What is really needed on your boat to ensure safety? Many precautions come to mind, but let's review the basics to start.
For each and every person on your boat and connected to your boat (skier) you will need one Coast Guard approved Type I, II or III, as well as one throwable Type IV device. As simple as a floating cushion or a life ring or buoy. Even though it does not need to be connected to a rope, it's not a bad idea to have about 20–30 feet of rope attached to it, to help retrieve your overboard boat mate. Your life vest must be in usable condition and stored where they are easily accessible. Having them inside your center console against the back wall with 12 things in front does not really qualify. The easiest thing to remember is open and grab. They need to be easily accessible. A Type V hybrid may substitute for any Type I, II or III devices, but it must actually be worn whenever the vessel is underway, and the person is not in the cabin or other enclosed areas. If you have children on your boat, it is recommended to have them fitted in a life vest so they don’t slip out in an emergency.
Every person on board under the age of 6 to 13 (depending on the state) must wear an approved Type I, II or III while the vessel is underway. Using a trolling motor to scoot from one area to another is still considered underway. A Sailboat with its sail up and moving is considered underway.
One USCG-approved B-1 type fire extinguisher is required for all recreational motorboats except outboard-powered motorboats less than 26 feet long if constructed in a manner that will not allow gas fumes to accumulate. If your boat has a built-in fuel tank, an inboard engine, compartments where portable fuel tanks may be stored, or open areas between the hull and deck where flammable or explosive gases could accumulate, you must carry a fire extinguisher. Non-motorized boats are exempt from the fire extinguisher requirements. Your Fire Extinguisher like your PFD’s must be usable and in good condition as well as easily reachable. Some boats now are built with a fixed fire extinguishing system. This can take the place of one B-1 Fire Extinguisher
Visual Distress Signal
A visual distress signal must be carried when on the high sea and coastal waters only. You must also carry one for day use and one for nighttime use. For instance, a handheld smoke flare will qualify, but only for day use. You will want some sort of flare for night time use. A signal mirror can be used as a day signal, however, if it’s a cloudy day, it may not really work. Having multiple varieties, as we will mention later, is always the best option. Coastal waters actually mean any body of water that feeds into an ocean or gulf, where any entrance is over two miles wide to the first point where the distance between shorelines narrows to two miles.
Sound-producing Device (bell, horn, whistle, etc.)
Every vessel under 12 meters (39.4 ft) in length must carry an sound-producing device. The sound-producing device need not meet any particular specifications, as long as the vessel can produce signals required by the navigational rules. An air horn, whistle, your boat horn all qualify, but you should always carry a back up as well. My go to back up is always a whistle as I don’t have to worry about the gas horn or electrical horn failing. A whistle will always work with just a blow.
Recreational vessels are required to display navigation lights, both bow and stern, between sunset and sunrise and during periods of reduced visibility (fog, rain, haze, etc). The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules specify lighting requirements for every description of watercraft. The information provided is for vessels less than 65.5 feet/20 meters in length. If your bow light or stern light system are run off the batteries of your boat, it is highly recommended to have a battery back up system. RAILBLAZA, out of New Zealand, offers great battery powered lighting options. Both the bow and stern lights are Imanna approved to meet Coast Guard standards.
A few other items in your vessel should be an anchor with sufficient amount of anchor line, a water removal device, such as a bilge pump in the event of flooding, an oar, paddle or other alternative means of propulsion in case your engine fails.