NOAA Helps Recreational Boaters Stay Safe and on Course 

Recreational fishing vessel.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

You’re ready to leave the dock for a perfect day on the water. You’ve donned your hat and sunglasses and the cooler is full of ice. But before you cast off, remember to take along NOAA’s boating safety products and services before plying the waters of any stretch of U.S. coast or Great Lakes.

Chart Your Course

Every boater needs nautical charts to safely plan and plot their course. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey provides both digital and printed nautical charts and other navigation tools to help you find and reach your destination safely.

NOAA’s On-Line Chart Viewer allows boaters to view more than 1,000 printed or digital nautical charts on any Internet browser before leaving the dock. Boaters can also choose any one of NOAA’s printed or digital charts to use while on the water:

NOAA’s Charts are updated using NOAA’s weekly Notices to Mariners and new charts are released when major modifications are needed, such as after a hurricane or large coastal storm which may have created or moved obstructions or otherwise changed underwater features.

Be Aware of Water and Weather Conditions

NOAA employee heading to sample site following Hurricane Katrina.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Knowing the water and weather conditions you will encounter is also critical to safe recreational boating. Before leaving home, be sure to check the current marine conditions and the day’s weather and marine forecasts by going to weather.gov, the official site run by NOAA’s National Weather Service

NOAA issues marine forecasts four times a day and more frequently when severe weather conditions develop. The five-day forecast of wind direction, wind speed, wave height and precipitation should be your primary tools for planning a safe day on the water.

While on the water, mariners can get up-to-the-minute forecasts by listening to their NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (including handheld battery powered units that can be purchased at most electronics stores). NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards gives weather advisories, watches, and warnings, sounding a tone alarm anytime NOAA’s National Weather Service issues a special marine warning that gives mariners time to prepare for hazardous weather conditions.

Children wearing life vests onboard a boat.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA’s Tides and Currents Web site, gives boaters access to oceanographic and meteorological data (historical and real-time), predictions, nowcasts, and forecasts. Managed by NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, the site provides both real-time and forecast marine conditions:

Stay Safe on the Water

COSPAS-SARSAT System Overview.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Besides a VHF radio, life vests, and flares on your boat, NOAA recommends carrying an emergency locator beacon that will help NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard locate and rescue you should you get into trouble on the water.

The emergency beacon, known as an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon), is easy to register with NOAA and can be purchased for $1,000 or less online or from a local marine store. NOAA encourages recreational boaters to use EPIRBs because they can lead rescuers directly to your boat in times of distress — saving time, money, and lives.

NOAA runs the two satellites and the rescue system that first locates the distress signal.  The Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, or SARSAT, has rescued 18,000 people worldwide since the program started in 1982. Of the 353 rescues for 2007, 235 people were saved at sea, while the others were rescued from downed aircraft or on land. NOAA logo.