Boater Safety

Every year, the South Hero Volunteer Fire Department (SHVFDS) responds to dozens of emergencies which have occurred on Lake Champlain. And sometimes these accidents happen to some of the most experienced boaters on the lake. No matter how much experience you have, it’s always a good idea for everyone to review boating safety rules before departures. Below you will find a refresher on basic boating safety tips to help you stay safe.

1. Be Weather-Wise

Always check local weather conditions before departure; TV and radio forecasts can be a good source of information. If you notice darkening clouds, volatile and rough changing winds or sudden drops in temperature, play it safe by getting off the water For Current Conditions, head over to NWS Graphical Wind and Wave Height Maps for Lake Champlain.

2. Obtain a Vermont Boating License

Anyone born after 1974 must successfully complete an approved boating safety education course to legally operate any motorized vessel – including personal watercraft. You can learn more about the Vermont–approved online boating license course. For information on other course options visit Vermont State Police.

3. Proper Selection and Use of Lifejackets

Did you know that the majority of drowning victims are the result of boaters not wearing their lifejackets? Make sure that you, your family and friends aren’t part of this statistic by making sure everyone onboard is wearing a life-jacket. There are many classes of personal flotation devices (PFDs or Life Jackets):

  • Class 1: 22lbs of buoyancy, will turn most unconscious victims upright
  • Class 2: 15lbs of buoyancy, will turn some unconscious victims upright
  • Class 3: 15lbs of buoyancy, has no head support, will not turn unconscious victims upright
  • Class 4: Throwable Floatation device, required to be on vessel, but does not count towards life-jacket requirements
  • Class 5: Hybrid / Special use PFDs. These are typically inflatable life jackets and can count towards life-jacket requirements for passengers over 6 years old, however, these must be worn while vessel is underway. Devices can be either automatic (submersion sensor) or manually inflated (Pull cord).

Learn more about the types of life jackets. The key to all of the above is the WEAR your life jacket! If your life jacket is under an overturned boat, it will do you little good in an emergency.

4. Carry a Marine Radio

A marine radio is perhaps one of the most important pieces of equipment you can have on your boat. These devices allow you to communicate with other vessels about navigation and safety information, which can quite literally save your life in the event of an emergency.

5. Understand the Rules of the Water

Follow the navigational rights of way, give way to large and wind powered vessels, understand buoys and markings, learn to estimate the 200ft rule from shore (or swimmers) and other vessels, follow speed limits and know what horn and distress signals mean, and when to use them yourself.

6. Designate an Assistant Skipper

Make sure more than one person on board is familiar with all aspects of your boat’s handling, operations, and general boating safety. If the primary navigator is injured or incapacitated in any way, it’s important to make sure someone else can follow the proper boating safety rules to get everyone else back to shore. for power-boats most come with a driver kill switch cord, if an event happens where you become thrown from the driver seat, chances are your passengers will be too! Wearing the kill switch cord is especially crucial if you are the only person on board.

7. Develop a Float Plan

Whether you choose to inform a family member or staff at your local marina, always be sure to let someone else know your float plan. This should include where you’re going and how long you’re going to be gone.

8. Avoid Alcohol

Practice boating safety at all times by saving the alcohol for later. The probability of being involved in a boating accident doubles when alcohol is involved and studies have shown that the effects of alcohol are exacerbated by sun and wind. Operating a boat while intoxicated (BWI) has the same Blood alcohol thresholds as a car, 0.02% for those under 21, and 0.08% for those over 21.

9.Learn to Swim

If you’re going to be in and around the water, proper boating safety includes knowing how to swim. Local organizations, such as the American Red Cross and others, offer training for all ages and abilities. Check to see what classes are offered in your area.

10. Consider a Free Vessel Safety Check

Take advantage of a free vessel safety check from the US Coast Guard. They offer complimentary boat examinations to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and federal regulations. Free of charge, they’ll provide a specialist to check out your boat and make helpful boating safety tips and recommendations. They also offer virtual online safety checks as well.

(adapted from from