Fourth of July Boating Tips: Planning, Safety & Fireworks
The Fourth of July is a great time to come out and celebrate our nation’s birthday on a boat. It’s also a busy weekend for boating! You and your crew won’t be the only ones on the water (or on the Boatsetter app). That said, a successful outing will require planning, preparation, and staying on top of the details for the best (and safest) holiday weekend.
We’ve got you covered with the basics on how to spend the July 4th holiday on a boat, let’s take a closer look at:
- Planning your itinerary for the day and/or weekend
- Prepping your boat and following a pre-departure checklist
- Getting underway and tips for safe operation on busy waterways
- Navigating after dark for fireworks displays
Nail down the basics
- Decide where to go and plan your itinerary for the day. If it’s to the sandbar, then plan to get there early. If it’s to a dockside destination, then make reservations.
- Choose your crew. Be sure to consider your boat’s capacity limitations.
- Check the weather all the way up to (and after) departure time.
- File a float plan. Let someone on land know where you’re going, with whom and when you plan to be back. This way, you can have someone alert authorities in the event you cannot.
- Pack the right gear including extra clothes. If you plan on boating overnight, then bring plenty of food, sunscreen, and drinking water.
- Avoid a BUI (boating under the influence)! Designate a sober skipper well ahead of party time.
Prepare the boat and paperwork
Using a pre-departure boating checklist prior to leaving the house or even leaving the dock can help set you up for a successful day on the water.
- Inspect your boat and trailer. Check bilge pumps, running lights, engine(s), and tires.
- Fuel up early to avoid long lines at gas stations.
- Make sure onboard safety gear is all there including lifejackets (for people and pets), fire extinguishers, flares, sound-making devices, medical kit, flashlights, and more.
- Have a way to call for help if needed via a VHF radio or cell phone.
- Input waypoints and routes into a chartplotter (for a longer outing).
- Review your insurance policy and registration decals to ensure they’re current.
- Renew your on-water and on-road towing coverage (if needed).
Explore our Boat Safety Equipment Checklist to double-check that you have all necessary items onboard prior to leaving the dock.
- When guests arrive, do a safety briefing. Walk them through the boat, the location and use of the safety equipment, the itinerary, and basic procedures/expectations. Ask if they can swim and if they get seasick. Show them how to use the head if there is one.
- Select your “first mate.” This will be your go-to person for help with the boat and the guests.
- Don’t rush – boat defensively. Be mindful that there will be crowds at the launch ramp, fuel dock, sandbar and/or anchorage. So avoid getting frustrated, maintain a cautious lookout, drive at a safe speed, and always act with courtesy.
- Have a provision for guests who need a potty break or are getting motion sickness. Have provisions for your pet[s] too!
- Use your boat’s engine cutoff switch (ECOS) which stops the engine in case the driver falls overboard. It became law as of April 2021 so make sure to follow it.
Boating at night & navigating for fireworks displays
- Fireworks are often done over lakes, rivers, and bays. So avoid anchoring directly underneath them or else you risk having hot debris land on your deck.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
- Your pet(s) may not be as enchanted as you are to be there. So keep them safe or keep them home.
- Don’t launch fireworks from, or use sparklers on, your boat.
- Don’t use distress flares as fireworks.
- Don’t use candles or other open flames aboard.
- Plan how to head back to the dock or ramp (especially if it’s in the dark).
- Plan for an emergency (Include how to put out a fire, how to reach medical help quickly, or how to manage a potential sinking).
- Plan to up-anchor or exit the area safely after the show. Keep in mind that everyone will be moving together once the evening’s over.
- Stay sober and remember others around you may not be.
- Be mindful of the time.
Keep it fun, while keeping it safe
Fourth of July boating is exciting! But it can get disorderly and that’s no fun. So make sure to plan the outing, and prepare your boat and your crew in advance!
Zuzana Prochazka is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer with regular contributions to more than a dozen sailing and powerboating magazines and online publications including Southern Boating, SEA, Latitudes & Attitudes and SAIL. She is SAIL magazines Charter Editor and the Executive Director of Boating Writers International. Zuzana serves as judge for SAIL’s Best Boats awards and for Europe’s Best of Boats in Berlin.
A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana founded and manages a flotilla charter organization called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations worldwide.
Zuzana has lived in Europe, Africa and the United States and has traveled extensively in South America, the islands of the South Pacific and Mexico.