Keep Your Family Safe: Deck & Dock Safety
Here at our Florida headquarters, we enjoy sunny boating weather year-round. Whether you’re enjoying the warm beach water or are out on the lake on a crisp winter day, it’s always important to remember good safety practices on your deck or dock.
Practicing good deck and dock safety will ensure you and your family enjoy time outdoors on the water.
To help get your safety checklist in order, our team has put together a few dock safety tips and reminders about regulations and permits.
1. Prevent Electrical Hazards
It’s no surprise that electricity and water do not mix. As a property owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure boat and dock safety regarding electricity. You may think your dock has nothing to worry about compared to large loading docks with a lot of material handling equipment. However, even electrical wiring for lights can cause severe safety hazards.
Following these steps, you should test your dock area’s electrical safety at least once a year to avoid serious injury or death.
First, check if you have a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) installed on each electrical receptacle. A GFCI is similar to a circuit breaker. It can prevent electrocution by closing the electrical current suddenly if there is faulty wiring or equipment. Experts recommend testing GFCIs regularly.
After installing a GFCI on each receptacle, you should also install bonding jumpers. Bonding jumpers connect all the metal pieces in the dock structure to the ground onshore. Grounding is essential to activate the GFCIs in case there’s an electrical charge.
However, you must hire a licensed professional to install GFCIs and bonding jumpers. Since electrical currents around water are extremely dangerous, these installation projects are not DIY. Hiring an experienced expert helps reduce the risk of electrocution.
2. Inhaling Carbon Monoxide Can Be Deadly
One of the most essential boat dock safety tips is to avoid the boat’s engine or generator exhaust. Being close to either of these could increase your exposure to carbon monoxide, which is highly toxic.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, flammable gas. Because we cannot detect this gas with our senses, you could experience carbon monoxide poisoning without knowing it. If you fall unconscious, there could be a collision with another vessel or the shore. Additionally, you could fall overboard and drown. Therefore, it’s even more essential to be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning if you operate a boat alone.
Here are some symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning to be mindful of:
- Blurred vision
- Dull headache
- Shortness of breath
If you or one of your passengers starts to feel sick, follow these safety procedures. First, drive the boat to a safe area and turn off the engine. Relax until the person begins to feel better. If necessary, call 911 for help.
When it’s safe, return to your dock, properly dock the boat, and seek medical attention.
3. Don’t Underestimate Good Lighting
If you’re keen on early-morning fishing trips, late-night boat rides, or winter evenings on your deck, you’ll want to ensure adequate lighting for all walking paths.
Even if your terrain is relatively flat, a wrong step or accidental trip could send you toppling into the water or tripping over a missed step. Save yourself an injury or unplanned swim by installing lights to railing or piling post caps, wharf lights, or riser lights. We carry a variety of lighting options for aesthetic-minded customers.
Ensuring an area is well-lit is a safety essential, especially if you have small children running around or elderly family members with low vision. You don’t want to have any near misses!
4. Install Barriers and Gates
Don’t have a gate at the entrance to the deck and water? You may be overlooking an important safety feature.
The entrance to your deck should have a dock door or gate (which can be removable). This is essential for families with pets and young children who don’t always understand the safety hazards of the water.
Similarly, you’ll want to ensure that water access points have some sort of fall protection rope or barrier, like an attractive railing or guardrails. Kids and grandparents are at higher risk of falling over into the water. With that extra level of security, you’ll have peace of mind should an accident happen.
Furthermore, consider adding bumpers to your dock edges. These structures can help protect the dock in the event of a rough landing by absorbing the shock of a sudden impact. You’ll notice that all loading dock edges use bumpers for safety, making them a solid addition to docks of all sizes.
5. Never Forget Your Cord Discipline
Yearly checks of all the docking ropes are imperative. These assessments ensure there is no excessive wear or corrosion.
Replace frayed, rotten, or broken ropes immediately. This is to ensure no tearing or breaking could lead to the boat spontaneously unhitching—and drifting away.
It’s also essential to keep ropes and cords clear of walking areas when not in use to prevent trips and falls.
6. Keep Ladders and Stairs in Good Shape
Stairs and ladders are a simple solution to dock safety—so always make sure they’re easily accessible and not in disrepair. Get all creaky steps checked out immediately, and don’t ignore wobbly ladders.
If you are using your dock for swimming, having a ladder to climb is much safer than walking up the rocks or pulling yourself up on the wood. Pulling up from the wood can lead to splinters, scrapes, and bruises. Not to mention it takes more energy—which can be dangerous for an exhausted swimmer.
Stairs can make it easier for children and older family members to make it down a steep incline without the risk of falling or slipping. A ramp may increase the risk of falling, especially in slick conditions.
7. Be Prepared With Essential Safety Equipment
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works to ensure workplace safety, their safety rules can also be helpful outside the work environment.
For instance, OSHA details the necessary loading dock safety equipment all docks and boats should have. So whether you’re using forklifts to unload pallets in a loading dock area or helping grandma ease her way out of the speedboat, all boat users can benefit from following OSHA’s boat safety tips.
Remember Life Jackets and Life Rings
Even with all the necessary precautions in place, accidents and collisions still happen—and you need to prepare yourself.
Always wear a life jacket when on a boat. Help kids and tweens put theirs on if they’re not old enough to do it themselves. Ensure there are life rings nearby in case someone slips on the deck and falls into the water. It’s essential to have life rings on the boat and the dock.
These dock safety items should be available to toss out at a moment’s notice. When someone is struggling to get air, every second counts. These items can offer help immediately—and prevent accidents from turning into tragedies.
First Aid Kits
Having a first aid kit on your boat and dock is also imperative. You never know when someone will need quick medical attention. Make sure to stock each first aid kit with the following:
- Alcohol wipes
- Antiseptic spray and ointment
- Burn cream
- Cotton swabs and pads
- Disposable gloves
- First aid guide explaining how to help in different scenarios, from moderate to severe injuries
- Foil blanket for a fire
- Painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen
- Rolled gauze
- Sterile absorbent pads
- Tweezers and medical scissors
You can find a variety of ready-made first aid kits at your local store, or you can make them yourself. It may be better to make your own if you want to include other supplies you see as necessary.
Additionally, experienced boaters recommend using a waterproof first aid kit or a plastic container to store all the items since it’s likely to get wet at some point.
8. Keep Your Deck Repaired and Clean
Even adults can easily trip and fall on loose or rotting boards or a deck without proper weather sealants. Routine cleaning will improve dock safety and ensure it looks as great as it did when installed.
For storms, bring in loose items before the wind picks up to prevent things from getting tossed around. Tie-down furniture pieces that are too large to bring inside. And clean up right away—don’t let wet leaves, broken branches, or scum or sludge from the water sit on the surface for too long.
Finally, ensure no pilings or railings have slanted during routine maintenance, no bolts are rusted, and no wood is rotted. You should periodically check your deck for issues at least once or twice a year. If you spot a problem you don’t know how to fix, call an expert for help.
You’ll keep everyone safe with regular maintenance and spend less on repairs.
9. Be Compliant
You may think that installing a dock or a deck as a DIY project means you don’t need any permits or meet specific requirements. However, several rules and regulations go into building even a private structure.
Dock regulations differ depending on your municipality. However, in general, they require that you avoid damaging the lake or its inhabitants. You cannot block public access to the water.
Some areas may require you to remove the dock during the winter months to avoid freezing. In these situations, your only option would be to install a floating dock. Other regulations include restrictions on certain types of materials used to build the dock.
In 2018, 14% of all water vessel accidents occurred due to docking issues. These regulations are in place to ensure the dock safety of the owners and others—so don’t neglect the rules.
Further, compliance relates to more than just permits and regulations. For example, you should never exceed the load capacity on your boat or dock. Exceeding the capacity could quickly lead to various safety issues, including the collapse or sinking of the structure or vessel.
10. Know How to Dock Properly
Docking may seem easy, but in reality, it takes practice. It would be best if you familiarize yourself with the dock area to handle any docking conditions you face. For example, if the wind is blowing hard and the water is choppy, you need to know how to safely dock without causing damage to your dock, boat, and passengers.
Here are some boat dock safety tips for you to follow.
First, you want to lower the boat’s throttle as you approach the dock area. If you go too fast, you’ll smash into the dock. For most personal vessels, your speed shouldn’t exceed 20 RPM. However, the exact speed you want to maintain while docking will depend on your docking skills, your boat, and the docking conditions.
For instance, you will need to reduce your boat speed if you’re docking in a small space.
Because boats cannot turn quickly, you should line your boat up for a near-straight course to the side of your dock.
Next, you want to prepare your lines and fenders (bumpers). While you already have bumpers on your dock, you want fenders on your boat for ultimate protection—place fenders on the bowline, stern line, and spring line.
Always check that your fenders are hanging just above the waterline. Then check that there are no knots or tangles in the lines.
Once you’re close enough to the dock, you can prepare to tie down the boat. If you have a deckhand available on the pier, toss them the spring line first. The spring line helps prevent the boat from moving back and forth. After securing the spring line, tie the bowline.
If you don’t have anyone on the dock to help, you can secure the lines yourself from the boat. However, you will want to tie the bowline first, then the stern dock line. Additionally, if no one is on the dock to assist you, approach the dock at an even slower speed.
After securing all the lines, you can turn off the engine. Since you may need to reposition the boat while docking, especially during unfavorable docking conditions, it’s ideal to wait to turn off the engine until the docking process is complete.
Owning a dock is a significant responsibility, especially since it can impact others in the surrounding area. Before you commit to building your own, make sure you look up local regulations. If you’re found noncompliant, you could face fines or orders to remove the deck or dock.
Dock safety requires taking the extra time to consider who’s using the space and what risks they face. Part of it is common sense. For example, if you know the deck gets slick after it rains, it will help to install a railing or try a new sealant.
Take a moment to inspect your deck and see what improvements you could implement. That way, you can make it as safe as possible for everyone.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the team here at Decks & Docks. We’re happy to get your deck and dock safety in order.
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Alexis is truly a jack of all trades. She has worked for Decks and Docks for over five years where she served as an Assistant Manager before moving into Outside Sales. Alexis has also helped us open multiple stores along the Eastern Coast of Florida and has acted as Manager at a few locations throughout the years. When she’s not working at Decks and Docks, she’s volunteering at a local animal shelter.