Snowmobile safety tips

Snowmobiling can be an exhilarating experience and a fun past time for the winter season, but it can also be very dangerous if the proper safety precautions are not taken. To help keep you safe, we’ve compiled a list of important snowmobile safety tips.

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1. Take a snowmobile safety course.
Many states require a snowmobile certificate and each state has its own rules and regulations. A snowmobile safety course will instruct you on how to ride safely and responsibly and teach you the rules. It is especially essential for first time drivers or riders. You will learn riding techniques to help you operate the snowmobile and avoid hazards.

2. Check the weather forecast and the trail conditions.
It is always a good idea to check the weather and trail conditions to plan ahead. If the trail is frozen, the wind chill is too low, or a blizzard with white out conditions is in the forecast, you will want to plan your ride for another day. Checking the weather also helps you select the proper clothing for the day.

3. Wear appropriate clothes and protective gear.
Staying warm and dry during your ride will make it more enjoyable and safer. Wear a snowmobile suit, which commonly consists of a jacket and insulated bibs. Under your snowmobile suit, dress in layers. Stay away from cotton because if it gets wet, it will freeze. Choose polyester blends to wick moisture away from your body. In addition, wear goggles or a face shield if you do not have a full-face helmet, socks (no cotton), waterproof gloves, winter hat, facemask and winter boots. Always wear a DOT-approved helmet, not only to keep you warm but to also protect your head from injury. Make sure children have a helmet that properly fits.

4. Inspect your snowmobile before your ride.
Make sure your snowmobile is running properly before heading out on the trail. Having your owner’s manual handy on your ride is a good idea for extra safety. It is important to follow the recommended service schedule to keep it maintained and running smoothly. Before each ride, check fuel and oil levels, battery, brakes, drive belt, skis, throttle, handlebars, headlights and taillights. Also, make sure you allow your snowmobile time to run for at least a minute to warm up before taking off.

5. Bring a buddy.
Riding with a friend or in a group is fun and also safer, especially on trails you have never taken before. Someone else can help you if your snowmobile breaks down or if you get into an accident. It is also recommended to tell a friend or family member your plans and route for your ride in case you do get stranded. Keep in mind that cell phones don’t always work in remote areas.

6. Carry a first-aid kit, emergency kit and repair kit.
Keep a basic first-aid kit in the snowmobile in case of injury. It should include: disinfecting wipes, bandages, hand sanitizer, gauze, adhesive tape and Band-Aids. In addition, carry an emergency kit with waterproof matches, flashlight, compass, map, blanket, water, snacks and a knife. A repair kit is also essential and should include: duct tape, tools, spare belt, tow rope, spark plugs and pry bar.

7. Stay alert.
It is important to be observant and watch for obstacles in your path, such as rocks, fallen trees, barbed wire fences, ditches, open water, other snowmobiles, snow banks, animals, hikers and skiers.

8. Avoid frozen rivers.
It is impossible to gauge the thickness of ice. Ice can easily crack and give way under your snowmobile.

9. Do not speed.
Driving at a moderate pace will allow you to react to an unexpected occurrence on your trail and avoid an accident. Many trails have posted speed limits to follow.

10. Stay on the trail.
Marked trails are safer because they have been groomed for you and are less likely to have hazards. Going off trail can result in accidents because you are treading on unfamiliar terrain. Also, many ‘public’ trails run close to private property. Unless you have received permission from the landowner, stay on the marked trail. Failure to do so can also result in the trail being closed to the public in the future. Be a responsible rider by following the posted signs and trail markers.

11. Driver should be the age of 16 or older.
It is also strongly recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under the age of 16 do not operate a snowmobile. The reason for this is because they may lack the skills needed to safely operate the vehicle and due to their stature can be easily injured.

12. Children under the age of six should never ride as a passenger according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The snowmobile can ride rough and it takes a strong person to hold on tight, especially for long periods of time. Children younger than six lack this strength.

13. Do not overload your snowmobile.
Make sure you check your manufacturer’s guide for the approved number of passengers and also the amount of weight it can carry. Exceeding these maximums either from an additional passenger or heavy gear can increase your chances of accidents and injuries.

14. Never drink and drive.
Just like driving a car, operating a snowmobile while impaired can lead to delayed responses and cause accidents.

15. Do not pull people on anything behind your snowmobile.
Snowmobiles are not designed to pull sleds, skiers or saucers and it is very unsafe to do so.

We hope these snowmobile safety tips lead to a fun and safe riding experience. For further protection, your snowmobile needs insurance coverage that's different from what your auto or homeowners insurance can provide. That's why Markel offers specialized snowmobile insurance coverage tailored to meet your unique needs.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.

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