Coast Guard urges safety during National Safe Boating Week, Memorial Day weekend

united states coast guard 

News Release  

U.S. Coast Guard 11th District Pacific Southwest
Contact: 11th District Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3325
After Hours: (510) 772-8865
11th District online newsroom

Coast Guard urges safety during National Safe Boating Week, Memorial Day weekend

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary celebrate National Safe Boating Week, May 22 through May 28, and urge mariners and beachgoers to be safe this Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day weekend is considered by many as the unofficial start to the recreational boating season. As boaters take to the water, there is an increased likelihood for search and rescue situations, mechanical failures and accidents.

The 2020 recreational boating season saw an increase of boating accidents and deaths. Nationwide, recreational boating accidents that resulted in death exceeded 2019 by 24%. The months of June, July and August specifically saw the highest rate of on-water deaths from recreational boating in 23 years.

“We know people are excited to get out and enjoy the California coast, especially as travel restrictions continue to ease,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. “However, we want people to do so safely so we do not continue the devastating trend from last year. I cannot overstate the importance of education and awareness of safe boating practices and the amount of planning that needs to occur before people venture out on the water, which can be unforgiving. If you have a friend or relative that is a new boat or paddlecraft owner, please point them toward boating safety courses and equipment that could help safe their life.”

New for 2021 is the focus on educating mariners on the use of engine cut-off switches, stemming from new legislation that went into effect April 1. Engine cut-off switches are either lanyards or electronic fobs that are attached to the driver of a boat, which are designed to shut off the engine in the event that the driver moves out of or is thrown from the cockpit of a boat, preventing a runaway boat. This legislation is aimed toward recreational owners of boats under 26 feet with an engine rated at three horsepower or more. More information on this topic can be found at

The Coast Guard recommends mariners heed the following safety tips below to help ensure their safety while on the water:

  • Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket while underway. 80% of boating deaths are due to drowning and 86% of those victims were not wearing a life jacket. People don’t typically have time to locate and don a life jacket during an actual emergency.
  • Make sure your life jacket is properly fitted. People can slip out of ill-fitting life jackets when they hit the water, which decreases their chances of survival.
  • Don’t drink and boat. Aside from wearing a life jacket, not drinking and boating is one of the easiest ways to prevent accidental deaths on the water. People operating vessels under the influence of alcohol, drugs or impairing medication pose a serious threat to you and anyone else aboard.
  • Make a VHF radio your go-to means of communicating in an emergency. Cell phones may go out of range or lose battery power when needed most. Make sure you familiarize yourself with how to use it.
  • Take a boating safety course. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is one of many organizations that offer valuable boating safety courses ranging from electronic navigation to boat handling. Click here to register for a boating safety course.
  • Get a vessel safety check. The Coast Guard Auxiliary provides free boating safety checks. Get a free safety inspection from the Coast Guard Auxiliary to make sure you have all the gear and safety equipment required by your state and federal laws. Click here to find one near you.
  • Look at the weather and tides before you head out. It might look like a nice day, but squalls and shifting tides can change suddenly.
  • File a float plan. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Float plans provide a starting point to help find you if something happens.
  • Dress for the water, not for the weather. Check water temperatures before you go out and dress accordingly.
  • Know your navigation rules. Know how to properly navigate waterways and maintain lookouts to keep yourself and everyone else around you safe.
  • Locator beacons can help us find you faster. Attaching a functioning EPIRB to your boat, or a PPIRB to your life jacket, and knowing how to use them can help rescuers find and help you. In order to be most effective, these should be registered with the owner’s information and emergency contacts.
  • Label kayaks and paddlecraft. The Coast Guard often comes across adrift paddlecraft, and when they are properly labeled, it is easier for rescue personnel to confirm if there is an actual distress and save countless hours of searching when a person is not in distress.
  • Check out the Coast Guard Boating Safety appYou can file a float plan, request assistance, request a vessel safety check, and report pollution and hazards to navigation.

Additionally, beachgoers throughout California need to be aware of the dangers along the coast such as cold water, dangerous surf, sneaker waves and rip currents. California has seen a recent spike in the number of deaths due to sneaker waves over the past year. It is recommended that beachgoers look at the surf report to identify hazardous water conditions before visiting beaches.

  • Sneaker waves are deadly, larger-than-average swells that suddenly surge much farther up the beach following periods of quiet surf and smaller waves. NOAA recommends that beachgoers watch the waves for 15-30 minutes to identify how far up the beach waves are reaching.
  • Rip currents can occur wherever there are breaking waves. They don’t pull people under water, but can pull even the strongest swimmer far out to sea. People caught in a rip current should swim parallel to the shore until they are outside of the rip current, and then swim toward the shoreline.