Boat Safety Equipment Checklist
Whether you’re setting out for an afternoon of rafting up on the lake or you’re focused on reeling in the ‘big one,’ you’ll want to follow a basic boat safety checklist that outlines the equipment you should have onboard. By following this kind of pre-departure checklist, you’ll ensure that any experience you have out on the water is safe one.
Luckily, boating is an incredibly safe activity—statistically speaking you’re a whole lot safer on a boat than in a car—and one of the big reasons why is the widespread availability of high-quality safety gear. Much of it is regulated, and there’s a list of mandated safety gear and items required by law that every boat must have aboard. Additionally, there’s also a list of recommended safety gear that all boaters should carry—even though it isn’t legally required.
5 Things You Need on a Boat Required by the U.S. Coast Guard
The specific safety gear required can vary a bit depending on the size and type of boat you’re on. You can look up the exact requirements for any particular boat in the Boater’s Guide to Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats, but remember that certain states and even specific waterways may have additional requirements.
That said, in the majority of the cases, the mandated boat safety equipment includes these five items:
- Life jackets or personal floatation devices (PFDs) for everyone onboard
- Throwable PFDs, such as a throw cushion or life ring
- Visual signaling devices, like flares or electronic flares
- One or more fire extinguishers
- Sound signaling devices, such as a horn, air horn, or whistle
Additional Boat Safety Gear to Have Onboard
Carrying the above gear keeps you in compliance with the law, but remember, this is the absolute minimum. As you create your own boating safety equipment checklist, you should also consider including:
VHF Radio, Satellite Messenger, and/or Some Other Form of Communication Device
It’s important to have an additional form of communication beyond just your cell phone. Since coverage can be poor in some waterways and cell phones are always susceptible to water damage, they shouldn’t be depended upon 100-percent for all your safety needs.
First Aid Kit
Just how extensive it needs to be is debatable, but you certainly want to be prepared to handle common injuries like cuts and scrapes.
An Anchor & Line
It’s important to have a properly sized anchor for your boat, and sufficient line to hold your boat in position. How much line is necessary will depend on depth and conditions, but consider a line five times as long as the water’s depth to be the minimum.
Many people may not think of an anchor and line as safety gear, but if you lose power it can prevent you from drifting into hazards like shipping lanes or rocky shorelines.
Manual Bailing Device
A bucket or hand pump you can use to dewater your boat can become critically important in case the boat loses power, or the pump(s) fail.
Extra Food & Water
You know what they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Always pack extra food and water, especially for long voyages, in case you get stuck on the water due to mechanical problems. If you’re in a cool climate, you may also want to have a spare blanket and towels aboard.
Boat Safety Equipment by Vessel Size & Type
Different boats may have safety items of more or less importance depending on how and where they’re used.
- On small boats used in ponds or small lakes, for example, you may want to add an oar or paddles to your list of boating safety equipment so you can get to land if your engine quits.
- And on large boats that go far out into the ocean a life raft would be considered an important item to carry aboard.
Remember, no matter how you look at it boating is a very safe form of outdoor recreation. Just as long as you take a safe boating course, operate the boat responsibly, and carry the gear we’ve outlined here, you should be in for a danger-free—and fun—day out on the water.
To make your days on the water even safer, checkout out Weather Safety Tips for All Sailors, Six Boating Safety Tips for South Florida Boaters (these count for other parts of the nation, as well), and 5 Things You Need to Know When the Weather Turns Bad on Board.
With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites ranging from BoatU.S. Magazine to BDOutdoors.com. Rudow is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk, he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.