Six Tips for Participating in a Holiday Boat Parade

Top tips to help you stay safe while participating in holiday boat parades or just observing from your boat.

Holiday Boat Parade Safety
Holiday Boat Parade SafetyNewport Harbor Chamber of Commerce

Holiday boat parades are fun for everyone. Yet that doesn’t mean you and your holiday crew can abandon the precepts of prudent seamanship and boating safety.

To help keep you safe during the holiday boat parade season, we tapped Boatswain’s Mate Chief Petty Officer J. Morgia of the United States Coast Guard, Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach, California, Waterways Management Division.

Morgia offered these answers to our questions about staying safe while participating in holiday boat parades or just observing from your boat.

Holiday Boat Parade Safety
Holiday Boat Parade SafetyNewport Harbor Chamber of Commerce

Q1. It's dark. Boaters need to exercise extra caution when navigating waters at night. What steps should they take?
A. Be aware that sunset is approaching and it takes about 30 minutes for your vision to acclimate to complete darkness. Turn on your boat's navigation lights for operation at night. Be aware of your speed of operation as it becomes dark. If you are not familiar with operating in the area at night slow down. Have a friend assist as an extra lookout during night navigation.

Q2. Other boats adorned with holiday lights can create confusion when it comes to interpreting nav lights, and the glare of holiday lights on your own boat can impair your vision at night. What steps should they take to avoid confusion?
A. In an environment where you are participating in a boat parade it is highly recommended that you have one or more designated personnel that will assist as looking and hearing for any obstructions to safe navigation. Ensure you turn on your holiday lights during the scheduled parade time then turn them off when your parade transit is complete to ensure the additional lights do not conflict with your boat's standard navigation lights. Operate at a safe speed during the parade. Ensure you adhere to the parade rules and regulations regarding speed and operation during the parade.

Q3. Many like to enjoy intoxicating substances such as alcohol and/or marijuana (in states where it is legal) during such festivities. What's your advice when it comes to imbibing.
A. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Boat parades are typically held within a main harbor and will be enforced by city law enforcement officers. If you designate persons to assist you in navigation it is highly recommended that they do not consume any alcohol or use any drugs if assisting the operator in safe navigation.

Q4. Paddlers aboard kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and canoes enjoying holiday parades can also pose a safety risk, as they can be difficult to see at night. What steps should both paddlers and power boaters take to stay safe together?
A. Be aware of what vessels are operating around you and what they're maneuvering capabilities are. Be aware and familiar with what your vessel's maneuvering and capabilities are as well. Anticipate issues; be a defensive boater.

Q5. Distractions such as onboard entertaining can interfere with a helmsman's attention at the wheel. How can the helmsman stay focused on safety?
A. The vessel operator is responsibility for the safety of his or her vessel. This responsibility, like driving, should be taken seriously. In general, it is recommended that a person with these types of questions refer and review the Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook; the handbook can be viewed online or purchased from an online or local book store. Vessels operating in a boat parade will follow the specific rules and regulations for the INLAND section. The handbook will explain and define Responsibility and Conduct of Vessels in any condition of visibility and Conduct of Vessels in Sight of One Another.

Q6. Holiday boat parades are fun for the kids on board, but you need to make sure they are wearing approved and appropriate life jackets, as required state and federal regulations. Where can they find these regulations?
A. Make sure you know the federal regulations for life jackets required about your boat. You find them at:

Holiday Boat Parade Safety
Holiday Boat Parade SafetyNewport Harbor Chamber of Commerce
  • 33 CFR 175 Subpart B – Personal Flotation Devices
  • 175.11 Applicability.
  • 175.13 Definitions.
  • 175.15 Personal Floatation Devices Required.
  • 175.17 Exemptions.
  • 175.19 Stowage.
  • 175.21 Condition; size and fit; approval marking.
  • 175.23 Serviceable Condition
  • 175.25 Enforcement of State requirements for children to wear personal flotation devices.
Holiday Boat Parade Safety
Holiday Boat Parade SafetyNewport Harbor Chamber of Commerce

Also make sure your state regulations. The Division of Boating and Waterways in the State of California dictate the following: All vessels must have at least one Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device that is U.S. Coast Guard-approved, wearable and of the proper size for each person on board. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.

  • One Type IV U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) and readily accessible, in addition to the above requirement.

  • All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible.

  • Under California law, every child under 13 years of age on a moving recreational vessel of any length must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in serviceable condition and of a type and size appropriate for the conditions and the activity. The law does not apply to children under 13 years of age who are: