Whether cruising lakes or navigating the ocean, safety is paramount to boating. Preparation is the key to enjoying all that it has to offer. By equipping yourself with the right safety gear and knowledge, you can significantly reduce risks and ensure a memorable experience for everyone on board. Here’s a list of essential safety equipment that every boater should have with them on the water.

must-have safety equipment to keep on your boat VHF Radio


It’s incredibly important to have a VHF radio on board. You can’t assume you will always have cell service… especially on the open water. One VHF radio is good, a backup is even better. If you have a fixed mount, also carry a handheld in case your primary unit fails.

fell marine mob wireless engine cut off device


Most boats and Personal Water Crafts (PWCs) feature engine cut-off lanyards. These attach to the boat operator and when pulled free of their connection to the helm, immediately shut down the engine. Most boaters do not use this safety feature because of the limitations it puts on movement. Problem solved! The MOB+ Wireless Man OverBoard System from FELL Marine is an innovative wireless alternative. In an overboard situation, the engine will shut down due to the xFOB being underwater or more than 50 feet away from the vessel.

acr epirb (emergency position indicator radio beacon) on pilot house of boat


EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacons) are radio transmitters designed to be installed or kept on board your boat. They are automatically activated after floating free of a sunken vessel or can be manually activated in an emergency.

To register your EPIRB (mandatory) or update your contact information visit: beaconregistration.noaa.gov. If you have purchased a vessel with an existing EPIRB, immediately update the EPIRB registration and contact information. Do not forget to test your EPIRB according to manufacturer instructions.

acr plb (personal locator beacon on man


Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are made for personal use. They provide worldwide coverage of your location in an emergency. PLBs must be manually activated and do require registration. Easily portable, PLBs stay with you as you transfer from vessel to vessel and can be used anywhere on both water and land.

sea tow foundation yellow life jacket loaner station


Life jackets save lives, but only if they are worn. The U.S. Coast Guard requires children under the age of 13 to wear them. Anyone older is only required to carry life jackets on board. It’s always best to wear a properly fitting life jacket – regardless of the requirement. You never know when you’ll need one. If you’re heading out on the water and you don’t have the proper size or enough for your passengers, borrow one from a Sea Tow Foundation Life Jacket Loaner Station.

signaling gear - flare


To get help to your position or to notify someone of a problem, you’ll need to carry signaling gear. For non-powered boats on inland lakes and rivers, a mirror is usually sufficient, but if you are on a power boat heading out on coastal waters, you’ll need to carry traditional flares or an E-Flare.

sea tow captain holding extra line-rope on boat


Anchoring is a basic skill that every boater needs to know and master. The anchor should be strong enough for the type and size of boat that you’re using. It should also be rated for the bottom type that is found in the area where you are boating. Have extra lines on board for doubling down when tying up or in other unforeseen scenarios where you might need it. 


You must have a fire extinguisher on board that is rated for marine use if your boat has an engine. Make sure you have the right type and quantity, and ensure they are well-maintained and in working order for the safety of you, your passengers, and your vessel. 

first aid kit in bag


Boaters should always have first aid supplies to treat common injuries like cuts, scrapes, bites, and/or stings on board your vessel. Basic supplies include bandages, gauze, alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Increase the quantities so you’re prepared to treat multiple injuries. Also include items that will help with basic survival in the event you get stranded like water, snacks, sunscreen, something to keep you warm, and a multipurpose tool like a pocket knife to name a few. 

sea tow member fishing with family - yellow sea tow boat in background


Most states have boater education requirements that must be completed before operating any boat with a motor. This includes PWCs, small fishing boats, pontoons, and various sizes of powerboats. Courses are available in-person and online, accommodating even the busiest of schedules. A boating safety course gives people the foundational knowledge of how to operate on the water with a good understanding of the “rules of the road,” As well as what is expected of them as an operator and what boaters should be expecting of each other. Not only is the knowledge about boating safety critical, but getting your boating license can even land discounts on boat insurance.

must-have safety equipment to keep on your boat Sea Tow membership


Always have a backup plan. It’s often said “when the unexpected happens” because no one ever plans on needing help on the water. Having an on-water assistance membership with Sea Tow provides Peace of Mind on the Water™. Use the membership advisor to find the one that fits your boating needs. 


National Safe Boating Week (May 18 – 24, 2024) serves as a reminder to all boaters to brush up on their boating safety skills as they prepare for a busy boating season ahead. For more tips about boating safety, to learn how to properly fit a life jacket and so much more, visit the Sea Tow Foundation website.

In honor of the week, our friends at ACR are hosting an exclusive giveaway for a chance to win a ResQLink View Personal Locator Beach Safety Kit! To learn more and to enter, click here.

Tom Schlichter

Tom is a full-time outdoors writer, editor and marketeer living on Long Island, NY. Follow him on Facebook at @outdoortomcorp or visit his website at www.outdoortom.com.

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