5 Safety Tips for Off-Road Vehicles and Watercraft

Stay safe while riding dirt bikes, boats, jet skis, and ATVs this summer.

A passenger boat cuts through deep blue water.
Stay safe on the water.
Lukas Gojda / Shutterstock

Motorboats, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), personal watercraft, motorbikes, and other summer rides are serious fun—emphasis on serious. Whether you’re off the road or on the water this summer, keep caution and common sense top of mind.

You booze, you lose.

Operating a recreational vehicle when you’ve been drinking isn’t just unwise, it’s unlawful. In most states, the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08 percent for ATV riders and boat captains—the same as it would be for car drivers—and a violation can lead to a felony conviction. If you’re on a boat, it’s not just the skipper who needs to stay sober: Intoxicated passengers risk falling in the water or capsizing a vessel.

Wear proper gear.

When off-roading, wear a helmet and goggles to guard against head injuries. You’ll also want gloves, tall boots, heavy pants, and a long-sleeved jacket to protect against cuts and abrasions. When you’re on the water, always wear a life vest, no matter how well you swim.

Obey the rules of the road (and the river).

Never drive all-terrain vehicles on paved streets; they’re not designed for on-road use, and you also run the risk of colliding with a car. On a boat or personal watercraft, stay to the right when you approach another vessel head-on.


Keep kids on properly sized vehicles.

Children are involved in one-third of all ATV-related emergency room visits and fatalities. Often it’s because they’re riding on or driving adult-size vehicles—a definite no-no. Keep kids on off-roaders that fit them; ditto for motorbikes and watercraft.

Get educated.

Whatever your favorite recreational vehicle, chances are there’s a free safety class near you offered by a government agency or nonprofit organization. Even if there’s a modest fee involved, it’s a small price to pay to ensure that your summer fun stays just that.

This article was first published in April 2019 and was last updated in May 2024.