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General Best Practices
General Best Practices

Boating accidents present an opportunity for law enforcement officers, public information officers and the news media to provide the public with information about the common causes of recreational boating accidents and the keys to boating safety. The information here complements the BoatBeat Fact Sheets and is aimed at helping spokespersons explain safe boating practices to reporters and the general public. While reporters may find some of this information helpful, it is primarily intended as a resource for those charged with answering questions about a boating accident.

General Best Practices

  • Critical Story Elements: Reporters need to know the “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” of a story. While you may not always have the answers to these questions immediately, expect to be asked.
  • Top 3 Questions: As an industry, we are most concerned with safety. We recommend that when providing statements about a boating accident, the following questions be answered:
    • Were life jackets available and/or worn and would it or did it make a difference regarding this accident?
    • Were alcohol or drugs a possible contributing factor regarding the investigated accident?
    • Were there possible violations of the navigation rules of the road that are being investigated regarding this accident? (i.e., safe speed, proper lookout, give-way or stand-on, and navigation lights.)
  • Accident Statistics: Reporters may want to better understand the incidence of accidents, both nationally and locally. Law enforcement officers, PIOs, reporters and the general public may find this resource a helpful repository for accident statistics.
  • Boat vs. Vessel: While our industry often uses the term “vessel,” the word “boat” is more commonly used and understood by the general public. The National Boating Safety Council encourages spokespersons to use “boat” in all references.
  • Boat Descriptions: Finding a boat that is missing, delayed or suspected of being involved in a crime often depends on details that can identify it. Useful descriptors include the approximate size of the boat, color of the top, whether the boat is an open or cabin boat, type of motor (outboard, inboard, motor color) the activity in which it was involved (fishing or water sports) and its last-observed direction of travel. Overly broad descriptors (it was a big and white) are not nearly as helpful.
  • Important Contacts: Take the opportunity after an accident to provide reporters with information about who the public should contact if they witness a boating accident or need medical assistance due to a boating incident. This information is not always well known, and reporters may be willing to include it in their news coverage.
  • Personal Testimonials: In the aftermath of an accident, reporters pursuing follow-up stories may appreciate the opportunity to speak with someone whose personal experience can illustrate the importance of following safe boating practices. By making survivors of previous accidents available to the media (with their permission, of course), an abstract idea – safety – can become a concrete, memorable, human interest story.
  • Give Some History: Mentioning prior accidents that have occurred within a particular community can help strengthen messaging about the importance of always wearing a life jacket and observing all boating laws and regulations.
  • Education: Accidents provide an opportunity to encourage the public to take a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators-approved safe boating course.
  • Boater Responsibility: If applicable, mention that boaters are responsible for their own wake and the damages caused by it. Also, if applicable, discuss the consequences of operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol and define what operating under the influence means.
  • Float Plan: In cases of missing or late-returning boats, take the opportunity to discuss the importance of a float plan. You may want to note that the most common scenario for contacting the U.S. Coast Guard is when friends or family notice a delayed return is at odds with the boater’s float plan. Direct reporters and others to for additional information.