The Coast Guard urges boaters across the Pacific Northwest to use extra caution while on the water this Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of the traditional boating season and is usually a very busy few days on the water.

“We want people to enjoy this holiday weekend safely,” said Capt. Jeremy Smith, commander of Coast Guard Sector Columbia River. “It’s important that you wear a life jacket and tell friends or family your plans, in case there is an emergency.”

Consider these safety tips for boaters before leaving the dock:

Wear a life jacket: Life jackets save lives. In 2018, 77 percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those, approximately 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Accidents can leave even a strong swimmer injured, unconscious, or exhausted in the water.

Have a VHF-FM marine-band radio on board. Cell phones may lose signal off shore or run out of battery power. They are helpful but not reliable for notifying first responders of mariners in distress. Channel 16 is the channel used for emergencies that occur on waterways.

In addition to a marine-band radio, boaters should have signal flares, a sound producing device or an emergency position-indicating radio beacon to alert first responders in case of an emergency. 

If you have an EPIRB, be sure it’s registered! Once registered, and in the event of an activation, the EPIRB signal alerts search and rescue teams with information to assist in the search including who you are, your boat type and size, where you are, and other important data, including emergency contact information. 

File a float plan: Leave a detailed float plan with a friend or family member who is staying back on land. The sooner a party can be reported overdue, the more likely a positive outcome will result. Facts need to be quickly conveyed in an emergency. Your float plan should include information that rescue personnel need in order to find you. For examples of a float plan, visit

Never boat under the influence: It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are stringent penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and jail time. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

Monitor weather broadcasts: Watch for current storm advisories. The National Weather Service broadcasts marine weather forecasts regularly. Forecasts can be heard by tuning in to channels 1 to 5 on a VHF marine radio or by checking the National Weather Service website.

If you see something, say something: If you see someone in danger or someone you suspect may be boating under the influence, contact the Coast Guard on channel 16 or local first responders by calling 911.

Download the Coast Guard boating safety mobile app. Features included on the app are the latest safety regulations and navigation rules, as well as immediate access to filling a float plan, checking the weather, and reporting pollution hazards or suspicious activity.