Boating safety: 5 things you should have aboard

Whistles for Life is the official whistle for the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) and their “Wear It” program. This partnership was developed to further promote safe boating practices on lakes, reservoirs, rivers and oceans in an effort to prevent boating and water accidents. With almost 4,500 boating accidents in 2016, continuous education on safe boating habits is extremely beneficial for boaters and essential for the prevention of future incidents. One of these habits is to ensure that your boat has the following vital items aboard in case of emergency or boat failure:

Portable flotation devices
Most states require by law that a portable flotation device (PFD) is on board for each passenger, but it’s always wise to carry more than you will need on your vessel. Even in the states that don’t require a PFD by law, the U.S. Coast Guard requires all children under the age of 13 to be wearing their PFD at all times while on a vessel, unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin. Portable flotation devices, such as life jackets, are classified by type by the U.S. Coast Guard depending on their buoyancy. Therefore, make sure that your PFDs are appropriate for your boating conditions and that each one is the right fit for the corresponding passenger.

If you would like to learn more about safe boating and personal flotation devices, check out the National Safe Boating Council’s “Wear It” program here.

Signaling devices
An efficient sound signaling device is now required on every boat on the water. Examples of when these sound-signaling devices need to be used include during times of reduced visibility, while at anchor, or when meeting, crossing, or overtaking other vessels. Attaching a sound device, such as a whistle, to every PFD is also highly suggested in case of an emergency situation in which a passenger is no longer on the boat.

The boating safety requirements for sound-signaling equipment is similar for all vessels, but varies slight depending on size:

  • Under 39.4 feet: needs to be equipped with some “means of making an efficient sound signal,” such as a whistle or horn, but it can’t be a human produced noise.
  • 4 to 65.6 feet: required to carry a horn/whistle that is audible for one-half mile for a duration of 4 to 6 seconds.
  • Longer than 65.6 feet: obligated to have a whistle/horn (audible for one-half mile for a duration of 4 to 6 seconds) in addition to a bell with a mouth diameter of 200mm (about 8 inches) or more.

Visual signaling devices are also required in most states, and highly recommended. Hand flares, flare guns, and light sticks are all generally accepted as sufficient visual signaling devices, and are typically inexpensive.

First aid kit
Keep a well-stocked first aid kit on board to resolve small injuries and support bigger injuries until you can get medical attention. Some common items to include in the kit are: gauze, band aids, latex gloves, scissors, sea sickness medicine, pain relievers, and some sort of anti-infection cream or liquid (such as hydrogen peroxide). If possible, it is ideal to have a kit that is waterproof as well.

Fire extinguisher
It is a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher on your vessel and know how to properly and safely use it. Depending on the size of your vessel, fire hazard conditions, and what state you reside in, it may even be mandatory to carry one on board, so be sure you are aware of the federal and state laws. In addition, only specific types of fire extinguishers are U.S. Coast Guard-approved.

If you do keep a fire extinguisher on your boat, be sure to keep up-to-date on the extinguisher’s expiration date and replace any that have expired.

Portable jump starter and tool kit
Batteries can stop functioning at inconvenient times. Just as a battery can die in cars, it can happen in boats too! Don’t let a dead battery kill your day. Be sure to carry a portable jump starter and/or jumper cables on your vessel.

Carrying a small general tool kit will also help you to fix any problems that may arise on your vessel so you can get back to shore. If you know certain parts or fuses that have a tendency to fail or become faulty quicker than others, be sure to carry spares and the tools necessary to replace them.