Boat and Swimming Safety Tips

Pontoon boat

During the summer there is plenty of fun to be had on the water when boating and swimming. It’s incredibly important to be prepared and review safety tips for boating, and it is equally important to keep an eye on the swimmers. Don’t forget the sunscreen, and let the fun begin!


Watercraft Registration

  • Watercraft registration must be current and on board
  • Where required by law, ensure that the operator has a State of Michigan Boater Safety Certificate on board
  • Properly display MC numbers and current validation decal (e.g. both sides of the hull, forward half of vessel, above waterline, 3 inch block letters and numbers of contrasting colors to the watercraft’s hull)


  • Safety chains must be used when towing
  • Trailer must be equipped with working brake lights and tail lights
  • Make sure tires are in good condition with proper pressure
  • Maintain wheel bearings
  • Ensure that trailer hitch size matches the towing ball size
A 4x4 getting ready to put a boat in the water.

Ventilation & Fuel

  • Check for fuel smells
  • Check bilge for gas or oil
  • Correct all flammable liquid problems before starting your engine or operating electrical devices
  • Run your ventilation blower before initially starting the engine
  • Before fueling, close all compartments
  • After fueling is completed, open all compartments to ventilate and run the blower for at least 4 minutes to purge all trapped fumes
  • Be sure to have enough fuel to provide a reasonable margin for safe return
  • Check the oil to make sure it is at the proper level

Fire Extinguishers 

  • Required when carrying flammable liquids or fuel on board
  • Must be fully charged
  • Check the gauge or use of small test button to check the pressure
  • Must be a type “B” fire extinguisher (for flammable liquids)
  • Must be U.S. Coast Guard approved for marine use
  • Vessels less than 26 feet, one size 1 extinguisher is required
  • Vessels 26 feet and less than 40 feet, two size 1 extinguishers, or one size 2 extinguisher are required
  • Vessels 40 feet to less than 65 feet, three size 1 extinguishers, or one size 1 and one size 2 extinguisher are required
Fire extinguisher

Sound Producing Device

  • Horn or portable device, e.g. whistle or air horn capable of producing a 4 second blast that can be heard for at least 1/2 mile


  • Required between the hours of sunset & sunrise
  • Red and green navigation lights
  • White stern and/or anchor light

Visual Distress Signals

  • Required on Federal waters
  • Accessible flares and day signals stored in a dry location

Safety Concerns, Tools, and Spare Equipment 

  • Consider carrying “tools” you may need such as a cell phone
  • Spare light bulbs, spare keys, flashlights, etc.
  • Anchor & line
  • Dock lines
  • Boat fenders / bumpers
  • First-Aid kit

PFDs – Personal Flotation Devices

  • Children under the age of 6 must wear a Type I or Type II PFD while on the open deck of a vessel
  • Persons operating, riding on, or being towed behind Personal Watercraft (PWC) must wear a Type I, II, or III PFD
  • Vessels 16′ or greater in length must have a Type IV throwable PFD in addition to jacket type PFD’s on board
  • Use of Type III inflatable PFD’s is illegal when operating, riding on, or being towed by a PWC
  • Type III inflatable PFD’s are legal on watercraft (other than PWC’s for persons 16 years of age or older
Children on tube and wearing lifejackets while being pulled by a boat in lake

Weather and Water Conditions

  • Check the weather forecast and file a float plan with a friend

Additional Boater Safety Tips

  • Designate a spotter to help to look out for the people in and around the boat as well as other boats
  • Everyone in and outside of the boat should have a way to communicate with each other (a great way to do that is to agree on a set of hand signals prior to going out on the lake)
  • Tell someone where you’re going, who is with you, and how long you’ll be away
  • Stay dry and warm
  • Anchor from bow, not stern
  • Take a boater safety course
  • Make sure to allow for as much space as possible when passing other boats
  • When changing seats, stay low and near center line of a small boat

Listen to the Oakland County, Michigan Government News and Information podcast to learn more about boating safety.


Swimming Safety Tips

Being out on the water is one of the best parts of summer, but it is vitally important to stay safe while you are swimming. Take a look at these swimming safety tips before taking a dip in your favorite lake or pool.

When you’re out on the water it is very important to:

  • Know how to swim
  • Never swim alone
  • Always swim in a designated area, preferably with a lifeguard on duty
  • Keep an eye on little ones, they should never be more than a few feet away
  • Never dive head first into water, diving in to water and not knowing how deep or shallow it is can cause serious injuries
  • Never go swimming or operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol
Child swimming in pool with floatation devices on arms

Drowning is a Real Risk

Any great day can quickly turn into a tragedy. Drowning is a risk when anyone goes swimming. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children. Many people think that drowning takes a long time but it takes only 20-60 seconds for a struggling victim to drown and most drownings occur 10-15 feet from safety.

If you are unsure if someone needs help or not, alert a lifeguard immediately. If there isn’t a lifeguard, still call for help and throw a flotation device to the person.

Here are some things to look out for when you are out on the water:

  • Drowning victims do not have to ability to call for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing, and speech is a secondary function. A drowning person is not getting enough air to breathe; therefore they don’t have enough air to call for help.
  • Drowning victims’ arms tend to extend laterally, so it may appear that they are playing in the water.

For more information on boat and swimming safety, please visit the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office website, and follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Follow along with Oakland County on FacebookInstagramLinkedInPinterest, Twitter, and YouTube using #OaklandCounty, or visit our website for news and events year-round.

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