This is the time of year that I am inundated with questions about spring tune-ups and other maintenance repairs for my customer's boats, motors and trailers. Keeping your rig in tip-top mechanical condition is important, but before you head out on that next trip to the lake, you might want to take a close look at your boating safety gear to verify that everything is in good working order.
We all know the most important piece of safety equipment is your personal floatation device. You are required to have at least one PFD for each person on your boat. Inspect each of your PFDs. Any floatation device that has tears in the outer cloth or straps that are broken is not acceptable as a required PFD, and you could be ticketed for not having the required number of life vests on board your boat.
Life vests must also be the appropriate size for each of your passengers. If you have children on board, you will have to have the proper child size vest for each of them. Children are also required to wear their PFD anytime the boat is under way. Even though it is not required, having everyone wear their PFD whenever the boat is under way is a great idea.
A second flotation device that is required on most boats is a throw cushion or ring. The cushion or ring would be used to throw to someone who has fallen overboard.
Other safety devices and equipment include: fire extinguisher, navigation lights, visual distress signals, a sound-producing device and an alternative propulsion device (paddle).
Your fire extinguisher needs to be accessible. If you ever have an onboard fire you want your extinguisher to be easy to reach and ready to go to work immediately. All extinguishers are equipped with a gauge that indicates whether the extinguisher is fully charged. Check your gauge, and if it indicates that the unit is discharged, replace it immediately.
Navigation lights are included on most boats, but they are only required if your boat is being operated between sunset and sunrise. Check out your navigation lights to make sure they will work when and if needed. If you have the plug-in type light sockets on your boat, you may want to spray those sockets with an anti-corrosion lubricant to keep the contact pins clean.
Flares and other visual distress signals are not required on all boats and not on all waterways, but they are extremely valuable in an emergency situation. Flares have an expiration date, and once the date has passed the flare is no longer acceptable as a distress signal. Once a flare has passed the expiration date, it should be disposed of and no longer carried in your boat. In an emergency situation, you might grab an expired flare that may not function, and you would be wasting valuable time trying to use that device.
There are several other safety items that may not be required but are good items to keep onboard. A first-aid kit may come in handy should anyone be injured onboard your boat. A stock of non-perishable food items and fresh drinking water should also be kept onboard your boat. In case of mechanical breakdown, you may have to wait some time for help to arrive. Sunscreen and bug repellent should be included in your inventory of supplies for your boat.
Boat accessories such as bilge pump, GPS, depth finder, and VHF radio should all be checked to verify that they are in good working order prior to going out on the water. Bilge pumps can easily be clogged by trash in the bilge. Check and clean your bilge area regularly. The GPS will help you navigate without getting lost, and the depth finder will help you avoid running aground in shallow water. The VHF radio is a great safety tool; by monitoring the marine weather channel you can head into safe harbor should a weather threat develop. The VHF is also your link of communications to other boaters as well as first responders such as the U.S. Coast Guard.
If you are uncertain about what safety gear is required for your boat, contact the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadron in your area. Both organizations will supply you with pamphlets that outline all of the required safety gear for your boat. Both organizations also offer free boating safety inspections, and the best part of the inspection is that there are no citations or tickets if your boat does not pass. You will be given a list of items that you need to pass the safety inspection. You can make whatever corrections or additions that are needed, and have your boat re-examined. Once your boat passes inspection, you will receive a window decal to show that your boat has passed the safety inspection.
If you have any questions about your boat, motor or trailer, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great, safe boating summer! I'll see you on the water.