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It’s almost boating season for many Americans, while others in warmer climates are already hitting the water with their favorite crafts. However, it’s also an excellent time to review some boat safety reminders, especially if you and your family are new to recreational boating. 

While you’re packing up the life jackets and checking the boat anchor, another key boat safety step is creating an official float plan. Float plans are essential for protecting yourself should boating emergencies arise on the water. Here’s what you should know about developing your float plan, what should be included, and why it’s mission-critical to have one before you venture out for summer fun.

What is a float plan, and why should you have one?

A float plan enacted to rescue migrants from a sinking ship in Sar Libya, Spain
Migrant rescued from a sinking ship | Antonio Sempere/Europa Press via Getty Images

Officially, a float plan is a document overview of your intended boat excursion for the day. You can file it with the local marina or boating authorities to alert others of your course, destination, and on-the-water plans. Like pilots issue flight plans before taking off, you’ll want to execute a float plan before every boating excursion.

As the Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS) describes, a float plan is what lets friends, family, and authorities know your planned whereabouts on the water. Should you not return within a reasonable timeframe or something else happen, searches will use your plan to guide them on where to look for you in rescue efforts. When you’re stranded in your boat somewhere or need emergency assistance, time is of the essence. The document is what will give responders the head start they need to locate your vessel.

What every boating float plan should include

Discover Boating offers a great outline of what every boating float plan should include. Some of the essential information you’ll want to document, for example, includes a detailed description of your boat and the number of parties onboard. You’ll be free to venture off course but do your best to also describe your intended destination and timeline to return. It’s also best to include your contact information and any emergency contacts not going boating with you.

A proper float plan doesn’t have to be formal, but it isn’t just a quick effort, rushed document either. It’s essential that you flesh out every detail, including the size, color, make, and vessel number of your boat. Include your launch site and a description of your tow vehicle. Be sure also to list every available point of contact, including cell phones of passengers onboard and any radio equipment you might have on your boat.

Once you have a prepared float plan document, you’ll need to give it to someone. It’s recommended that you share a copy with any family members or friends who aren’t planning to join you. You can also share it with any marina staff wherever you plan to launch. Remember, the sooner you share your float plan before you depart, the better. 

Common emergencies you can prepare to handle


Can You Get Your Boating License Online?

You can find official float plan forms online, including with USCG Auxiliary Float PlanSeaTow, or BoatUS. There are also apps available to help you start drafting your float plans on the go. It’s peace of mind you’ll need to ensure you have a backup plan, should there be an emergency.

Not every boating emergency is a catastrophic one. Still, having a float plan means you’ll have an added layer of immediate assistance to find you should there be something catastrophic. In most cases, they are used for lesser intense emergencies that might still require boating assistance. Engine failure or vessel flooding, for example, could present emergency situations that lead to a late return. Those with your float plan would know something is amiss and send help.

Other boating emergencies, like boating collisions, capsizing, or passengers falling overboard, can be more serious, depending on where you’re boating. Passengers could experience health conditions that require medical attention. Your cell phones or communication devices could fail. Or, in some cases, inclement weather could suddenly take over your boating adventure, leaving you unprepared to navigate back to shore safely. The float plan can alert necessary responders and give them a precise idea of where to look to bring assistance.

Before heading out this summer, take a few minutes to itemize and prepare a float plan. Consider it just an added layer of boat safety to your pre-launch process.