Yes, it’s probably one of the last things you want to think of this holiday season, but what precautions do you have on board for emergencies?
That’s what we thought. You and everyone else have been putting it off. But what happens when you have an unexpected (and aren’t they ALL unexpected?) problem on board?
Let’s be practical and do a thorough safety check for the new year.
Take a look at your visual distress signals. Are your flares up to date? (Yes, they do have an expiration date.) Check with the US Coast Guard and your state boating authority to confirm what types of visual distress equipment you are required to carry. It varies depending on the size of your boat, when you’ll be boating and where you’ll be boating.
Do you have the required audible warning devices? You must have a bell, whistle, or horn to warn other boaters. What if you get caught out in the fog? How are you going to know where the other boats are located as you’re trying to get back to shore? How is that great big yacht going to know that your 28’ boat is directly in its path? (Yes, they probably have radar. But what if it’s broken?)
Do you have the correct number of marine rated fire extinguishers on board? Boats less than 26′ have to have at least one B-1 fire extinguisher on board. Boats 26′-40′ need to have at least two B-1 fire extinguishers on board. Check the expiration date. While you’re at it, read the instructions on how to use it. If you ever do have a fire on board, you won’t have time for checking instructions!
Mount and store your extinguishers in obvious and logical places. Do you really think you’re going to have time to rummage through a cluttered locker or cabinet when your boat is on fire? Fires are likely to start in the galley and the engine compartment. Mount the extinguisher somewhere that won’t involve reaching across the stove or the engine.
Check your personal floatation devices. Are they in good shape? Is the buoyancy still effective? If there are rips or tears, or the buoyancy material has hardened, do yourself a big favor and replace those ineffective jackets.
Do all the straps and buckles still function? Are the sizes current and correct for the people you’ll have on board? (How much has Junior grown since you bought his life jacket? Does it even fit him anymore?) More than 66% of boating fatalities are from drowning and 90% of the victims were not wearing a life jacket. Don’t be part of those statistics.
A boat over 16’ must also have a throwable flotation device (except canoes and kayaks). Check your state’s flotation requirements before you plan your next trip.
If you are a frequent boater, and have a vessel much bigger than a rowboat, you really should get a VHF radio. Cell phones are great when you’re on land. Cell towers are land based. But when you’re out in the middle of a large body of water what are the odds of you getting a good signal in an emergency? What if it’s raining or you’ve got high waves to worry about? Most cell phones aren’t waterproof. What if you drop it overboard? Things can go from bad to worse very quickly.
Restock your basic first aid kit. Are you down to 2 tiny bandages and an expired tube of first aid cream? That’s not going to be a lot of help when you’re dealing with cuts, burns, sprains, stings, and puncture wounds. Check with your local boating authority for suggestions for a well-stocked first aid kit, and keep one on your boat. A basic first aid manual stored with the kit is a very good idea.
You can never go wrong with an extra flashlight, preferably a waterproof one that floats. Keep it in the same place every time. In an emergency, you don’t want to be stumbling around in the dark, trying to remember where you left it.
If everyone on board doesn’t know where the important things are, they can’t help you if you’re the victim of an accident. When you’re having guests aboard, simply take 5 minutes to show them your safety equipment.
Spend just a couple of hours now to ensure a wonderful year of safe and successful boating!