Improving a Standard Boat Safety Kit
Anyone can buy a pre-made boat safety kit to toss aboard their boat. But it takes more than a kit to make a safe boat. Don’t stop with a safety kit’s watertight flashlight and buoyant heaving line. To put together a safety kit that’s truly trustworthy, a pre-made kit can be a good start — but you should also stock your craft with other safety gear, including dependable life jackets, a reliable fire extinguisher, visual distress signals and a loud air horn. You should also have a backup distress signal system in case your original system fails.
There are different kinds of life jackets, ranging from standard foam to cutting-edge self-inflating models. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) requires boats to have an approved life jacket for each person on board. Boats longer than 16 feet long must also have one Type IV throwable life preserver, as well. There are five types of USCG personal flotation devices (PFDs):
- Type I: Designed for extended survival is rough, open water, an offshore life jacket is the bulkiest model, but it also provides the best flotation.
- Type II: A near-shore buoyant vest is more comfortable than a Type I model and is this “classic” lifejacket is appropriate for calm, inland waters.
- Type III: A floatation aid is good for calm, inland waters and is often used with water sports.
- Type IV: A throwable device, such as a floatable cushion or a ring buoy.
- Type V: A special use device is designed for a specific activity, such as kayaking or whitewater rafting. This model often incorporates a foam, flotational element with an inflatable chamber.
Outfit your boat with the appropriate model and make sure you have enough personal flotation devices for everyone onboard.
If your boat has fuel on board or is fuel-powered, the USCG requires that your boat carry at least one USCG-approved, marine-type fire extinguisher. Hand-portable extinguishers classified as either B-I or B-II are the types required by the USCG for usage on boats. Whatever you choose, remember that portable fire extinguishers require maintenance. The USCG suggests you inspect your fire extinguishers monthly for the following:
- Seals and tamper indicators are not broken or missing.
- Pressure gauges or other indicators are in the operable range as described on the extinguisher.
- There is no obvious physical damage, rust, corrosion, leakage, or clogged nozzles.
- If the minimum weight is stated on the extinguisher label, weigh extinguishers annually to check.
The Coast Guard has requirements about which types of visual distress signals should be carried by different sizes of boats. For example, the USCG requirements for boats that do not need to carry day signals (such as orange flags) include:
- Recreational boats less than 16 feet in length.
- Boats participating in organized events, such as races, regattas, or marine parades.
- Open sailboats less than 26 feet in length that are not equipped with propulsion machinery.
- Manually propelled boats.
Boat safety kits may have several different signals, including handheld orange smoke, flags, sea marker dye and flares. The Coast Guard cautions that pyrotechnic flares can cause burns or fires, so you should take safety precautions. Some types of flares, such as the pistol-launched variety, must be handled very carefully and may be considered firearms in some states and Canada, so the Coast Guard suggests that you check with your state boating agency.
Adding these items to pre-made boat safety kits can help you prepare for most emergency situations that you might encounter on the water.