The Fourth of July is like Christmas Day for boaters. Nothing represents this celebratory summer holiday more than a cookout (on or by the water!), a lot of watersports fun and of course, fireworks!
Watching fireworks from your boat combines two favorite activities. Many waterfront cities have spectacular fireworks shows that feature live music leading up to the big moment. Washington, D.C., Charleston, SC, New York, Chicago and Nashville, TN, are among a long list of cities putting on extended choreographed shows that begin before dusk. While everyone else is crowded together on land, you have a better view from the boat. As the fireworks light up the sky with color, you get the added bonus of seeing the reflection of light on the surface of the water. And of course, you get to share it all with family and friends.
Being extra conscientious of boating safety is a must. The nighttime boating environment calls for it. The water is more crowded and the distraction of the fireworks and drifting smoke can create unsafe conditions. Practice these tips to make your holiday outing safe and fun.
Leave the fireworks at home. Fiberglass is flammable, carpet can catch fire and the fumes from fuel can ignite and cause a blaze. Fireworks are also meant to be lit on a flat and level surface, which a rocking boat is not. There are so many reasons why fireworks should stay out of the boat—not to mention the fireworks show is more impressive than a few bottle rockets.
In most states, laws for drinking and operating a boat are like those enforced for driving an automobile. And just like holiday DUI roadway checkpoints, there are extra law enforcement officers patrolling the waterways, especially around special events like a fireworks show. If you plan to indulge, invite a designated skipper to take the helm. Better yet, leave the libations at home with the store-bought fireworks.
During your pre-boating safety inspection, make double sure to fit each passenger for a personal flotation device. Navigating in a confined area with heavy boat traffic—under smoky conditions and darkness—can be just as dangerous as boating in foggy or stormy weather. If PFDs are on your shopping list, choose U.S. Coast Guard approved devices that can be worn comfortably all the time. When you cast off, make sure everyone is wearing the life jacket and keeps it on until returning to shore. Why wear it during the show? Excited kids—and even grownups—can lose their balance and fall overboard. In the darkness, a person overboard can be difficult to see.
Another item to double check for proper operation is the fire extinguisher. Make sure it’s fully charged and ready for use, and not just for a boating emergency. It might come in handy if a firework from the show should stray.
Literally! Sharing the experience with family and friends is what boating is all about. Before sending the invitations, make sure to avoid overloading the boat. Passenger and weight limits are listed on the U.S. Coast Guard capacity plate affixed to the interior of the boat.
Remember the visual navigation landmarks you use during the day are invisible at night. Chart your route to the show in advance. Pay particular attention to navigation buoys, lights and signs. Those are there for a purpose, which is to keep you on course and away from danger.
Event managers or state and federal agencies might designate viewing areas or boating prohibited zones on the water. Check websites for the event or the U.S. Coast Guard for notices and special regulations in effect for boaters.
Between the music, camaraderie and revelry, you might become distracted and forget a very important thing to do as showtime nears. As dusk approaches, make sure to turn on the anchor lights, otherwise known as the bow and stern navigation lights.
Your four-legged best friend and the mascot of the ship can easily become frightened by all the chaos and excitement in the boat and above in the air. Leave pets at home. They will be glad you did, and so will you.
Before the big show, scout out an anchorage during the daylight hours. Keep well outside any restricted areas or the launching platform. The view is better and the conditions are safer from a distance. When the show concludes, allow the crowd to thin out instead of getting caught in a flotilla of eager—or overly rambunctious—boaters that might cause unsafe boating conditions. Most accidents happen when there is a mad dash back to the shoreline.
Most of all, have fun and create special memories with a camera. Nothing beats a balmy summer evening shared with family and friends, and fireworks make it all the better.