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Sailing and motorboating


Going out on the water can be a lot of fun, and is a way of life in coastal communities around the UK and the RoI. But the sea can be an unpredictable and dangerous place. Taking some simple precautions can make your time on the water even more enjoyable, and reduce your chances of getting into trouble.

Our interactive publication Sea Safety: The Complete Guide is essential reading for anyone who finds themselves drawn to the water.

You can also learn to recover someone from the water with our 2 minute quiz.

Take the quiz


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Wear a lifejacket

Image of boater Tim Powell and his lifejacket. Photo: RNLI/Mark Harding

The water can be extremely unpredictable. It is vital to wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid. The RNLI believes that lifejackets save lives and are useless unless worn.

If you find yourself in the water, a lifejacket or buoyancy aid could save your life. But only if you ensure that it is the correct size and type for you, properly fastened and maintained, and that you understand how to operate it.

Of all the bodies that the RNLI have pulled from the water, precious few were wearing lifejackets. If they had been, they could have survived longer, perhaps long enough to have been found alive.

Find out more about how to choose, fit and maintain a good lifejacket.


Image of chartwork. Photo: RNLI/Nigel MillardMany of the incidents to which the RNLI is called are due to, or exacerbated by, inexperience and lack of training.

As boating and other watersports have grown in popularity, we have seen a lowering in the average level of knowledge among those who go to sea for fun. It is important that newcomers realise that they are entering an unfamiliar environment and that they need to get the appropriate level of training to allow them to fully enjoy the pleasures and challenges of their sport.

The best places to find suitable courses and qualifications for your sport are RYA (UK) and ISA (Ireland).

SOS device


Image of Fraserburgh Coxswain Victor Sutherland on radio. Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Even in crowded waters and close to the shore, a life-threatening incident might go unnoticed.

The ability to call for help or signal for assistance is imperative.

Read more about SOS devices and what to do in an emergency.

Engine and fuel check

Image of Woolacombe lifeguards checking the engine of their rescue watercraft. Photo: RNLI/Nigel MillardIn 2012, lifeboats were called out 1,499 times to boats with machinery failure, and 87 times to boats that had run out of fuel.

If your craft has an engine, we strongly recommend that you know the basics of starting, running and maintaining that engine.

Get more advice on engines and fuel.


Tides and weather

Image of a yacht and a lifeboat in a gale in Brighton. Photo: Eddie MitchellWeather, especially bad weather, can spoil a day. Even when the weather is fine, it can change suddenly to become uncomfortable or even threatening. This applies to both short and long passages.

Always check the weather forecast before you set off. Get regular updates if you are planning to be out for any length of time. Be prepared to change your plans or cancel the trip if the forecast is unfavourable.

For more details, see the Before You Go section of our interactive sea safety guide.

Competitors in a race off Oban. Sunny day, calm sea. Leisure.


The Coastguard gets many calls reporting vessels overdue. The emergency services must then decide where to start the search pattern. Knowing where the vessel is likely to be can increase the chance of a successful rescue.

All vessels are encouraged to use the CG66 form (UK) or the SafeTrx app (RoI) and give the coastguard passage information.

You should inform someone ashore of:

  • your passage plan (intended trip). NB This is a legal requirement under SOLAS chapter V
  • your return time
  • how to contact the coastguard and what to tell them if you are overdue.

Knowing where you are is also an advantage. By keeping your charts up to date and learning basic navigations skills, you will decrease your chances of going aground on sandbanks or rocks.