Boating safety

With nearly 1,500 miles of coastline, four major river systems, and hundred of lakes and ponds, Massachusetts offers incredible boating opportunities. Learn how to stay safe on the water.

Wear a life jacket

Wearing a properly fitted life jacket (personal flotation device) could save your life. Most boating fatality victims were not wearing a life jacket. In Massachusetts, life jackets must be worn by: 

  • Canoeists and kayakers from September 15 – May 15 (including waterfowl hunters)
  • Youth under 12 years old
  • Personal watercraft users
  • Waterskiers

It is recommended that you wear a life jacket every time you are on the water. Accidents on the water often happen too quickly to reach and put on a stowed life jacket.

Boating in cold water

Cold-water immersion is the cause of many boating-related fatalities. The first warm days of spring in Massachusetts can mask water temperatures that are dangerously cold. If you capsize or fall overboard, you can succumb to hypothermia within minutes. Hypothermia is the lowering of your internal body temperature, which makes you unable to swim, paddle, or stay afloat. A sudden, unexpected fall into cold water can also cause you to involuntarily gasp and ingest water, which can lead to death by drowning. While most life jackets will not prevent hypothermia, they do help you stay afloat. 

Take a boating safety course

Taking a boating safety course is recommended for anyone who wishes to operate a boat. Young boaters aged 12–15 are required to complete a state-approved boating safety course to operate a motorboat without adult supervision. Boat Massachusetts is a free course 10-12 hours in length offered by the Massachusetts Environmental Police. Family participation is encouraged and has proven to be very rewarding.

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