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Activities > Boating Boating Safety

Because many different types of recreators may be sharing a boating area, show respect by operating at safe speeds and keeping an adequate distance from others. Due to their limited maneuverability, give sailboats and other non-motorized craft a wide berth. Remember, you are responsible for any damage your boat, or the wake from your boat, may cause.

Cold Water Immersion

Immersion in cold water can kill in just minutes—the colder the water, the greater the risk. One's swimming ability does not improve one's chances of survival. Research shows that a sudden immersion into cold water (65° (F) or less) starts as a series of incapacitating reflexes that increase the risk of drowning. Many waterbodies in Montana are fed from high mountain springs and don't get above 65° even in the summer making cold water immersion a threat all year long.

Surviving Cold Water Immersion

  • Wear a life jacket. It will increase your chance of survival.

  • Try to avoid entering the water. If you must enter the water, do it slowly. If experiencing cold shock, hold onto something until breathing settles down.

  • Keep your head, neck, and face out of the water.

  • Get out of the water as soon as possible. Climb aboard a boat or on top of an overturned boat if you are unable to right it.

  • Do not attempt to swim for shore as this will cause greater exposure to the water unless you are in a stream or river current.

  • Assume the Heat Escape Lessening Position(H.E.L.P. or Huddle) to protect the body core organs. While floating in a lifejacket, draw your knees together toward your chest and hold your upper arms tightly to your sides.

  • Remain as still as possible. Excessive movement in cold water cools the body 35 times faster. Thrashing flushes the warmer water away from the body.

  • Clothing provides some protection against heat loss in water, especially a waterproof outer layer. Do not attempt to remove clothing, which traps water that is warmed by the body's heat.

  • Carry survival gear including a blanket, hat and extra dry clothing on board.

Drinking and Boating

It is unlawful to operate or be in actual physical control of a motorboat, sailboat, water skis, surfboard, or similar device attached to a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A person with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more is considered under the influence of alcohol. [MCA 61-8-4]

Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as the leading factor in 23% of deaths.


Boater's Checklist

Use this checklist as a guide to the materials and conditions you should have for a boating trip. Your needs will vary depending on the type of boat, the water you will be in, and the activities planned. Add to the list as needed.

Print checklist 

Print U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Safety Checklist

Items Required by Montana or Federal Law

  • Wearable Life Jackets 

  • Throwable PFD 

  • Fire Extinguisher(s) (motorboats)

  • Backfire Flame Arrester (motorboats)

  • Ventilation System (motorboats)

  • Whistle or Horn

  • Navigational Lights

  • Registration Document

  • Boat Number, Permanent Decal and Validation Decals

Loading Passengers and Gear

  • Do not load a boat with passengers or cargo beyond its safe carrying capacity, taking into consideration weather and operating conditions.

  • Distribute the weight of passengers and gear evenly.

  • Keep gear low and centered.

  • Do not stand or make quick, unbalanced movements in small boats.

How to Fit a Life Jacket

Make sure the life jacket you wear fits and is right for the activities you do. 

Keep a Lookout

Leave a Float Plan