Why Boats Don't Have Seatbelts

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Why Boats Don't Have Seatbelts

If you're new to boating you may have a few questions about boating safety. Assuming you own a car, truck or SUV you're probably used to sitting down buckling in and hitting the road. So why doesn't this new NNMA certified boat not come with a seat belt? In this post we are diving into why your boat does not have a seat belt.

July 21, 2023
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Bryan Greenwood
Regional Sales Manager - Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West

As someone who boats frequently it is often amusing to me when a non-boater joins me on the water. There are so many boating “things” we take for granted that sometimes get brought to light when a newbie is on board. I had a friend once who asked if he could drive my boat one evening. It was devoid of all other boat traffic on my lake that night and I gave him the thumbs up. He promptly slammed the throttle full speed ahead while aimed toward shore. All of a sudden, I realized this was the same friend that my dad wouldn’t let me ride in a car with in high school due to his horrible driving habits. I shouted for him to slow down, and he started looking at the floor for a brake pedal! After getting everything under control and kicking him out of the drivers seat we all had a good laugh. I was baffled that he honestly though all boats had a break pedal and it got us talking about other features that don’t translate from cars to boats.

Recently I had a similar interaction with someone when they asked why boats don’t have seat belts. On the surface it’s a logical question. Seat belts have saved numerous lives since being introduced by Volvo in 1959. Seat lap belts had been around longer than that but in 1959 the Swedish automaker introduced the first 3 point belt that is still widely used today. Interestingly, Volvo knew how important this new belt was that they gave the technology away free to any car manufacturers instead of keeping it to themselves. It is estimated that in the 4 decades after launching over a million lives were saved. Along with airbags it is one of the biggest safety feature in any of today’s automobiles. And while some boats in the racing world have seat belts the majority of boats do not. You may wonder why a lifesaving device from automobiles wouldn’t also translate over to boats. There are actually many reasons for this.

Most serious automobile injuries occur when a fast-moving vehicle comes in contact with something stationary and a seat belt is the best protection from being ejected in an accident like this. Boating fatalities are most often a result of capsizing or fire. While collisions do happen they are often much different than an car hitting something and boats normally are running a much slower speeds. Riding in a boat is significantly different than riding in a car. Boats experience much more movement up, down and side to side. A person needs to able to maneuver with the movement of the boat and changing conditions. A seat belt would limit this and actually pose a safety hazard in some conditions. A passenger wearing a seat belt has a high risk of entanglement if the boat capsizes.

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Boat manufacturers like auto makers build in many safety features when designing and building a boat. They are tailored to the needs of the captain and passengers of any vessel. Instead of seat belts boats are required to have things like safety lanyards and fire extinguishers. Grab rales are also incorporated throughout the boat as extra spots for passengers to hold on. Some manufacturers, like Sportsman, have incorporated NMMA certification into their designs. This certification is extremely comprehensive and takes huge commitment from the manufacturer to implement but the result is a safer, better built boat. Life jackets have the same impact on saving lives that seat belts have in cars. It is estimated that over 80% of boating fatalities could have been prevented by simply wearing a life jacket.

Hopefully this helps you understand why you don’t see seat belts on most boats and also gives you the assurance that safety plays a prevalent role when we design your boats. Its just in a different form than cars.