Boating Basics Online is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

Who Is Required to Keep a Proper Lookout While Boating? – Answered

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

who is required to keep a proper lookout while boating

It is always important to look where you’re going, whether you’re walking, driving a car, or even boating. By keeping an eye out for anything in your way, you can avoid any untoward incidents such as a collision. But who is required to keep a proper lookout while boating? In fact, it is the boat operator’s responsibility.

This article will talk about keeping a lookout on the boat, which is important for boat safety. We’ll discuss who is responsible for avoiding a collision between boats and what things to look out for.

Keep reading to learn more.

Who Is Responsible for Boat Lookout


Keeping a lookout on the boat’s surroundings needs to be done when boating and must be done well. We can have enough time to react to any situation with early detection.

While larger boats and ships would have a specific person on lookout duty, boat operators are left with the responsibility of keeping a lookout on recreational boats and the like. This is one of the reasons why the helm should have unobstructed visual access to the boat’s surroundings.

But how does a vessel operator keep a proper lookout?

Keeping watch does not involve only looking at the boat’s immediate surroundings but using the senses to determine any possible danger to the boat.

The senses refer mainly to our sense of sight and hearing, though some people can use their other senses for boating, such as smell. Additional vibrations you feel could also mean more shallow waters.

There are many things we can sense that can help us when boating. It’s all a matter of knowing what to look out for and keeping alert.

What to Look for When Keeping a Lookout


Keeping alert and concentrating is essential, but there is more to maintaining a proper lookout using human sight and hearing. That’s why it’s our responsibility to ensure that we have a clear view of our surroundings.

Of course, we should be mindful of the boat and its condition. The engine performance, any possible accumulation of water in the bilge, and the build-up of gas fumes are all important. However, what should we look for in the area surrounding the boat?

It’s all about avoiding danger for us and our boat. By looking out for the following things below, we can help avert boating disasters and mishaps.

1. Water and weather condition

Forecasts about weather and water condition are things we need to check up on before any boating activity. However, make sure to look for any changes while we’re already out on the water.

Because things could change in an instant, any signs of bad weather can tell us to clear out as fast as possible.

2. Information Markers

We can only gain so much information by looking at our surroundings.

  • Sometimes, things beneath the water, such as rocks, can damage a boat’s hull. This is where information markers come in.
  • By looking for information markers such as buoys, we learn important information about the surrounding waters, such as possible dangers or restrictions.

Keeping ourselves aware of such things helps keep us safe and helps us avoid situations where we may contribute to boating accidents.

Water markers could also inform us of valuable details regarding certain areas such as safe boating channels and the like.

Know how to read such information, and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble and worry.

3. Other vessels

It takes time to adjust a boat’s speed and position. Beginning your adjustments earlier means a higher likelihood of avoiding crashes and collisions, which means it’s essential to spot other vessels early.

Be mindful of your surroundings, not just for boats but any watercraft, and try to look out for vessels behind yours too.

Being able to detect other vessels early allows you to judge each situation carefully. Reacting recklessly is always a way to get into an accident.

Try to avoid situations where you are forced into making rushed decisions.

4. Communication signals

Getting visual confirmation on other vessels is a reliable way of spotting other boats, but it’s not the only way.

It’s also important to be on the lookout for other means of communication such as radio. We also use signals for situations where visibility may be poor, such as during nighttime or foggy weather.

Know to look out for flares or keep your ears alert for sounds of bells or horns coming from other vessels. Remember that it is also your responsibility to respond as the situation dictates.

5. People in distress

Flares or other distress signals may be used by vessels in danger. However, not everyone facing an emergency would have access to such devices, depending on the situation.

It’s also important for every boat operator to be alert for people in the water or possibly in a lifeboat.


Now you know who is required to keep a proper lookout while boating. It seems a lot to ask of a person, but these are the responsibilities of anyone operating a boat.

We never know when we could find ourselves on the receiving end, so let’s do our part, hoping that others would do the same.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or experiences to share, please feel free to leave them below. We’d love to hear from you.

Remember to boat safely.

5/5 - (2 votes)