibly faster than you can swim. Wear a USCG approved PFD when board sailing even if you are a good swimmer. Because of the strenuous nature of the sport you may become exhausted easily and you could get cramps which interfere with swimming. If you find yourself tiring, take down the sail, furl it around the mast, lie on the board and paddle back to safe harbor.

Water Skiing

Water skierFast becoming one of the most popular sports in the nation, water skiing also has certain aspects of danger. First, it should be a team sport. The team players are the skier, the boat driver and an observer to keep an eye on the skier and relay messages to the driver. The boat should also be equipped with a wide angle rear view mirror so the driver can see the skier.

Many states require that there be a water skier observer and often there are age restrictions. Check your state specific information for these regulations as well as permissible hours of operation, any speed and distance requirements and PFD wearing reequirements.

Be sure to follow all normal operating procedures and stay well clear of other boats, docks and obstacles. Since the tow rope should be at least 75 feet long remember to keep the skier at least twice that distance from potentially dangerous obstacles.

The water skier should be able to communicate to the towing boat with hand signals. A clear understanding in advance of the desires of the skier will lead to a safer sport. Try not to think for the skier, let him or her direct the actions of the boat.

Hand signals

Do not water ski after dark. It is very dangerous and against the law. Many states have rules regarding when you can water ski. Check your state specific information.


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