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12 Safety Items You Should Have on Your Boat

It is springtime and boaters are excited!  If you are a member of any boating groups on Facebook as I am, you know that everyone is talking about getting their boats ready to be put back in the water.  Discussions of spring engine maintenance, prelaunch inspections and countdowns to launch dates are on everyone’s minds.  As you are getting your boat ready and making sure that it is smooth operating condition, don’t forget to ensure that you have the necessary safety items on board.  Here are 12 safety items that you should make sure you have on your boat.

1.        Life Preservers – Yeah, I know that this is pretty obvious but it is amazing how many people do not get this right.  Not only do you need to have life jackets aboard but they must be appropriate for the passengers aboard and there must be one for each person aboard.  If you decide to take your neighbor and his 8 year old son out on the lake for the day and all you have is four adult life vests, you are not in compliance.  So before you agree to take your friends out, be sure you have a life jacket for each of them.  Don’t forget that you must also have a certified throwable device on board. 
Make sure you have a life jacket for each person aboard and they are the correct size.

2.       Signaling Device – In the event that you should become disabled, you may find it necessary to get the attention of other vessels in the area.  This is where signaling devices such as flares, flags or other devices may be needed.  The types of devices that are required will depend on where you do your boating.  If you boat offshore, you will be required to have flares and they will need to be of a higher caliber than what is required for inshore lakes and rivers.  Still, there are some lakes and rivers where flares may be banned so be sure to check the requirements and laws for where you boat and make sure that you have the proper equipment.  Don’t forget that flares do expire so check them each season to ensure they are still good.

3.       Marine VHF Radio – Not only does this device allow you to obtain help when needed but it can also permit you to give help when someone nearby may need it.  Sure, we all know that everyone has a cell phone and if you can obtain assistance using your phone, that is great, but what if you are in an area with poor cell coverage as is the case with certain areas of many lakes and rivers?  If you boat offshore, then you are sure to not have good cell coverage.  With a VHF radio, not only can you communicate with other boaters, local law enforcement, Coast Guard, etc., but you are also talking to someone that is nearby.  Newer marine VHF radios also have the ability to integrate with your GPS and transmit your boats location in cases of an emergency.  I also keep a hand held unit on my boat as a backup.
Consider having a handheld VHF aboard as a backup.

4.       Fire Extinguisher – This is another obvious one.  Not only do you need to have them aboard but they need to be operational and of the proper type (Class B).  Fire extinguishers are often ignored because if we are lucky, we never have to use them.  We still need to check them periodically.  If one is expired or faulty, it needs to be replaced.  Also, be aware that depending on the size of your boat, you may be required to have more than one. 
Check your fire extinguishers frequently to make sure they are still good.

5.       First Aid Kit – Keep one of these handy for anything that may happen from minor cuts and bruises to headaches and sunburn.  It could keep you from having to end your day early or prevent and ordinarily minor cut from becoming much worse due infection. 

6.       Flashlight – Have you ever been on the water at night with engine or electrical issues?  Hopefully not, but it can happen.  If so, having a flashlight handy to make repairs or to signal other vessels is very important.  Having one that is waterproof and floats is even better.  Don’t forget to check the batteries periodically to make sure they are good. 

7.       Sound Producing Device – You boat may already have a horn, and depending on its size, may have a bell as well.  It is important to have a backup device such as a whistle, or an air horn.  This can also be used as a means of signaling other boats, especially at night.  Also consider attaching a whistle to each of your life vests as well so it can be used in an emergency situation when someone is in the water. 

8.       De-watering Device – Depending on the size of your boat, this could be a bilge pump, a bucket, or a manual pump.  Boats sometimes get water on the inside, whether that’s because of a rain storm, a large wave, or a leak.  Either way, there needs to be a way to get water that got on the inside of the boat back outside of the boat.  If it is a bucket or manual pump. Make sure that it is secured but easy to get to in an emergency.  If it is a bilge pump, make sure you test it periodically to ensure that it is in working order. 
Check your bilge pumps often to make sure they are operational.

9.       Anchor and Rode – Even if you do not plan to anchor out on the water, you should have an anchor aboard.  If you ever have engine issues, you would not want to be at the mercy of the wind and current.  Being adrift with no way to control where your boat goes can make for a very bad day on the water.  Be sure to have enough rode so you will be able to anchor in the waters that you typically boat in.  For more information on anchoring, read my anchoring blog post.
Having an anchor and rode can keep you from being adrift should you have engine problems.

10.   Tool Kit – How effective this is depends on how comfortable you are with using tools but I have solved many issues aboard by simply having the right tool and knowing how to use it.  Some fixes, such as changing the bulb on navigation lights, are very simple but still may require a screwdriver.  Without it, you are potentially cruising into a dangerous situation.  Other fixes, even if you know how to perform them, still cannot be done without the proper tools.  This might also be a good time to think about learning a little more about the systems on your boat and how they operate. 

11.   Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) – This is not something that all boats need and is typically used on boats that go offshore.  It transmits your boats position to earth orbiting satellites in the event of an emergency.  If you are planning on long distance blue water cruising, it is a must.  Many people are still alive today simply because their boat had an EPIRB and they were able to be found at sea.
An EPIRB can save your life if you boat offshore.

12.   Your Brain – This is the most important item and I wish I could take credit for coming up with this one myself but Linda Greenlaw said it best.  If you have ever seen the movie The Perfect Storm, you may remember that one of the sword boat captains portrayed in the movie was a woman and her name was Linda Greenlaw.  Captain Greenlaw is a real person and I had the honor of interviewing her a few years ago for an article published in a US Power Squadrons publication.  One of the questions that I asked her was what she felt was the most important safety item on her boat.  Without hesitation, she said “Your brain.  Because you can have all kinds of safety gear on your boat but if you get out there and do stupid s**t, nothing else matters.”

Comment below and let me know what other types of safety gear that you keep on your boat.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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