As the days get longer and the weather gets nicer, droves of new boaters are flocking to local chandleries to obtain the “required safety essentials” for boating. Many boat stores have handy visual charts showing the minimum legally required safety equipment based on your vessel’s length. However, the Coast Guard’s legal minimum is just that–a minimum–and should be regarded as only the barest of necessities for boating.
The American Sailing Association has clearly defined an extended list of safety essentials that every prudent boater should be equipped with when taking to the water. When going boating this spring, use this checklist to help you prepare safely.
USCG minimum legal safety requirements:
PFDs: One for each passenger, plus one throwable for boats over 16 feet. ASA offers a top-tier Blue Storm automatic inflatible vest with built-in sailing harness here: http://asastore.us/blprosa33.html
Visual and sound signals: All vessels should carry an efficient means of making a sound signal, such as a compressed air horn, in addition to day/night visual distress signals, such as flares (which are effective in light or darkness).
Navigation lights: Any vessel operating at night or in times of limited visibility (such as fog) must display the appropriate running lights for its size.
Fire extinguishers: The number and type differ depending on the size of your boat and whether it has a fixed engine room extinguisher system, so double check the requirements.
ASA additionally recommends the following gear for safe sailing:
Navigation charts and equipment: Having a way to locate where you are is critical should you ever need to call for help. Don’t forget to bring a compass.
VHF radio: How are you going to call for help without a radio? At the very least, boats should carry an inexpensive weather radio to keep an ear out for worsening weather changes.
Soft wood plugs: Various sizes of tapered plugs can stop up unexpected leaks or defective through-hull fittings.
Bilge pump: It’s said that there’s no better bilge pump than a man with a bucket in a sinking boat. But that’s actually not true–manual and automatic bilge pumps can dump water out at a much faster rate.
Anchor: If the wind or your engine should fail you, having an anchor provides a safe way to stop the boat from drifting into dangerous areas.
First aid kit: Make sure to include sunscreen and seasickness remedies!
Tool kit with spare parts
Flashlight: For illuminating sails and finding your way around the boat at night.
Safety harnesses: One for each person to be used in bad weather or at night.
Life bouys and buoyant heaving line: Should anyone fall overboard, it’s important to have a way to retrieve them quickly and safely.
Life raft or dinghy: Large enough to carry everyone on board.
I always find it a bit unnerving to run down a safety checklist because it reinforces how many dangers are involved in our sunny sport. But preparedness is the best remedy and insurance. Take this list shopping with you and enjoy a safe and carefree boating season!