What Determines A Safe Speed For Your Boat – Safety First

It doesn’t matter if you are sailing, on a jet ski, or wakeboarding, getting out on the water is a very fun activity. However, typically you aren’t going to be the only person on the water and there are a number of safety precautions you need to keep in order to keep everyone safe.

There are no official speed limits for boating, but often times in local areas there will be speed limit signs that need to be abided by. When sailing, the top speed used should be based on both external and internal factors, but 7–8 knots in the recommended cruising speed.

Throughout the rest of the article, I will cover everything that you need to know about boating speeds and how to determine how fast you should be going, to keep you and everyone else around you safe and having fun!

What Counts As a Safe Speed?

Since there are no official speed limits when you are boating, you can technically go however fast you want, but typically you are going to want to keep to a safe speed for your vessel. For a sailboat this is going to be around 7 to 8 knots (8 to 9 miles per hour), and for most boats with engines it will be around 20 to 30 mph. In general, you will want to go slower in marina’s and places where there are more vessels, and can go faster when in open, calm water.

Factors That Determine Safe Speed

In order to determine what speed is the safest for you to be going, you are going to want to be aware of a number of factors. Sometimes going too slow can be dangerous, and going too fast can also be dangerous, it all depends on the situation you are in.

Traffic Density

One of the most important factors to consider when deciding your speed is how congested the water is. The more boats and swimmers that are in the surrounding water, the slower you are going to want to go in order to avoid colliding. This will also give you plenty of time to make adjustments to avoid other vessels.

The only main time that you should be sailing or boating at max speed is going to be when you are in open water, and there aren’t any other vessels or swimmers nearby that you are going to have to worry about.

You will want to keep an eye out for any local speed limit signs. These should be followed in order to prevent any damage to docks from wake, and are also meant to help you make sure you are going a safe speed when you near the dock.

Navigational Obstacles

When you are sailing closer to the shore, you are going to have to worry about obstacles like rocks and anything else that could potentially cause damage to your vessel. These are typically going to be marked with buoys, but as you get closer to the shore and the higher potential of obstacles, you will want to sail slower. Once you are out to open water you are less likely to run into obstacles, but you will still want to be safe as you never know what might happen.

Visibility Conditions

When there is something that is causing visibility to be down, such as rain, fog, or darkness, you are going to want to sail slower. Hopefully you have lights on your vessel to make you more noticeable to others so that they don’t collide with you, but you never know when you might run into another vessel in these conditions. Taking it slow to avoid collision is important when you are dealing with low visibility.

Water Depth

Just like going slower in order to avoid obstacles, as the water depth gets shallow, you are going to want to slow down. This wall help you avoid any drop-offs that might lead to you having your vessel run ashore.

Safety Measures for When You are Boating

Always Wear Your Life jacket

Drowning is the leading cause of death when it comes to boats, as many people on sailboats fall over the edge of the boat and don’t have the proper gear on to keep them from drowning. Drowning accounts for 70% of boating-related deaths, and in these cases, 82% of the time the victims weren’t wearing a life jacket.

Life jackets can greatly help reduce the number of sailing deaths. While they don’t need to be worn 100% of the time, it is strongly recommended that you wear one if you will be in a situation that could cause you to fall overboard.

Children should wear life jackets the entire time they are on a sailboat. Consider the size of your boat when determining whether you should wear a life jacket, as smaller boats can be capsized by large swells or high-speed winds.

Never Drink and Drive

Just as when you are driving a car or other type of vehicle, avoid being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when you are sailing. It has been found that alcohol has been responsible for anywhere between 12% and 19% of boating-related incidents.

Many countries have noticed this and currently enforce laws that prohibit the consumption of alcohol while sailing. You don’t want to be intoxicated when sailing because if anything goes wrong, you will need to be fully alert to solve the problem, and being alert can help you avoid dangerous situations before they occur.

The More Experience the Better

Many boating and sailing-related incidents can be prevented by taking a sailing safety course. I recommend that if you plan to go out sailing, get a boating license. During these types of courses, you will learn about the safety equipment you will likely have on your sailboat such as life jackets, first aid kits, and emergency flares. You will also learn about things like who has the right of way while at sea, how to operate safety equipment, and how to signal or call for help should an emergency occur.

Final Thoughts

Always be cautious when sailing around others. Slower is always better than faster. Its fun to go fast of course but only when it is safe for everyone. If you want to learn more about driving your sailboat check out my other article here! Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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