Article borrowed from Water Sports Foundation and updated for San Francisco:

‘Tis the season for nighttime boat parades. If you plan to decorate your boat and participate in a holiday boat parade, the Water Sports Foundation offers several safety tips. From making sure the boat’s batteries are charged to learning the parade route in advance, participating in a holiday boat parade is fun for the whole family!

Whether you’re a spectator or a participant, nighttime boat parades featuring festive lights and creative boat and yacht displays can be one of the most fun and memorable traditions of the entire holiday season.

From San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf Holiday Lights & Sights Boat Parade to the Alameda Oakland Lighted Boat Parade, there are opportunities all over the Bay Area to get you in the holiday cheer with dazzling Christmas-themed, floating showstoppers.

Spectators can find local parade sites and viewing times with an internet search. For parade participants, however, evening boat outings in the cooler winter months require special safety considerations.

The Orlando, Fla.-based Water Sports Foundation encourages boaters to plan ahead to stay safe as they participate in holiday boat parades.

Suit Up Like Santa: Wear Your Life Jacket! 

Santa and elves on a boatParade participants should wear a life jacket, especially onboard if there is movement and dance step routines.

Drowning is the cause of death in 79 percent of fatal boating accidents where the cause of death was known; 86 percent of those drowning victims were not wearing life jackets.

With parade participants often actively engaged in onboard movement and dance step routines, it’s important to be well prepared and suited up for safety. Boaters should all don U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets that are sized to fit: Choosing the Right Life Jacket – Water Sports Foundation.

The great news is that there are many attractive styles and more streamlined designs now available for boating activities including new lightweight inflatables. Check out California state law mandates regarding life jacket usage and age requirements for children.

Gear Up! 

Boating Safety Equipment

Plan ahead and make sure the boat has the proper safety equipment before entering the parade.

Make sure all required boating safety gear is ready, functional and easily accessible. While signaling devices may already be tucked into your gear bag, consider a small, waterproof clip-on strobe light available from most marine stores that can be attached to your life jacket for extra visibility if needed. Always have a VHF radio on hand and know how to properly use it.

Dress for the Conditions

Holiday Boat Parade - pretty lighted boat

Boaters should dress for location conditions as the weather can rapidly change.

Choose the right type of attire for local weather conditions and be prepared in case conditions change. Consider high-tech fabrics to keep you toasty and dry. Remember, children lose body heat faster than adults, so bring extra layers of clothing in a waterproof dry bag, along with towels and blankets in case they are needed.

Always Designate a Sober Skipper

Holiday Boat Parade - man in handcuffs because he's been arrested for being drunk

Too much holiday cheer could mean handcuffs, so it’s important to designate a sober captain. 

When it comes to holiday cheer, boaters need to be extra vigilant and understand the serious dangers and consequences associated with drinking and driving, which is compounded when navigating at night. The Water Sports Foundation recommends that boaters avoid impairment. If drinking is allowed by parade organizers, however, every boat should designate a sober skipper, a trained and experienced captain who agrees not to imbibe while operating the craft. Crew should be cautioned to avoid or at the least, minimize alcohol consumption to keep their wits about them while underway and onboard.

Learn the Parade Route in Advance

Pointing to the lighted boat parade route


It’s good practice to learn the parade route for captains participating in a holiday boat parade for the first time.

Most boat parade organizers provide a map of the parade route. Review the dock area along with the route and if possible, run your boat through the course in the daylight to spot any obstacles or challenges that may be harder to see with limited visibility.

Charge Batteries and Fuel Up

In addition to making sure the batteries are charged, make sure the fuel tank is topped off.

Holiday boat parades mean colorful lights, music and lots of potential drain to your batteries. Make sure your boat batteries are fully charged and capable of handling the extra power demand associated with accessories like lights and stereo. Consider using LED decorative lights which use less electrical power, or a longer-lasting lithium-ion battery that is separate from your engine starting battery.

“We love holiday boat parades … they historically are great fun and extremely popular in boating communities across the nation,” said Water Sports Foundation Executive Director Jim Emmons. “By ensuring all your safety gear is aboard and in working order and adhering to a few simple boating safety practices, participants can maximize their boating fun and enjoy a great tradition with family and friends.”


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