Safely Share our Nation’s Waterways this Fourth of July

By Tracy Murrell

As boaters of all kinds and types crowd the waterways this Fourth of July to observe the night’s fireworks spectacle, keep in mind the other boaters around you. America’s waterways—which include commercially navigable ocean, coastal, and inland waters—have become increasingly more crowded over the past several decades. With commercial shipments of passengers and goods, recreational motorboats, personal watercraft, kayaks, and paddleboards all sharing our nation’s waterways, this growth in traffic presents challenges to the safe operation of all.

This will be no more evident than on the Fourth of July, where, for example, in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Maryland you could find both motorboat and cargo ship sitting side by side waiting for the familiar boom and clap of fireworks off the shoreline.

Dangerously close encounters between commercial vessels and recreational craft on shared waterways are becoming all too frequent. In fact, the US Coast Guard reports that, in 2014, seven people were killed and nine others were injured in 18 accidents involving a recreational craft and a commercial vessel.

This weekend, consider all the waterway users around you—whether they be small, non-motorized craft or large ships—and take proper safety precautions to share our waterways safely. Follow these tips:

  • Wear a life jacket at all times. Putting on a life jacket when you’re in the water is too late!
  • Don’t operate a vessel while impaired. Boating Under the Influence (BUI) continues to be leading contributor of fatal boating accidents.
  • Maintain safe boating speeds and observe “No Wake” zones.
  • Always have a designated lookout in place.
  • If you are using a kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or other human-powered watercraft, stay close to the shore, wear high visibility clothing, and travel in a single file at all times.
  • If you are operating a personal watercraft, avoid shipping channels, and stay clear of ships, water taxis, and commercial tugs and barges.


Tracy Murrell is the Director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety.

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