What you should know about required and optional marine safety equipment

Immediately after most boat anglers get their fishing license or renew their boat registration, they begin thinking about where to go, what to use, and how to catch fish. However, thinking about safety equipment for boats should be the best first task. There are boating equipment requirements that you must adhere to, as well as some safe boating gear that you should absolutely have.

Required boat equipment:

Life jackets (PFDs)

The US Coast Guard (USCG) requires that all recreational craft wear a portable life jacket (also known as a personal flotation device or PFD) for each person on board. Life jackets must be “US Coast Guard approved, in good serviceable condition, of an appropriate size and type for the intended user, and properly stowed.” Any boat 16 feet or longer must also carry a throwing device (Type IV).

The USCG has very specific language about what constitutes proper stowage, how life jackets are categorized, what activities may be exempt from normal requirements, and how life jackets are properly sized.

In addition, the USCG requires that “children under the age of 13 must wear a US Coast Guard approved life jacket on a moving ship unless they are 1) below deck or 2) in an enclosed cabin. If a state has established a requirement for children to wear life jackets that differs from that required by the Coast Guard, the state requirement applies to waters under that state’s jurisdiction.

Visual distress signals

Because all boaters should be able to seek assistance, USCG-approved visual distress signals are on “all vessels operating on US coastal, Great Lakes, and territorial seas, to a point where they operate, required The waterway is less than two nautical miles wide. “They can be pyrotechnic (like torches) or non-pyrotechnic (a flag for daytime use and an electrical signal for nighttime use). Certain vessels, including vessels under 16 feet, are exempt from this boat safety equipment requirement.

Sound equipment

Large ships must have means of generating sounds for navigation purposes and when visibility is limited or at anchor. A horn, bell or whistle are suitable. While not required, tying a pipe to their PFD is a great idea for small boaters, and kayakers in particular.

Fire extinguisher

A USCG approved marine fire extinguisher is also required on certain ships. The Coast Guard will establish certain boat conditions that require it. However, because these are ships that have a fixed (or otherwise immobile) fuel tank, a fire extinguisher is required on a large number of boats. Ships over 26 feet in length require multiple fire extinguishers.

Navigation lights

According to the USCG, “motorized ships must display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of limited visibility”. Ships under 12 meters must have a white stern light and red and white bow lights (red on port, green on starboard). There are different requirements for non-powered ships. Among the latter, a rowboat, canoe or kayak should have a white stern light or be able to generate a white light (e.g. from a flashlight, preferably waterproof) in sufficient time to prevent a collision.

Optional boat safety equipment:

FM radio

Since a mobile phone has a limited range from the shore, it cannot be considered reliable to send an emergency call. A fixed or portable VHF radio is an important part of boat safety for sending a distress call and getting updated weather and navigational guidance. Channel 16 is monitored by the Coast Guard and used for emergency calls.

Anchor and line

Anchoring may be required for some fishing activities, but it can be critical in the event of engine failure. In this regard, an anchor and a good amount of anchor lines are a safety item.

Additional dock lines

It’s a good idea to have extra dock lines on your boat in case you need to pull another boater or encounter a difficult mooring or docking situation.

First aid kit

You can buy a fully equipped first aid kit or you can put together your own. However, make sure that it contains various bandages, gauze, an elastic cover with clips, antibiotic ointment, sterile bandage pads, antiseptic cleaning wipes, etc. I’ve used my boot kit twice in the past eight months and kept it in a waterproof container.

And besides … you could argue that a navigation map and / or compass is a safety item on board, as is an oar or paddle, good rain gear (to keep you warm, dry and comfortable).

By taking a mandatory boat safety course, you’ll learn what to do if you capsize or immerse yourself in cold water, and what to do if storms occur and safety concerns arise. Make sure you have the boating equipment described here and meet your state and federal requirements.


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