Small Boat Safety Manual

Last updated on August 1, 2016 11 min read Small Boat Safety Manual


1.10 Purpose

Small boat operations involve certain risks that must be addressed prior to beginning any field work. Knowing what equipment is required to be on the boat, the rules of the road, understanding the weather and its effects on the marine environment, and even the variations in operating one type of boat compared to another are all obstacles that must be overcome in order to minimize the risks to those on board, as well as maximizing efficiency in data collection.

The purpose of this manual is to establish good boating practices under the auspices of the Boston University; to ensure that all boating under BU auspices is conducted in a safe and efficient manner; and to familiarize participants with the basic procedures that affect their own safety and the safety of their fellow user.

Any BU small boat operator is required to observe the provisions of this guide.

1.20 Contents

The Small Boat Manual contains policies and procedures for all boating operations. The BU Small Boat Safety Manual includes:

  1. Policies and procedures that pertain to all BU boating operations.
  2. Administrative procedures for conducting the BU small boat program.
  3. Equipment and maintenance recommendations.

1.30 Applicability

The provisions of this manual apply whenever BU personnel are using a small powerboats under BU auspices, whether or not the boat is owned by BU.

Specific examples of boat operations under BU auspices include but are not limited to: persons engaged in research; employees acting within the scope of their employment; students engaged in any research operation including those receiving or providing boat operation instruction or involved in boat checkouts; and boat operations conducted in educational programs sponsored by BU.

For the purposes of this program, a small boat is any boat less than 26 feet in length (US Coast Guard Class 1 and smaller). In order to be approved for use by BU personnel, a small boat must be numbered in accordance with the regulations of the State of Massachusetts or in accordance with applicable Federal Law or with a federally approved numbering system of another State. Small boats operating in International waters must meet local identification requirements.

Small boats used under BU auspices fall into four categories:

  1. Boats launched from BU properties.
  2. Boats owned by individual BU programs.
  3. Privately owned boats used for BU research.
  4. Boats chartered by BU personnel for the purpose of conducting research, education, or training.


2.10 BU Associate Vice President for Research Compliance

The Associate Vice President for Research Compliance has the ultimate authority for the Diving and Small Boat Safety Program and its related activities. The BU Scientific Diving Officer is responsible for approving changes to the Small Boat Safety Manual and daily operations.

2.20 BU Diving Control Board

The Diving Control Board (DCB) at BU is responsible for recommending changes to this Small Boat Safety Manual and for general oversight of the small boat operations at BU, including reviews of accidents involving injury, or loss / damage to equipment.

2.30 Boating Safety Officer

The administration of the Small Boat Safety Program policy currently resides with the Diving Safety Officer. The BU Diving Safety Officer can be contacted at

2.40 Principal Investigators

Principal Investigators will assure that all small boat operations that are part of a program under their direction are conducted in accordance with this manual. It is required that Principal Investigators who operate boats that are either owned by individual BU programs or privately owned boats used for BU research meet the same safety standards as BU boats and to have on board the required safety equipment as outlined in Appendix I.

2.50 Boat Operator

In all boat operations, one BU individual shall be designated as the boat operator. Exceptions may be granted for commercially operated charter vessels which comply with U.S. Coast Guard regulations concerning charter vessels. In foreign waters, the responsible BU operator shall insure the vessel has all required safety and navigational equipment. This may entail the BU operator bringing safety equipment for the vessel. The designated boat operator is responsible for all aspects of boating operations, regardless of the presence of any senior staff or faculty in the boat. These responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  1. The safe navigation of the vessel to and from the site(s) of operation;
  2. The safe operation of all equipment, either in the collection of data, or the handling of the vessel;
  3. Safe transport of the vessel to and from the launch site;
  4. Insuring that all required operational and safety equipment is on board before getting underway and properly stowed upon return.

Non-compliance with this manual is to be reported to the BU Diving Safety Officer for review. The Diving Control Board is available to assist with any reviews as requested.

Any operator may deviate from the requirements of this manual to the extent necessary to prevent or minimize a situation that is likely to cause death, serious physical harm, or major environmental damage. A written report of such actions must be submitted within 24-hours to the BU Diving Safety Officer explaining the circumstances and justifications.


3.10 General

The regulations in this manual must be observed wherever small boat operations are carried out under the auspices of BU. All operators must follow the provisions of the manual and all equipment used must conform to U.S. Coast Guard requirements. Any questions should be submitted to

3.11 Operating Areas

The regulations herein shall be observed at all locations where boating operations are conducted under the auspices of the BU Small Boat Program. Areas of operation belong to one of three classifications:

  1. Inland Waters: Shoreward of the demarcation line that separates International Navigation Rules from U.S. Inland Navigation Rules, for example within the waters of Massachusetts Bay. The demarcation line is known as the COLREGS (Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972) Demarcation Line. It is shown on nautical charts;
  2. Coastal Waters: Seaward of the COLREGS Demarcation Line, but within sight of land;
  3. International Water: operators shall meet all local requirements and regulations for both equipment and operator licensing, as well as US Coast Guard regulations.

The operating area for each boat within the Small Boat Program will be clearly identified by the owner. Boats will be used only in their designated areas or in areas which provide greater protection.

3.20 Boat Operators

Boat operators are expected to have basic knowledge and competencies for handling the vessel they intend to use, in the expected environment and conditions for their field work. Theoretical knowledge and an understanding of the “Rules of the Road” can be gained through any of several formal boating courses. The Massachusetts Department of Boating & Waterways, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the U.S. Power Squadron offer courses that are acceptable for this purpose.

Boat operating experience is invaluable, and there is no substitute for time at the wheel on the water. While BU does not offer any regular training opportunities, boat time can be arranged on a re-charge basis for those who request it. Contact the Diving/Boating Safety Officer for details.

Departments and boat owners may set additional requirements for the use of their vessels.

Individuals must apply to the BU Diving Control Board for authorization as a “boat operator”. Applications are submitted to the BU Diving Safety Officer for review (send to

3.30 Boats and Equipment

All boats and equipment used by authorized BU operators in US waters, regardless of ownership, will conform to U.S. Coast Guard requirements and to the standards set forth in this manual. BU owned vessels operating in foreign waters must comply with both local and USCG regulations.

3.31 Stability

All boats used by BU personnel are required to have an installed data plate that designates the number of people and weight capacity according to the manufacturer’s specifications. It is the responsibility of the boat operator to stay within these limits and to have all weight evenly distributed so that the boat will be trimmed properly. If the manufacturer’s specifications have been altered or if a platform was designed and constructed for specific research the trim and stability modifications may be comprised. It is the responsibility of the Principal Investigator to verify the stability of any modification with the BU Diving Safety Officer.

3.32 Equipment

The operator shall be familiar with the operation of the equipment and shall inspect all emergency equipment prior to departure. Special attention should be given to Personal Floatation Devices (PFD’s) and communication equipment (radios and cell phones). He / She shall notify the Boating Safety Officer or the boat owner of any malfunctioning equipment used during their operation.

3.40 BU Boat Float Plan

All Operators of boats must leave a float plan with some responsible party on shore. The minimum requirements for a float plan are:

  1. The boat being used;
  2. The planned date, time and place of departure;
  3. The planned date, time and place of return;
  4. The site(s) of operation;
  5. The Principal Investigator;
  6. The names and affiliation of people on board;
  7. Communication schedule, i.e., cellular telephone number and/or VHF working frequency.

3.50 Communications

Scheduled cell phone or radio communications with agreed upon frequency shall be maintained with a responsible person. To initiate any change in an approved schedule, the shore contact or assigned alternate must be notified and changes confirmed. If the boat operator, or their designee, is unable to notify the shore contact or assigned alternate, the filed plan must be adhered to. Failure to maintain scheduled radio communications (within one-half hour) may cause initiation of U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue procedures.

The shore contact or the agreed upon alternate shall be notified by phone or in person upon completion of work. Notice of return is required within two hours after the scheduled time of return. If shore-based or radio contact is not made, procedures for U.S. Coast Guard action may be initiated. Vessel operators and shore contacts shall take into account the limited VHF radio and cell phone coverage in coastal waters.

3.60 Weather

Use of any boat is always contingent upon weather conditions. Responsibility for monitoring weather conditions prior to departure and during operations resides with the operator. When small craft advisories are issued by the National Weather Service for the waters of a planned operation or experiment, boats that are scheduled for operations within that area should postpone their operations until more favorable conditions prevail.

3.70 SCUBA Diving

Any persons SCUBA diving from a BU boat are required to observe the provisions of the Boston University Diving Safety Manual. All dive plans must receive prior approval from the BU Scientific Diving Officer. Dive plans must be submitted to at least one week before diving.

Diving by students, staff, and faculty of BU or any other persons using BU equipment as a necessary part of their employment, research, or training, and by other authorized divers under the supervision of the BU dive program as a necessary part of research, constitutes diving under BU auspices.

The designated lead diver will be in charge of all diving operations. A BU boat operator should remain aboard at all times during diving operations, and is required for dives deeper than 30 meters (99’).

3.80 Safety Checks

3.81 Prior to Departure the boat operator shall:

  1. Perform a functional inspection of the boat and all equipment;
  2. Assess all environmental risks weather conditions, sea conditions;
  3. Inform all passengers of emergency procedures – man-overboard, fire, and abandonment and methods for seeking assistance;
  4. Inform all passengers of the location of emergency equipment;
  5. Inform all passengers of additional hazards and appropriate precautions for the particular environment, weather and objectives of the operation.

3.82 After Returning

  1. Upon return the operator will check in with shore contact person;
  2. Note any problems with the boat or equipment that occurred and inform the responsible department within 24-hours.

3.90 Record Keeping and Accident Reporting

3.91 Routine Records

The BU Diving Safety Officer or a designee (i.e. departments owning boats, individual owners of boats, etc.) shall keep a file of usage for all boats, including a log of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance for each boat, boat trailer and outboard engine. Reports that summarize boat operations will be submitted to the BU Diving Safety Office annually by December 31st.

3.92 Accident Reporting

All accidents and incidents involving boats must be reported to the BU Diving Safety Officer and the BU Office of Risk Management. The BU Diving Safety Officer will report the accident to the Diving Control Board for review and the Board shall investigate and document the accident and related personal injury and/or property damage and prepare a report for the Associate Vice President for Research Compliance.


Incidents are defined as events that result in minor injures (cuts and scrapes) or “cosmetic” damage to vehicles or vessels (dents and scratches that don’t effect the operation of the vehicle or vessel.) Incidents also include near misses, such as when a situation occurred that could have led to an accident, which should be reported as well.

Accidents are defined as events in which a serious injury requiring medical attention beyond basic first aid occurred.

Reporting guidelines and resources:

  1. Any accident must be reported within 24 hours to the EH S office at 617-353-4094 AND to BU Risk Management Office at 617-353-3020;
  2. Any accident resulting in a fatality must be reported as soon as possible to EH&S and to Risk Management, AND if after normal business hours, to the BUPD at 617-353-2121;
  3. Any accident resulting in damage to a University owned vehicle, vessel, or property must be reported to the Office of Risk Management using the proper report forms. See or Contact Risk Management at 617 353-3020;
  4. Any injury to an employee must be reported to the Office of Risk Management, forms available at the CFO website.


Appendix I: BU Boat Float Plan

Small Boat Safety Manual Appendix I

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