SETTING SAIL: Boating safety tips for fun on the water

National Safe Boating Week recently passed, having been observed this year between May 20 - 26. The week is a part of a global campaign designed to raise awareness and promote safe boating practices. Here in Savannah, our auspicious coastal location is perfect for recreation on the water, and boating is certainly a favorite activity for locals, especially during the warmer months. With summer ahead, many Savannahians will soon set sail, and so it’s very important to keep safety top of mind when venturing out on the water. To help prepare boaters for their aquatic adventures this summer, we spoke with Maren Moss, general manager of Savannah’s Freedom Boat Club about safe boating practices. 

Moss likened boating to riding a bike around the neighborhood in youth where keeping your head on a swivel and watching out for cars and other potential hazards is a necessity. She said people tend to go on autopilot when driving a car, but boating requires a more engaged and defensive approach. 

At FBC, all new members undergo a three-hour orientation, during which they are trained on safe boating practices and relevant information. The training covers safety gear, trip planning, weather and tides and navigating waterways among other things.On the subject of safety gear, Moss recommends that boaters keep several items onboard including life jackets, Coast Guard-approved flotation devices and more.

“[Boats] need to have a fire extinguisher. They need to have a set of three flares. Additionally, they need a sound-making device. . . Make sure you have two anchors. Make sure you have dual forms of your registration, things like that,” she said.

Having the appropriate safety equipment onboard is key to mitigating risks and preparing for different kinds of hazards. 

“For physical hazards, we do have a good amount of rocks and oyster beds around here, and we have an 8 to 10-foot tide change here.Things that are not visible at high tide are visible at low tide. We advise [boaters to] . . . go out at lowest low tide and just look around. Look at what’s under the surface of the water so you know what’s actually there when it’s at high tide and you can’t see it,” Moss explained, identifying other boaters and changing weather and water conditions as additional potential hazards. 

When on the water, it’s important to navigate appropriately. 

“Your driveway while boating is the middle lane, like in the dead middle. . . That gives you the  most clearance visually around any turns and lets you have the greatest eyesight clearance,” she stated. 

Moss added that FBC includes training on right-of-way rules as determined by the Coast Guard. They also cover the different intercoastal and river markers that boaters encounter when sailing. 

“We also train on how to handle the boat, how to go over a wake, how to slow down, how to handle crosswinds. It’s quite extensive,” she remarked. 

When it comes to navigation and weather tracking, Moss had a few recommendations. 

“For navigation things, the app we recommend for tides is Tides Near Me. That’s what we all use at Freedom. . . If people want additional applications, we recommend Navionics. It’s a very well-known boating application that helps with all things. And then for weather, I don’t use hourly weather, I always use radar to see what’s potentially around you in the area. The wind can shift and come toward you. I use Weather Channel radar. There’s also some weather put out by the Coast Guard,” Moss detailed. 

For every boater planning to sail out this summer, Moss encourages planning beforehand to ensure safety.

She said, “Boating is extremely fun. As long as you have a plan to mitigate all the dangers and potential hazards, it can be a very good time.”

About The Author

Chantel Britton

Chantel Britton is a compelling storyteller with an ever-growing curiosity. She's built a rewarding writing career for herself in addition to serving five years as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. She's an NPR nerd with a deep passion for all things travel, sustainable living and adventure. She...

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