Winter is a good time to review your boat’s safety equipment to ensure that it meets U.S. Coast Guard standards and is in sound operating condition.
The following list includes some of the Coast Guard’s minimum required safety equipment:
Personal flotation devices: You should have an approved personal flotation device for every person on board; this applies to boats of any length, including canoes and kayaks. Boats longer than 16 feet should also have at least one throwable Type IV PFD. Don’t forget your dinghy. Wear your PFD and have one ready for each passenger.
Fire extinguishers: Boats under 26 feet without fixed fire extinguishing systems (except outboards without enclosures where vapor can collect) should have at least one Coast Guard-approved Type B-I handheld fire extinguisher on board. Boats 26–40 feet should have at least two, and boats 40–65 feet should have three, or one CG-approved Type B-I and one Type B-II device.
The Coast Guard requires fewer handheld extinguishers on boats with fixed fire extinguishing systems, but you would be wise to follow the above guidelines. Fire extinguishers empty quickly when fighting even small fires.
Ventilation systems: Your ventilation systems (blower and vents) must be functional, free of obstructions and intact; check for duct leaks and replace worn mechanical parts.
Sound signaling: Is your whistle, horn or other sound signaling device or system clean, intact and operational? Cheap and effective, whistles can be attached to every PFD aboard.
Backfire flame arrestor: Inboard gasoline engines must be equipped with an acceptable backfire flame arrestor. Check yours for holes, corrosion or plugging. Replace if necessary.
Visual distress signals: Determine what visual distress signals are required on your boat, which vary according to your boat’s size, type, use and hours of operation. Regularly check the dates on your flares and other devices to guarantee their integrity and utility.
Navigation lights: Make sure your navigation lights work, can be seen and conform to Inland Navigation Rules.
For safety tips and complete U.S. Coast Guard recreational vessel requirements, check out A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats and Safety Tips.