Boating Safety

Boating Safety

Safety Tips

Taking basic safety measures every time you go out on the water will help ensure a safe experience for everyone.

  • Make sure safety equipment, required by law, is on board, maintained in good condition, and you know how to properly use these devices.

  • Know and practice the rules of the road.

  • Keep an eye out for changing weather conditions and act accordingly.

  • Maintain a clear, unobstructed view forward at all times.  “Scan” the water back and forth; avoid “tunnel” vision.  Most boating collisions are caused by inattention.

Rules of the Road

The inland navigational rules, commonly called the “Rules of the Road,” govern the operation of boats and specify light and sound signals on inland waters in order to prevent collisions.  You can download the latest edition of the navigational rules  here.

Education Requirements

Both Maryland and Virginia now have boater education requirements.  The requirements are being phased in based on boat operator age.  Please visit the official state sites provided below for details.

Maryland Boating Safety Education Requirements.

Virginia Boating Safety Education Requirements.

Equipment Requirements

There are federal government requirements for safety equipment on recreational boats.

  • PFDs.  Coast Guard approved Personal Floatation Devices are required on all recreational boats.  One wearable PFD must be carried for each passenger aboard your boat.  For boats over 16 feet in length (except canoes and kayaks), one throwable PFD is also required.

  • Visual Distress Signals.  All vessels used on coastal waters must be equipped with USCG approved visual distress signals (i.e. flares).

  • Visit the Coast Guard Auxiliary website for complete equipment requirements including fire extinguishers, sound producing devices, and navigational lights.

Lightning Safety

In the United States, lightening kills more people than hurricanes, floods, or tornadoes.  Lightning activity can be very dangerous to Chesapeake Bay boaters.  You can help protect yourself by grounding your boat.  More info (PDF file).

Staying Clear

A major shipping channel runs the length of the Chesapeake Bay in which large ships travel.  Safe recreational boating in the Chesapeake Bay requires knowledge of how and where these ships operate in order to avoid dangerous confrontations.  Here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Keep out of their way.  Due to their size, large ships must keep to narrow channels in the Bay.  The rules of the road state that small craft shall not impede the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.

  • Large, difficult-to-maneuver ships cannot successfully avoid smaller craft in narrow channels. It is up to you to stay clear.

  • Avoid sailing or traveling in the ship channels when you can, especially if visibility is poor because of fog, rain or darkness.

  • At night, make sure you are visible with bright navigation lights.  Mount a radar reflector as high as possible on your boat.  Keep a close watch while sailing at night, even on clear nights, a large ship may be hard to spot.

  • All commercial ships traveling in the Chesapeake Bay have US pilots on board who will monitor VHF radio channel  13 for ship to ship messages.

  • Learn your whistle signals.  Five or more whistles means danger.

Safe Boating Courses

A boating safety course is a great way to learn how to be safe in the water.  Taking one of these courses is recommended for all boaters.  They teach you about how to operate and maintain your boat, navigation, rules of the road, fire prevention,  weather safety, and more.  There are many courses offered around the Chesapeake Bay region and online course are being offered now, also.  Follow the links below for more information.

For more information

Safety and navigation books available for purchase at

Piloting, Seamanship, and Boat Handling by Charles Chapman.
Navigational Rules, International-Inland.  U.S. Coast Guard.