Should You Learn to Swim Before Getting on a Boat?

Should Everyone on a Boat Know How to Swim?

Learning how to swim is an indispensable skill if you ever fall overboard; it could help you get to shore or at least stay afloat long enough to be rescued. But is it necessary to know how to swim before you get on a boat? And is it advisable that everyone on your boat knows how to swim?

The Value of Swimming

Let's start by talking about the value of swimming, because there are a few different ways that swimming provides value to the people on board your boat. For starters, knowing how to swim as an individual can keep you safe if you ever fall overboard. If you land in the water, being adept at swimming could give you enough power and endurance to make it to shore, assuming there's an island or a dock nearby. It can also help you stay afloat if you have no flotation device, buying time for the people on board the boat to get you to safety.

That said, swimming isn't the only way to stay afloat in the water if you fall overboard. Safety is our number one priority, and it should be your number one priority as well. But knowing how to swim isn't the only way to be safe while on a boat; we'll explore some of the other important safety measures you can take in lieu of learning how to swim later.

We also need to acknowledge that learning how to swim can improve your enjoyment of the boating experience. Once you can confidently swim in open water, you may feel comfortable swimming in the water around your boat and taking full advantage of whatever body of water you frequently explore.

Learning How to Swim

If you've never learned how to swim before, and you're embarrassed or intimidated, don't worry. Learning how to swim, even as an adult with no prior experience, is fairly straightforward. You won't win any Olympic medals, and it may take you significant practice before you feel totally comfortable in the water, but you can at least master the basics in the span of a few hours.

Learning how to tread water is an absolute must if safety is your biggest concern. You can also learn the backstroke, a simple stroke that allows you to continuously breathe, with minimal effort. If you're totally new to being in water, consider taking private lessons with a professional, since they'll be able to provide you with personalized advice and one-on-one expertise to guide you. If you have small children and you want them to learn how to swim, lessons are also a great place to start.

The Age Factor

You should also know that swimming affects your level of safety in different ways, depending on your age. If you're a responsible adult, and you're highly familiar with the tenets of boat safety, you may feel confident operating the vessel and confident in your knowledge of how to respond to an emergency in progress. Accordingly, you may have no problem with being in the water and not knowing how to swim, because you always have your lifejacket on and you’re at minimal risk of falling overboard.

With small children in the boat, you have a completely different set of risks to evaluate. Small children are less likely to respond appropriately to an emergency, they may not be familiar with all of the tenets of boat safety, and they may be more likely to fall overboard.

Because of this, while it's not necessary for children to know how to swim before entering a boat, it is an advisable skill to learn before they depart on their first aquatic adventure.

The Importance of Safety

As we've implied earlier in this article, safety should be your highest priority when operating a vessel, regardless of how many or how few people on board know how to swim.

That's why these important safety features should be prioritized on your vessel, especially if one or more people on board don't know how to swim.

  • Lifejackets and PFDs. Every vessel should be equipped with enough lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) to fit everyone on board snugly. Depending on where you're boating and who is on board, you may also be required to wear lifejackets at all times. Make sure to consult with local laws to see what is legally required of you, and even if laws don't require it, consider having everyone wear a lifejacket while on board – especially if they don’t know how to swim.
  • Throwable floatation devices. It's also a good idea to keep throwable flotation devices on board, so you can send a lifeline to anyone struggling to stay afloat.
  • Visual signalling and lighting. Be sure to include plenty of visual signalling and lighting options on your vessel. If someone falls overboard at night, you'll need to use flashlights and visual signals to guide them back to the boat – or possibly signal for help in an emergency.
  • Audio signalling. Audio signalling is also indispensable for your maritime safety; make sure you have the equipment you need to signal for help and provide audio warnings to the vessels around you.
  • Appropriate planning. People are much more likely to fall overboard, and will have a much harder time swimming, in inclement weather. Always check the weather forecast to avoid bad conditions if you're going to travel with people who don't know how to swim.
  • Behavioural changes. If you are operating a vessel and you know that some of your crewmates don't know how to swim, consider implementing some behavioural changes to improve the safety of your entire group. For example, you might deliberately avoid larger or faster vessels to reduce the possibility of collision.

If you or your family members don't know how to swim, that shouldn't stop you from enjoying a boat. But it does pay to learn how to swim, or at least tread water, if you want to maximize safety. If you're just getting started in the boating world, or if you're looking for an upgrade, make sure to take a look at our selection of new and used boats for sale; we probably have exactly what you're looking for.

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