Ok, quick and easy:
- Everyone wears PFDs (lifejackets), not just the kids. Nothing like seeing a living kid clinging to the slightly bloated corpse of a parent (and yes, I had to fish'em both out of the water). And this was back before disposable body bags (stuff, dump, wash, dry, repeat as needed). Do you get the picture? I hope so.
- Test the straps on the PFDs. Put the lifejacket on the deck, hold it down with one foot and test pull the straps. Any ripping means they should cut and tossed.
- Toss any PFDs that are heavily faded. Heavy fading could cause a fabric breakdown.
- Any PFDs more than five years old should be cut'n tossed.
- If you frequently go on other people's boats consider getting your own PFD. Yeah, a Sterns will cost you >$100 but they're quite comfortable. IMO well worth the money.
- Keep PFDs accessable. I've seen a few times during inspections when Joe Boater couldn't find the key to unlock the locker with the jackets. Dumbass.
- No drinking for the pilot and one other, two max for everyone else. The water a mean place and a few beers could easily mean making it or not.
- Learn to swim. Maybe this should be number one. Even the most basic YMCA swim class will make a huge difference. For experienced swimmers try jumping in to a pool fully clothed, no PFD and stay afloat for an hour or two. If you can do an hour you will have greatly increase your chances of survival.
- If you think you might go offshore more than a mile get a marine radio and make sure it works. If you're in the US get a 406 MHz EPIRB. I know a guy today that has his Category II version (the one that saved his life) proudly mounted over his fireplace. An EPIRB can shorten a SAR contact time by as much as a few hours. Screw prayer, this will be your heaven sent angel.
- Check the weather. It's a stupid one but some people don't do it. What looks like just a dark day on shore could be +10' swells a mile out.
- Bring flares, lots of flares. Flares work great with FLIR which means possibly a faster trip to dry land.
- Tell two people on shore what your plans are and rough course/times. Have a firm return time and stick to it. If you can't make it in time call your friends with an update. Leaving a home voicemail can help too. Leave a copy of your plan by your home phone so someone could find it. This will help a rescue plane or cutter to do a much better and faster search.
- Everyone wears PFDs (lifejackets), not just the kids. Always remember this: no matter how good of a swimmer you are it will do you no good if you're unconscious. I'm repeating myself because it's that important.
Oh, if you need to be rescued by the USCG please follow their exact orders (as in don't jump in the water when you first see them). Chances are they'll get to you before the boat goes completely down so unless it's on fire please stay with it. Their current rescue rate is about 85% (pretty good). If you have a question you can call your local USCG station on the "non SAR number" and ask away. They're pretty cool and helpful with calls like this. USCG small boat crews are great people who volunteer to risk their lives in order to save others. Rarely are they every decorated for saving a life since it happens so offen. IMO a nobel act.
The water is a great place worthy of great respect. It also has zero respect for you. Please be careful.