Personal Boating Safety Equipment

Personal Boating Safety Equipment

Personal Boating Safety Equipment

What safety equipment should I have on me when I am boating or what safety equipment should I add to my lifejacket is a common question  ask at boating safety events.

Here is the safety equipment that I and other people I know use.  I will start with the required equipment when a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary member is out on patrol and then cover equipment that is commonly added to the minimum equipment list.

Lifejacket: Orange lifejacket with SOLAS reflective tape.  Ok, I know, getting your crew into bright orange lifejackets with big pieces of silver reflective tape on it is a bit of a hard sell for most recreational boaters.  However many inflatable lifejackets have an outer cover that is more stylish and the orange bladder only shows on inflation.  For recreation boaters having your crew wear a lifejacket no matter what color it is is good.  In Washington State children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG approved lifejacket at all times when underway in a vessel under 19 feet long unless they are in a fully enclosed area.  Many parents have their children put on a lifejacket as soon as they get to the marina and go onto the dock and boat.  Many people also put their pets in lifejackets.

Whistle: Tie the whistle to the lifejacket so it does not get lost or fall into the water.  The flat ones pack better.  Also good for helping to flag down taxies, getting attention in a bar or waking up sleeping crew members.

Mirror: Tie the mirror to the lifejacket so it does not get lost or dropped in the water.  A signal mirror is used to reflect sunlight to get attention at long distances.  Sunlight reflected from a signal mirror can be seen for several miles.  Also useful for checking makeup before being boarded by the Coast Guard (you do want to make a good impression right?).  I store the mirror in a piece of cloth to keep it from being damaged, the picture shows a piece of an old sweat sock being used to protect the mirror.  Check the knots on the mirror lanyard from time to time, for some reason the lanyards that comes with some mirrors does not want to keep a knot tied in the lanyard.

Strobe or Marker Light: Attach to lifejacket where it will be out of the water if you are in the water.  Strobes and Marker Lights come in many sizes, styles and types.  The SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) standards are the most demanding.  Some strobes and lights are auto starting if you go into the water.  Make sure you read the instruction and change the batteries at the proper interval.  My personal preference is for a strobe.  A note of strobes, a very few people can be disorientated by a flashing strobe, if you are one of these, a strobe would not be a good choice.

ACR has recently came out with a new series Strobe, the Firefly PRO Series,  LED’s are used for the lights, they are brighter than older personal marker lights. The ACR Firefly PRO Series meet or exceed U.S. Coast Guard & SOLAS standards when used with the proper batteries.  The on flash is longer and brighter giving a person in the water a better chance of being seen at night.

The following carried by many people but is not required to be carried while on patrol.

Knife:  A knife is not required to be carried by an Auxiliary member while on patrol but the patrol boat is required to have a knife that is quick and easy to get to.  Use to cut lines in case a line can’t be unfastened.  Most Auxiliary members carry a knife on their lifejacket or vest.  I usually have two knives, one survival type knife and a second riggers type knife that has a shackle breaker and marlinespike fid on it.  Both are on lanyards.  Make sure the knife is sharp, not all knives come sharp from the factory.

Small Flares:  Not required by Coast Guard and Auxiliary personnel  unless operating over three miles from shore.

Small Flashlight:  I carry a small AA LED flashlight from Streamlight, operates for about 16 hours on two AA batteries.  Not real bright but plenty of light for use on a boat to move around and find things without disturbing others.  My light has a neck lanyard and I have changed the light so it shines down when hanging from my neck.  The plastic body can be held in the mouth leaving both hand free.  If I am operating at night I will add a small red LED flashlight.  Red preserves night vision.

Handheld VHF Radio:  Tie the radio  so it does not fall overboard or bounce off the deck.  I have a lanyard that was made from a long shoelace with loops sewn in each end.  I like the remote microphone / speaker because I can put the speaker close to my shoulder which makes the radio easier to hear.

Radio Frequencies when operating / boating in the Seattle Area, I set the radio to scan the following channels.  Scanning helps to keep track of what is happening in the area around your vessel:

Ch 13: Bridge to Bridge, used for commercial vessels to talk to the bridges to request openings or the Ballard Locks to schedule transit through the locks.  This channel is also used for communication from Bridge (pilothouse) of a vessel to Bridge of another vessel.  This is the channel freighters and tugs use to communicate with each other.

Ch 14:  The VTS (Vessel Traffic System) used to communicate with ships following the VTS lanes.  Listen to this channel to find out freighter, ferry and other commercial vessel traffic in the immediate SEATTLE area, adjust for your own area.  Not used on Lake Union or Lake Washington.

Ch 16: Distress and hailing frequency.  Use this one to establish contact with another vessel or the Coast Guard then move to another appropriate channel.  DO NOT just chat on Ch 16, it is against the law.

Ch 22A: The channel the Coast guard uses to work emergencies with the general public & commercial vessels to keep traffic off of 16.  Vessels make contact with the Coast Guard on Ch 16 then the Coast Guard moves communications to Ch 22A.

PATCOM or Yacht Club Communications: When on patrol I also scan the channel used to communicate with the Coast Guard or the Patrol Communications center, when doing recreational activities the channel used by the Yacht Club or other boats that are participating in the activity are added, this might be the Race Committee  channel, if on a patrol supporting a marine safety event the channel used the the event organizers is added.  See also VHF Marine Radio Tips.

Hat: Protection from the sun and other elements.

Sunglasses: (during the day) Protection from the sun.

Sunblock: Protection from the sun.  Use a high SPF number for best protection.

Gloves: Protect hands from rope burns (sailing).

Surgical gloves:  Many people carry two pair, can also be the nitrile type gloves, use to help protect against blood born pathogens if giving someone first aid, can also be used for protection against oil, fuel and other hazardous materials.

First Aid Supplies:  Some people keep a couple of gauze pads and Band Aids with antiseptic pads in a Ziploc bag for small injuries.  Others will have another crew member get the first aid kit that the boat carries in case of an injury (does your boat does have a first aid kit on it?)  I carry a small first aid kit I put together in my duffel bag just in case the first aid kit on the boat is difficult to find.

UPDATE: Personal Locator Beacon:  With the cost of 406 MHZ Personal Locator Beacons (person version of 406 MHZ EPIRB) by ACR Electronics now below $ 300 retail people are starting to add the PLB to their personal and boating equipment supplies.  Hikers are also carrying the new PLB.  The PLB operates for about 24 hours and has a custom serial number (you need to register the PLB)  that identifies you or and your boat along with contact information to help emergency services know who and what they are searching for and a position accurate to around 100 meters so searchers spend less time searching and more time helping.

Thanks for your interest in and support of boating safety.

c / m

This entry was posted in Boating Safety, Sailing and Boating Skills and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Personal Boating Safety Equipment

  1. Justin R. says:

    Capt. Mike,

    What do you keep your lanyards (e.g. for your knives) tied to? Also, it looks like your PFD has a small bag attached to it. Is this something that you added? It looks like a great place to stash your signal mirror and whatnot.


    • captnmike says:


      The orange bag for the rigging knife is a bag I made years ago and the lanyard for the rigging knife goes around one of the straps of the PFD – I will probably change that some time and use a lighter lanyard and sew a D ring into the orange bag.

      The black bag that is on my left side is a stock bag from Mustang Survival comes if Black or Orange – has a zipper on the top side – the mirror etc goes in the bag – the bag also has a separate pouch thing for the survival knife – the lanyard for the survival knife ties to a tab in the knife pouch.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dogs usually do not stop paddling long enough for you to pick them up, so having them in a life jacket with a handle makes things much easier in that chaotic moment!

    • captnmike says:

      My former dock captain and his wife use a doggie life jacket with a handle all the time that their dog is on the dock or on board – I see a few more dogs with their own life jackets on each year – I can’t imagine getting a dog back on board without a handle to grab onto

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