Why We All Love Swimming off the Boat

December 29th, 2023 by team

by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor)

Who doesn’t love jumping off the boat for a quick cool off one hot sunny summer day? Swimming off the boat is such a good time, and an easy way to enhance your boating.

Unfortunately, every year people get hurt swimming off boats. There are a lot of ways to injure yourself other than drowning, and nothing ruins a day faster than a preventable bruise or cut. But with a little thought, you can keep it fun and safe.

Safety Basics

There are a few “never do this” recommendations for swimming off the boat. These include:

  • Running the engine (or generator). Don’t do this while swimmers are in the water. Not only are there prop dangers with the engine, but carbon monoxide and other exhaust gases can make swimmers ill.
  • Swimming in marinas. Marinas are busy with boat traffic, and it’s all restricted maneuvering. Marinas also may have dangerous stray currents from dock power, and the water can be fairly nasty with oil and other wastes.
  • Jumping or diving in where you can’t see. Murky water can hide hazards, so if you don’t know what’s under water, enter it gradually. This is less of a concern if you’re a deep draft sailboat, but a power runabout can anchor in quite shallow water.
  • Don’t swim alone. It’s not the best idea in a pool, it’s ever worse off a boat.

Situational Awareness

Picking a spot to swim is as important as a time and place. Just a little awareness can save a lot of trouble.

  • Pay attention to currents. You don’t want swimmers swept away from the boat.
  • Mind the crowds. Swimming at crowded public events like airshows and fireworks is popular, but many boaters cut too close to other boats without looking.
  • Pay attention to wildlife. Fish won’t generally bother you, but jellyfish are absolutely no fun, and sometimes hard to see.
  • Tell people when you go overboard, if you’re the only one going in. Don’t assume they’ll know.
  • Check the weather and tides.
  • Avoid jumping off the stern on a boat with an outboard. Engines are hard, sharp, and unforgiving.
  • Know the depths around your boat.

Tips and Tricks

  • Put the swim ladder down as soon as someone decides they want to swim. You do not want to discover there’s no way back on board when everyone is in the water.
  • Always make it easy to get back on board. Not every boat is easy to climb onto. If your boat isn’t easy to get back on, get a small folding or rope ladder.
  • Wear flotation if there’s a current.
  • Children should always wear flotation.
  • A floating polypropylene line is a great tool for safety and comfort. Strung straight behind the boat, it’s a comfortable thing to hang on and rest. Strung in a loop, you can make a boundary to keep swimmers close to the boat in crowds. You can tie knots, loops, or pool safety floats in the middle to make handholds.
  • Pull out the emergency cut-off on the engine, remove the key, or turn off the start battery. Prevent accidental engine starts.
  • Those huge floating pool toys are popular for a reason. A private little pool with seats and drink holders, and high visibility? What’s not to love? (except blowing the thing up on deck…)
  • Smaller pool floats are still great for visibility, and steer other boaters away from your stern.

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