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What Do I Need On My Boat?

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Suggested Boating Equipment

Picture of Collision with day mark pole

The Coast Guard requires certain items for your boat. This, however, is not an all inclusive list. For example, the required items do not include an anchor, however this is a piece of safety gear that no boat should be without. No equipment will substitute for good judgement. This boater, captained the "Temporary Insanity" which is an apt name for this boat if there ever was one! It is clear that the captain failed to maintain an adequate watch and collided with this day mark pole sinking his boat. Even an alternate dewatering device would not have saved this boat. Check our Required Equipment page for information about items required on your boat.

The Coast Guard recommends the following items for your boat although they are not "required" :

  • VHF Marine Radio - Next to a life jacket, this is probably the most important piece of gear to have on your boat. If you get into trouble, you will be able to radio the nearest Coast Guard Station for help. The real beauty of the VHF marine radio is that other boaters on the same water as you are, monitor Channel 16, the emergency channel, and can assist you promptly. The nearest boat may only be a few hundred yards away! CB radios should not be used on the water. They are not monitored by other boaters, or the the Coast Guard. Cell phones are convenient and a good second method of communication, but are not a substitute for a marine VHF radio. If you cannot get a signal, you may not be able to communicate with the Coast Guard Station or other sources of help. Fixed base radios typically are equipped with an 8 foot antenna and put out 25 watts. They will be heard at a much further distance than a hand held radio, which has a very short antenna. The primary determinant of distance of transmission is the heighth of the antenna. Hand held radios also generally transmit at only 5-6 watts maximum. A hand held is better than no radio at all!
  • Dewatering Device - A bilge pump may mean the difference between sinking and keeping your boat afloat. Check its function and have a hand held pump as a backup.
  • Mounted Fire Extinguisher - The Coast Guard regulations require that a fire extinguisher be present on a boat, but they do not require that it be mounted. Mounting the extinguisher in an accessible place makes sense and prevents the extinguisher from falling or being damaged from bouncing over waves.
  • Anchor and Line appropriate for the area - An anchor is an essential safety device. Should your boat break down you can anchor and prevent your boat from drifting into rocks or other hazards. The anchor also orients your boat into the wind which will keep your boat from being breached or hit by a wave on the side of your boat. The bow of the boat is best suited for taking on a wave. The anchor should be equipped with "rode" or anchor line made of nylon. The length of the line should be sufficient for the water you are on.
  • First Aid Kit and Person in the Water Kit - A first aid kit can come in handy for minor injuries, including sunburn. The person in water kit can consist of a "throw bag" which is attached to a line and allows you to pull someone back to the boat.
  • Inland Distress Signals - In addition to the required coastal distress signals, additional distress signals for day and night are recommended.
  • Capacity / Certificate of Compliance - Most boats now have a capacity plate which tells the maximum carrying capacity of the boat. This should never be exceeded! The weight is the most important thing to consider.
  • FlFloat Plan Centraloat Plan - The float plan is a pre-prepared note indicating who you are with, what boat you are on and where you plan to go. It also indicates when you will return. It should be left with someone, who will know if you do not return at the appropriate time and can notify emergency personnel. The Coast Guard Auxiliary has a Float Plan , free to download.