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Boating Safety

Ally Mann

It is vitally important to ensure you have the proper safety equipment when going boating. A multitude of situations can arise and ruin your day, or worse, if you aren’t prepared. Following is a list of safety and emergency equipment that you should carry on your watercraft, as well as some tips to ensure yours and your passengers’ safety.

Safety Items to Have on Board

(Some of these are mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard, while others are just good to have.)

Fire Extinguisher- not only does every kitchen need one but so does your boat. It may seem silly when you’re surrounded by water but a fire extinguisher is easier to access and quicker to extinguish the flames.

Personal Flotation Device - there should be one life jacket for each person on the boat. Although it is not always mandatory for individuals to be wearing them, it is usually a good idea. You should have a life jacket on when outside of the boat (water skiing, tubing, etc.) and children always need to have a life jacket on, even when inside the boat. Ensure that the life jacket fits properly, one size does not fit all, and a poorly fitted life jacket can actually do more harm than good.

Visual Distress Signal - most people use flares, which can be shot high into the sky making your signal visible to people far away and in the air. Only use them when there are other people around that may see the signal.

Horn - much like the flares, you want to ensure you have a noise making instrument that will be audible from a distance. You may think you can yell loud enough, but in the ocean or during a storm the waves and winds can distort sounds or muffle them.

Backfire Flame Control - this device helps to prevent engine backfires which can cause a fire on the boat. They should be cleaned and inspected regularly to ensure they function properly.

Ventilator Ducts - these help to remove fuel vapors which can be an explosion risk.

Vessel Lighting- it is important to have lighting that not only helps you to see in low light conditions but also to ensure you are visible to other boats during fog or at night. Depending on the size of your boat, you may be mandated to have a light on your boat at all times.

Anchor and line- even if you don’t plan to be sedentary, it is important to have an anchor on the vessel in case a situation arises and it is needed. With the anchor you should have a line that is an appropriate length for the conditions you are boating in.

Oar or Paddle - (for smaller boats) in case there is a problem with the engine it is important to have another means of propulsion so that you can make it back to shore.

Pump or Bucket - we’ve all watched cartoons where the character has sprung a leak in the bottom of their boat and are trying to bail out water with a bucket. Unfortunately, that can become a reality and having a bucket or pump can make the difference in keeping your vessel above water.

Sun Protection - not only should you have sunscreen and sunglasses on the boat, but include a sun shade. Even if it is small, it will become valuable if you are stuck in the middle of the water for a couple hours.

First Aid Kit- every vehicle in your life should contain a first aid kit and your boat is no exception. From minor cuts and bruises to more severe conditions it is good to have medical supplies on hand.

Radio - in this case it’s not for music. If you are in a situation where you need help and don’t have cell service it is essential to have a VHF radio to reach emergency crews. It is also great for emergency broadcast signals, following weather patterns and other things.

Food/Water - having snacks and clean water is always a good idea. Not only can you munch on them throughout the day but they could become your only food source if you are stranded. Try to include foods that are low in sodium and high in protein.

Extra Clothes - It is always colder out on the water than on land. As Tommy Moran, an old salt from the west or Ireland always said: "You can always take clothes off, but if you don't have them, you can't put them on."

Fuel - having extra fuel on board can be difficult to arrange, but the last thing anyone wants is to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

GPS - during a storm it is good to know how to get to shelter. A GPS will work almost anywhere and can lead you to the nearest harbor. You can even use it to locate obscure corners of the waterways to find some seclusion from the crowds.

There’s a few additional things to keep in mind when boating. Although this list is pretty long, it is certainly not definitive. Regulations change based on location, as do the things we deem necessary. Always check with local organizations to ensure you are to code before leaving and feel free to make adjustments to fit your lifestyle and family needs. You can also find other safety guides online for more ideas. Education is also a key when boating. Not only do adults need to know what to do in an emergency but so should kids. There are plenty of educational resources online as well as in your local boating community.

Always make sure to look at the forecast before embarking onto the water and make your own observations. Don’t try to navigate the water when there are potentially stormy conditions. What may seem like a small breeze can quickly escalate to a full-fledged thunderstorm that can capsize a small boat. You can also fill out a float plan to leave with someone staying on land. This is a form made by the coast guard that can be filed if you do not return at a specified time. They indicate who is on the boat and where you are planning to go so that search teams know where to look in an emergency.

Remember it is important to regularly check all equipment a few times a year to ensure it is in working order. This is something you can do routinely while on the boat during slow times. If you want to test your boat safety knowledge here are a few fun quizzes.

Ally Mann is a freelance writer from Idaho. She enjoys adventures, her german shepherds and getting lost in the middle of nowhere.

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