What Should Be in My Boat Safety Kit?

Life boat, preserver and Safety Beacon
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So you bought a boat, purchased boat insurance, and have selected the perfect fishing bait. Are you ready to hit the open water? The first step to becoming a prepared boat owner – after buying a boat – is getting all of the necessary safety gear.

In addition to consulting this list, make sure to check your state and federal laws to see the requirements for your specific type of boat. If you’d like a second set of eyes, the U.S. Coast Guard provides free boat safety checks as a service, and it’s worth taking advantage of it.

Life Jackets

Under federal law, you are required to have at least one life jacket per person on board that is approved and safety rated by the U.S. Coast Guard, and they must be stored in a place that they can be put on quickly. You are required to wear them by law any time you are jet skiing, water skiing, tubing, or doing anything else that requires operating a personal watercraft or being towed behind a boat. Children are required to wear life vests at all times they’re on the boat, and per common sense, adults should strongly consider doing so too. The best life jackets don’t simply dangle around your neck like those given in an airplane but fit snugly and securely around your whole upper torso.

Throwable Flotation Device

If your boat is 16 feet or longer, you should also have a throwable flotation device hanging within easy reach.


Don’t forget about the bells and whistles! If you are in distress or about to run into someone or something, you will want to have a way to tell the world. An efficient whistle will accomplish that task, as will a proper bell. You could also consider purchasing a horn if that’s more your style or if the conditions call for it (rougher and louder choppy waters or the crashing waves of an open ocean).

Emergency Light and Spare Light Bulbs

In addition to keeping your boat’s lights on and in good working order, you’ll also need an emergency light for if you are lost when it starts to get dark or is already nightfall. Per Coast Guard rules, you must have at least three approved night signals, and if your boat is longer than 16 feet, you’ll need three approved day signals, too. Without proper light, you have very little chance of navigating anywhere and, more importantly, other boats and potential rescue crews won’t be able to spot you.

You should also have spare light bulbs for your boat’s normal lights so that you’re never caught without the proper equipment.

Distress Flag

You should have the universal SOS flag, an orange flag with a dot above a line. If you are lost or in trouble during the day, you’ll be able to signal that you need help.

Distress Flare

If you’re really in trouble, help will be able to reach you faster if you have a distress flare that you can shoot into the night sky.

Fire Extinguisher

While we’re on the topic of fire, every boat needs at least one Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher. You’ll probably want to have more than one if your boat is more substantial (and you might be required to, depending on state laws and the size of your boat).

First Aid Kit

Every boat needs a primary first aid kit on board that also includes sunscreen and remedies for seasickness and jellyfish stings if you’re out on the ocean. The Mayo Clinic states that oral antihistamines or corticosteroids may be helpful in reducing skin reaction as well as hot water.

Extra Fuel and Water

Is there any more preventable way to get stuck than running out of fuel? You don’t want to get caught in this situation, so plan – and make sure you have enough water for everyone on board for if you’re still stranded somewhere. The human body can go a long time without food but only a few days without water.

Tool Kit

Make sure you have a basic boat tool kit on board that includes hull plugs and a bailer system (even if that system is a bucket).

Store Everything In Watertight Containers

Your fancy safety gear won’t work if it’s soaked and unusable. Make sure to store everything properly so that it remains dry and in good condition.

Have a Float Plan

Your gear won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to use it. Put together a float plan so that you know what to do and what gear to use in the event of an accident.

Set your boat outing up for success by having a safety kit that you can rely on in case of an emergency. Planning for the worst makes you a smart boat owner. It will reduce the severity of a possible emergency and give you peace of mind to enjoy the day.