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Who is Required to Keep a Proper Lookout While Boating?

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

who is required to keep a proper lookout while boating

The water can be dangerous if no one is on guard for obstructions and potential hazards. Then, who is required to keep a proper lookout while boating? The answer is quite obvious – the boat operator!

As the boat operator is responsible for the passengers’ safety, they’re supposed to maintain a proper lookout from the helm to avoid impediments at all times. This means they must be acutely aware of their surroundings, the water, and the weather.

Read on to find out more about the responsibility of a boat operator when riding a boat.

Who is Required to Keep a Proper Looking While Boating


Essentially, the boat operator is responsible for keeping a proper lookout and remaining vigilant about their surroundings at all times. This is especially true for smaller recreational boats, where a specialized lookout might not be available.

According to the rule of operator responsibility, it is not legal when operating a PWC that the skipper doesn’t pay attention to the surroundings and other vessels.

Maintaining a good sight of the surroundings is not that hard, even when you’re out and about to the sea by yourself. As long as you get an open and clear view from the helm along with unrestricted visibility, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Nevertheless, it’s quite common to have a designated lookout person on board.

As a boat operator, you can assign the task of keeping a proper lookout to another crew member on board, but keep in mind that it is also forbidden to turn control to someone who lacks experience or may be intoxicated.

Even when the control is shared between the captain and someone else, the duties of the lookout must still be maintained by the skipper. To properly carry out their duties, the operator needs to:

  • Pay attention to both their front and behind. While some may think that there’s no reason to watch their back, real-life situations suggest otherwise. A boat, for example, may overtake your vessel at any time.
    Should you make any sudden turn without being aware of what’s behind you, the approaching boat may not have enough time to react and may crash into your vessel as a result.
  • Travel at a slower speed and be even more careful when visibility is a problem, such as in poor weather conditions or at night. When it’s too dark outside, the skipper must also dim the digital screens’ lights so as not to affect their vision.
  • Refrain from playing loud music or wearing headphones, particularly noise-canceling ones. Such actions may hinder a skipper’s ability to notice signals from other boats. They may also fail to realize calls for help from nearby people, for example.
  • Pay attention to the radar if there’s one on the vessel.

What to Look for When Keeping a Lookout

The primary responsibility for preventing a PWC accident belongs to the skipper. As long as the vessel operator keep a proper lookout while boating, he’s obliged by law.

While it is important to maintain a proper lookout, there are other considerations that a vessel operator required to do when they’re out in the open stretch of water.

1. Water and Weather Conditions

Take heed of the water and weather conditions before heading out to the water. Checking the weather forecast is a good idea but be mindful that changes are inevitable sometimes.

2. Markers


Keep an eye out for non-lateral markers (white markers with orange stripes and black lettering), as they’re usually used to keep you informed about the area where you’re at.

Generally, these buoys often tell you where the potential hazards and the controlled water areas could be.

3. Vessel Traffic


Failing to keep a lookout for other vessels is one of the contributing reasons for collisions. It’s typically too late to reduce speed when you collide with another boat, so try to maintain a safe speed to avoid other watercraft.

4. Communication Signals


Even though visual confirmation is one reliable way to spot other watercraft, there are other ways to do so. It is recommended that mariners utilize all available means, especially by sight and hearing, to maintain good situational awareness.

5. People

Not all vessels are equipped with distress signals; that said, you should also be aware of the potential life rafts on the water when it comes to an emergency. Besides, be on the lookout for swimmers, snorkelers, divers, and the like.

There is a way to detect these people—look for Flag Alpha. These blue and white flags are used to indicate waters with swimmers or divers galore; Alpha Flags are often attached to a fluorescent buoy or any accompanying boat.



Expert Guidance for Guiding Boats

  • Since steering is much more nuanced, always consider other factors affecting your boat’s direction of travel, such as waves or winds.
  • Become familiar with your boat and see how much distance is needed for it to slow down safely or stop entirely.
  • Navigating a boat isn’t anything close to driving a car; it will take you some time to get used to the delayed navigation of the boat. Therefore, spend some time working with steering in tight spaces.

Advice For Recreational Boaters

  • Attend a boating safety course before going into the water for your own safety as well as the passengers.
  • Check the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes.
  • Always carry more than one communication device.
  • When operating in heavy traffic, the skipper must slow down or stop entirely to navigate in a safe way until traffic clears off.
  • Examine your vessel every once in a while, as boats require regular maintenance to keep them in good use.

Collision Regulations and Boating Practices

  • Every mariner is responsible for avoiding a collision. This means that even though the privileged vessel has the right to maintain speed, it must be ready to avoid a collision if the other vessel (the burdened vessel) does not give way.
  • If you notice another vessel approaching, you ought to determine whether the risk of collision exists (Rule 7). The rule states that the risk only exists if a compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not seem to change, and if it does change, there shall be no risk of collision.
  • Try to avoid overtaking if not necessary, but if you must, your vessel shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken and may pass on either side, whichever is safest.


Who is required to keep a proper lookout while boating? The boat operator! A responsible skipper ought to keep a constant watch for navigation markers, floating hazards, and other boats in order to either navigate or negotiate in advance to avoid collisions.

Even though constantly scanning your surroundings seems tiring, it’s still a part of your duty as a boat operator. Practice maintaining a lookout for your own safety and others.

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