Depending on where you live, the boating season can feel so short and can sneak up on you fast. So, before your next cruise, consult this checklist to make sure you have everything you need to take the most advantage of your boat – everything from requirements to essentials for fun.
There are some items that, by law, you must have on board your boat before you get underway. Some details may vary by local regulations, but even if they are not legally required in the area you’re boating in, they are all are safety necessities.
1. Boat Registration
Registering your boat for use is required in nearly every state, with some exceptions depending on circumstances. Before you head out, do your research about how to get your boat registered if necessary. Once you do, keep the paperwork on board. With important documentation, a key consideration is keeping it safe and dry – waterproof boxes or bags are sold for this express purpose.
2. Life Jackets
The number one priority for all boaters, besides fun, should be safety. Most state laws require some number of life jackets or floatation devices on a vessel, typically based on how many passengers are on board. Bringing one good fitting life jacket per person should be the standard rule, and all children or passengers who are not confident swimmers should be wearing their life jacket while underway.
3. Throwable Flotation Devices
Like life jackets, it’s best to be prepared with throwable floatation devices and in some instances they are required. Should an emergency occur and one of your passengers is in danger in the water, having a floatation device to throw to them could save their life. These items can come in different shapes, from the commonly seen life rings to a multi-use buoyant seat cushion. You can choose which kinds will fit best aboard your vessel, and ensure you know where they are should you need them.
4. Fire Extinguishers
Just like in your home, having fire extinguishers readily available in key locations is a must. Having a fire extinguisher close at hand can quickly turn a dire situation into a less dangerous one. If your boat already has a fire extinguisher on board, check it to see if it is up to code and in date so that it will perform in an emergency. A good tip is every so often to bang your fire extinguisher with a rubber mallet to ensure the chemicals inside are not caked together. If there is even a question about the status of your extinguisher, replace it or take it to a recharging station to get inspected.
5. Sound Producing Devices
Much like a horn on a car, sound signal devices on boats are very helpful in attracting attention of others on the water in scenarios such as a potential collision or sending out a distress signal. They can also serve to aid in navigation during periods of low visibility. Requirements surrounding sound devices vary based on the type of vessel, as well as local regulations, but this is recommended for all boaters. Examples of sound producing devices include whistles, bells and air horns.
6. Distress Signals
Like sound signalling devices, it is necessary to have a device on board that can signal distress visually. There are a variety of options in this category, and it’s recommended to have more than one, both for redundancy and to choose from based on the scenario in which you may find yourself. Some options, such as a sea marker dye, may only work during the day, and some, such as flares, have a limited shelf life.
7. Navigation Lights
Functioning navigation lights is vital, for you and for boaters around you. Even if you do not intend to be boating in the dark, these lights may become necessary should fog or heavy clouds hamper visibility. While rules surrounding the details of these lights may vary based on size of the vessel and area of operation. Check the Coast Guard and local regulations. It’s important to note that many boats come equipped with these lights, but you should check, and in particular double-check that they are functioning.
Now that you’ve got all your required items ready to go, up next are items that all boaters should have on board to be prepared for non-emergency situations. With these, rides that don’t go as smoothly as you’d like can still be worry-free for you and your passengers.
1. First Aid Kit
Accidents happen, even when going on a peaceful cruise. Carrying a first aid kit will see to it that you’re ready for any minor injuries that crop up. Even better, in the event of a bruise or a scraped knee, you can address the injury without having to go back to shore, and everyone can keep having fun.
If something minor goes wrong with the workings of your boat, it can be a huge hassle to return to land to fix it. If you’re confident in your skills, it’s a great idea to keep a well-stocked toolbox on the vessel. You may not be able to solve every problem that might crop up, but even a little bit of know-how and having some tools on hand could potentially get you out of a bind.
An anchor is a great addition to your boat, simply because it is so useful. You never know when you might want it, such as finding a great spot to fish or simply stop to take in the scenery for a while. Additionally, you might end up needing it in an emergency to keep your vessel from drifting. When purchasing an anchor, be sure that it will suit the boat you have.
In the unfortunate event of your boat becoming damaged or nonfunctional in some way, a tow might become necessary. While a fellow mariner who offers to help you out might have a towline, it’s not wise to count on that. Keeping one on board makes certain that you’re ready for whatever may happen.
Like other worst-case-scenario preparations, having another means of propelling your boat besides the one you typically rely on, whether engine or sail, can be very beneficial. Oars or paddles don’t require any outside input to function besides arm strength, and they take up relatively little space, so it’s good to bring them on board just in case.
Additional Boating Checklist Items
Boating, obviously, isn’t just about being prepared for the worst – it’s mostly about having fun and making the most of beautiful summer days! To do that, here are some extra things to keep in mind before you hop on board to make the day as relaxing and enjoyable as possible.
When the sun is beating down out on the water, it can be tough to find shade. Avoiding a sunburn is key in the summertime, so packing sunscreen is vital. Reapply often, especially if you’re dipping in and out of the water.
If you’re going to be out on your boat all day, remember to bring food to hold you over until you return to shore for dinner. You can even bring a cooler to keep melt-prone snacks cold, or a packed lunch if you plan to be out over lunchtime.
Boating and swimming can make people very thirsty, but everybody knows you shouldn’t drink the water you’re boating in – especially if you’re boating out on the ocean. Bringing water bottles on board should always be on your checklist before you head out for the day.
4. Check your Fuel Level
Running out of gas would put a huge damper on the day while you’re out the water, so before you get underway, check that you have plenty of fuel. This applies on any boat with an engine, even if you don’t intend to be using it, such as on a sailboat with an engine. It doesn’t hurt to be well-equipped.
5. Check the Weather
A gloomy weather forecast could change your boating plans drastically, so check before you head out in case there are unfavorable conditions headed your way. If you still plan to head out with weather incoming, make sure you’re well-stocked with all of your emergency supplies.