boat safety

Setting Sail Safely

Summer is finally here, which means Lake Michigan is beckoning thousands of boat owners to its shores. While boating is a fantastic way to spend summer days, being on the open water does invite a number of safety concerns. It’s important to keep in mind that dangers found at home also can affect boaters — so be prepared at all times to make sure boating adventures are as fun and laid-back as they are meant to be!

Carbon Monoxide

Being on the water doesn’t ensure safety from carbon monoxide, which can build up in boat cabins, beneath swim platforms and in other enclosed areas without proper ventilation, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Adding to the danger is that CO poisoning often is mistaken for something else — like seasickness, the Coast Guard says. Properly working CO detectors are vital to revealing the presence of carbon monoxide. As a boating aficionado, I know that many new boats are equipped with CO detectors, but older boats may have detectors that need to be replaced – or none at all. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends that boats built prior to 1998 be inspected to ensure there is a CO detector, that it has not been disconnected and that it features up-to-date CO detection technology.

There are many accidents that can happen on a boat, but CO poisoning is preventable. By simply installing alarms and testing them regularly, boaters take a big step in making their maritime adventures safer.


Just like at home, fires while boating can occur due to any number of factors. Remember, the best way to protect your family and your property from a fire is to prevent one from starting.  The U.S. Coast Guard has a wealth of information about how to maintain your boat to minimize the issues that can contribute to fires – from frayed wires or other electrical problems to spilled fuel and overcharged batteries – and practicing proper ventilation.

Despite taking all appropriate precautions, accidents can and do happen, so it’s important to be prepared. Always keep a fire extinguisher on board. Again, the Coast Guard has specific guidelines and recommendations for the types and number of fire extinguishers appropriate for different types and sizes of boats. And of course, always maintain an open channel of communication to emergency assistance. Since cell phone service can be spotty on the water, keep a VHF‐FM marine radio on hand. The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) is a great resource for boat safety preparation.

Outdated Equipment

A rope upgrade or replacement will mean better performance and higher safety assurance for captains and first mates alike. Look for changing color or fraying in your ropes as a signal of age and wear. UV rays can break down the fibers in rope, making them more prone to fading and tears. If these signs are present, it is best to replace them with high-performance rope. Marine rope in particular has elasticity that allows it to absorb sudden shock loads, and it resists rot, abrasion, mildew, marine growth, gasoline and oil.

While enjoying hot, hazy days and warm evenings on Lake Michigan is undoubtedly a wonderful way to spend the summer months, you can never be too prepared or have too many safety measures in place when it comes to boating. More information on these simple and effective measures is available on the National Safe Boating Council’s website and from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

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