A boat safely docked

May is National Water Safety Month. To celebrate, the Decks & Docks team wants to share some of the most important safety tips that you and your family should know to have a safe and fun time on the water.

These tips are meant for anyone spending time on a boat, dock, or waterfront deck—and they’re good throughout the year, too.

Tip #1. Don’t Skimp on Life Jackets and Rings

The number one tip for Water Safety Month is to always have life jackets and life rings on hand when around the water. Even if you’re a great swimmer and live on a calm lake, it’s important to keep jackets and rings with you when you’re out on the water.

The Red Cross advises that all kids and inexperienced swimmers should wear lifejackets, as well as all boaters. All boats should have a life ring on board to toss in case of emergency.

Some younger kids may be reluctant to wear a life jacket, but introducing them to one early on can build a good lifetime habit. Read this article featuring tips on getting children to wear life jackets.

Tip #2. Install Railings and Gates

If you don’t already have a gate or set of railings installed at the entrance to your dock and the water, you’re missing an important safety feature.

The entrance to your dock should have a gate—especially if you have small children who like to wander. In fact, all areas with water access should have some sort of barrier, be it a gate or railing. This can help you and all members of your family avoid potential accidents.

Tip #3. Fix Broken or Splintered Boards

If you notice a broken, splintered, soft, or loose board on your deck or dock, get it fixed right away.

Broken boards present a fall risk, especially for children who may not always look before they step or grandparents with mobility issues. Use sandpaper to smooth down smaller areas—or take the time to completely sand and reseal your deck if you notice a lot of cracks or splinters.

And fixing broken or splintered boards is more than just a good safety move: it’s also a good investment. Fixing problems right away can prevent them from getting worse, which can save you a lot of time and money in the future.

Tip #4. Install Good Lighting 

An evening on the deck isn’t complete without good lighting. 

Installing lights on railings, gates, posts, and walls can help you navigate your deck or dock safely at night. We recommend sticking to button lights or overhead hanging lanterns. Floor lamps may look nice, but their wires can be a trip hazard.

Having lights on your dock is also a safety measure when boating at night—for both you and other boaters who may be out on the water.

Tip #5. Check All Ladders & Stairs

It’s essential to regularly check your dock’s stairs and stair railings to make sure they are safe and secure. Look for areas that sag, feel soft, or wobble when you put your weight on them. Stairs need to be fixed immediately, so don’t wait to repair them if you notice a problem.

Furthermore, dock ladders should be regularly evaluated for rust, barnacles, and loose screws. If you live on a body of water that changes heights dramatically, consider getting a floating ladder that rises and falls with the tide.

Tip #6. Talk to Your Kids About Safety

You know what to do when someone gets hurt or falls overboard—but does the rest of your family know?

Making a plan of action and making sure your kids know what to do in case of an emergency can be life-saving. Here are some ideas of emergency prep:

  • Write down emergency contacts. Who should you call in case of an emergency? Do you know the number for your local coast guard? Write down these numbers and show your kids where to locate them. 
  • Have a first aid kit easily accessible. Every boat should have a first aid kit handy in case of scrapes or cuts. You can also keep kits in dock boxes for when you’re not on the water.
  • Teach kids how to swim. Children don’t need to be competition swimmers, but it’s important that they can tread water and know how to swim to shore if they fall in.
  • Talk about water safety. Lakes and oceans can be dangerous, even if they look calm. Talk to your family about water safety and never let kids go out unaccompanied. Here are some tips for open water safety.

Final Checklist

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to water safety. Here’s a quick checklist you can review:

  • Keep life jackets and rings in easily accessible locations. Make sure all kids and inexperienced swimmers wear life jackets when on or near the water. 
  • Install gates and railings as an added layer of protection.
  • Fixed broken or split deck or dock boards right away. 
  • Keep your deck and dock well-lit. Use button lights to line walkways.
  • Make sure all ladders and stairs are in good condition and don’t sag or bend.
  • Talk to your kids about water safety and what to do in case of an emergency. Enroll kids in swimming lessons.

The Bottom Line

Taking a few extra steps to stay safe can help prevent accidents and keep your entire family out enjoying the water. While we’re sharing these tips in celebration of Water Safety Month, you should make sure to practice good safety habits all year long.

Questions? Want to get the materials you need to install railings or replace a split board? Let our team of experts at Decks & Docks help—just contact us and we’ll find a way to help.