The Ultimate Boat Safety Checklist2021-07-26T16:08:13-04:00

The Ultimate Boat Safety Checklist

things you need on a boat Boating is an incredibly fun recreational activity, but it can be dangerous too.

The sea must be respected at all times, which is why boat safety should be a priority at all times.

Whether your next adventure is a fishing trip, day cruise, sporting, or overnighting activity doesn’t matter.

An understanding of the things you need on a boat by law and coast guard requirements for boats is essential.

Likewise, preparing a boat essentials list will provide peace of mind and create a more comfortable experience on the water.

Things can change quick on the water, and whether your boating on fresh water or the salt, accidents can happen just as they do on land. Don’t set sail without the following safety features on board.

Boat Safety Checklist

Pre-Trip Planning

Before looking at the boat essentials list, you must ensure that you are prepared for the adventure ahead. The following tips will ensure that you are ready:

  • Check the weather report and know the times of high-tide and low-tide, power supplies, first aid kits, and other key features.
  • Familiarize yourself with the location and use of your VHF radio
  • Know which members of your party can or can’t swim.
  • Practice the engine shutdown procedure and ensure that all crew members know how to act if a situation surfaces.
  • Appoint a second in command.

As well as feeling comfortable with the vessel itself, boat safety equipment requirements must be embraced with open arms. The most important items are discussed below.

Personal Flotation Devices

Personal flotation devices, or PFD’s, should be made available for each member of the group. Children under 12 should wear theirs at all times while any wake surfers should also wear theirs during those activities.

Non-swimmers may want to wear theirs at all times. For everyone else, they should be easily accessed at all times. PFDs are available in five styles. They are;

  • Type I – They are bulky, but offer the greatest buoyancy levels at 20lbs.
  • Type II – They offer 15.5lbs of buoyancy and, like Type I, will turn unconscious users onto their backs.
  • Type III – Also using 15.5lbs of buoyancy, but with a more compact design for added comfort.
  • Type IV – These are flotation devices that you hold onto rather than wear. However, they do offer 16.5lbs of buoyancy.
  • Type V – These are specialized PFDs that should be used with other coats or harnesses.

For most situations, Type 1-3 PFDs will be required to satisfy coast guard requirements for boats while also providing maximum comfort and safety for users.

Throwable Flotation Device

Throwable floatation devices are also required to provide extra support. You can grab onto these in the water during an emergency. They may be thrown out to a swimmer who is unable to fight the current. Or they can also be used as extra support for individuals, which is why it’s advised to keep several onboard.

The Type IV PFDs are a great example of throwable floatation devices. Although other TFDs are available. The best items will include a line that can subsequently be used to pull the device (and stranded individual) towards the boar.

Proper boating clothing

The right boating clothing is vital for safety and comfort. If you are a regular (or planning to become one) explorer of the seas, you will want to invest in dedicated boating attire. Likewise, depending on the activities you plan to enjoy on the water, wetsuits may be necessary for diving and related tasks.

All clothing should be light, especially when wet as to avoid weighing you down. Bold colors can be a smart idea to ensure that you stand out in the water. Crucially, boat shoes or sneakers are the right choice of footwear. Sandals can be used, but they won’t protect your feet if anything falls while it may leave you open to sunburn too.

Visual signaling devices

If an emergency situation does occur, the ability to alert others to your problems in a quick fashion will be vital. Visual signaling devices are a great way to draw attention from coast guards and other vessels.

The size of your vessel will determine what is legally required:

    1. Boats under 16ft need flares for nighttime indications.
    2. Boats over 16ft require items for daytime and nighttime use.

Flares may be self-launching or need a flare gun while orange and white pyrotechnics are deemed suitable too. Strobe light and flags can increase the visual impact. Small boasts that are not allowed to travel during darkness won’t need nighttime devices for obvious reasons.

Sound signaling devices

In addition to visual indicators, you may need to make audio alerts. This is particularly useful in adverse weather like fog.

Whistles are a good option for sound generation as they can also be carried by individuals on life jackets. However, boats should also look to utilize both fixed and portable horns. Their distinct noise will alert nearby vessels. Vessels over 39ft should also ring a bell regularly during moments of restricted visibility.

Fire extinguisher

A fire extinguisher is a commonly overlooked aspect of proper boat safety. After all, you may assume that fires are unlikely to occur on the water. However, wood burns quickly while electrical fires are not uncommon.

The fire extinguisher requirements will be determined by the size of your boat

  • Boats under 26ft need one B-1 type fire extinguisher
  • Boats between 26ft and 40ft need two B-1 type fire extinguishers or one B-2.

Bigger boats will need to check regulations for their specific size.

In addition to equipping the boat with the right boat safety equipment for fires, you must demonstrate how they are used. This means showing how to pull the pin and point at the base of the flame.

Additional tips

While you are on the water, it is imperative that you continue to abide by good safety practices for both legal reasons and personal safety. Some of the key steps to consider include;

    1.) Avoid alcohol (or drink a minimal amount) if you are the skipper.
    2.) Always know where the nearest harbors are located for navigational purposes.
    3.) Use the ‘three thirds’ fuel checking tactic to prevent getting stranded at sea.
    4.) Know where the marked channels end and remember the tide times.
    5.) Always monitor your channel 16 of the VHF radio for emergencies.

When combined with the boat safety equipment requirements, these steps should keep you safe on the water.


Safety first should always be the motto before taking your boat out on the waters, even when you don’t plan to sail far. Aside from having the things you need on a boat by law, it will actively enhance your experiences on the water.

Now that you know how to maintain safety and enjoyment on the water, you have no excuse to ignore those steps. Happy boating!