Boat Safety 101

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For our US friends, we have an article on boating safety on their side of the pond. Boating is a great way to get away from it all and enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature. Just like with cruising on the highway, cruising on the water also has its share of dangers and rules to follow. In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at the equipment and clothing you need to make your journeys on the water both safe and fun.

The type, kind and amount of safety equipment you have on your vessel depends on the size of your boat. The Federal Government has created a list of basic minimum safety requirements in order to operate a wide array of water-going vehicles, including everything from fishing boats and yachts to sports boats, rigid inflatable boats and commercial fishing boats. These recommendations are, of course, only suggestions, but you can certainly feel free to expand on this list to suit your personal preferences. Here’s a list of basic recommended marine equipment:

1. An anchor - The Coast Guard suggests that you have an anchor on-board, along with adequate rope or chain to prevent your vessel from drifting. The Coast Guard recommends a length of chain or rope that’s at least five times as long as the depth of the water you’ll be traveling in.

2. Bailer (or bucket) — Having at least one bailer on board is a good idea, as it allows you to collect and dump any excess water out of your vessel. This is especially helpful for smaller water-going vessels. For a small fishing boat, for example, a bailer can make all the difference between a boat that’s floating and a boat that’s sunk. For larger vessels, you might consider it appropriate to have more than one bailer on board, in the event your vessel starts taking on a great deal of water at once. That way, other crew members and passengers can assist in bailing the water out of the boat to help return the vessel to its usual state of buoyancy.

3. Oars or paddles — If your vessel’s motor dies or there is some other kind of electrical or mechanical failure that strands you in the middle of open water, oars and paddles can be a lifesaver. Much like with bailers, you can store one or more of these on your vessel to make reaching a safe port even easier.

4. First-aid kit — It’s essential to have a first-aid kit on-board, regardless of the size or type of vessel. You can purchase kits designed specifically for water-going vessels, scaled to suit the size of your boat and the number of crew and passengers you have on board. These kits can range in price from $20 or $30 for a basic economy kit to as much as $800 or more for well-stocked kits suited for large vessels that have many crew members. These kits can include first aid basics like adhesive bandages and salves for rope burns or scrapes, disinfectant for cuts and medications for everything from a headache to sea sickness. The more expensive kits will usually include everything you need to help treat more serious injuries while you’re out on the water, including deep cuts and broken bones.

5. A VHF radio — When you’re out on the water, you’re cut off from most cellular and standard two-way radio bands, so having access to the maritime mobile band is essential. You can use the maritime band to reach out to the Coast Guard or other rescue services in the event of an emergency that leaves your boat stalled or stranded in open water. You can also use it to communicate with staff at locks and harbors or to contact marina staff or bridge operators as needed. If your boat doesn’t already have a VHF installed, you can always check the marine classifieds to find one that suits your needs and your budget.

6. Tool kit — You should always double and triple-check to make certain you have all the tools you need to make repairs to your particular vessel before you depart. If you’ve only just purchased your first boat, you can start out with a basic maritime tool kit that will usually cost you less than $100. Bear in mind, if you’re boating in salt water, don’t bother with buying a large, expensive tool kit. Salt water causes metal to rust and even the most costly tools will not stand up to the corrosive properties of the salt water and sea air. So invest in an inexpensive tool kit and replace it once the tools inevitably start to rust.

7. Sun protection — Much like with the water and extra fuel, this might seem like an obvious recommendation, but sunscreen is a must-have piece of marine safety equipment. Boating, especially during the daytime, can wreak havoc on your skin, as the water will reflect the sun’s rays which can result in severe sunburns on your face, feet, shoulders and any other parts of your body that aren’t covered. Zinc oxide is a good sunscreen choice, as it provides ample protection from the sun and won’t melt off when it comes into contact with water or sweat, like other sunscreens might.

8. Protective clothing — In addition to sunscreen, protective clothing should also be one of your main priorities when it comes to preparing for a boating trip. When you’re choosing clothing for your excursion, make sure it’s temperature appropriate to where you’ll be fishing. In addition, you’ll want to make certain to wear footwear that provides good traction to prevent slipping and falling.

For warm weather, make sure to bring along sunglasses and a hat with a wide brim to protect your eyes, face and neck from the glare of the sun. If possible, try to find clothing that’s made from synthetic fabrics that dry more quickly. Flotation coats and survival suits are a good option for those fishing during winter time, as they provide buoyancy and help to hold in body heat. Also, don’t forget to bring along a rain slicker or rain coat with a hood to provide you with a bit of extra protection just in case the weather turns.

9. Lifejackets — Regardless of the type of vessel you’re using and the type of water you’re traveling in, lifejackets are a vital piece of marine safety equipment. It’s possible to drown in just a few inches of water, so whether you’re fishing in a small lake or yachting in the open ocean, you should always make sure you have several lifejackets available. These days, you can find a wide selection of discount lifejackets at many big box and sporting-goods stores.

10. Flares — If your vessel becomes stranded in a large body of open water like the ocean, flares are essential. It’s best to purchase a flare gun and keep several flares on hand in case of an emergency. You can also purchase calcium flares that you can use underwater, in case you need to see to make repairs to your vessel.

11. Flashlights — These can be very helpful pieces of equipment, especially if you need to make repairs to your vessel. Heavy duty LED flashlights and lanterns are relatively inexpensive and can provide bright, clear illumination to aid you. Consider purchasing a flashlight or lantern with a strobe feature, to act as an additional signaling aid.

12. EPIRBs — Short for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, these devices are intended for use in alerting search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. Some EPIRBs are also equipped with GPS functionality, which allows rescue services to locate you within roughly 50 meters of the beacon’s signal. You can also purchase personal locator beacons (also known as PLBs), which can be attached to lifejackets and assist rescue services in locating individual survivors in the event of a vessel sinking.

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