Safe and fun boating all comes down to being prepared. If you’re new to the game and ready to join the 87 million other recreational boaters in the United States, you may have a few questions about how to stock your boat before you head out for the first time. And while you’ll learn very quickly through your experience what it takes to be prepared, there are some things you should do before your first adventure to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable time.
Here is a look at the essentials to have on your boat.
1. License and Registration
Among the most important things you’ll need to have on your vessel at all times are your license and registration:
Boat Registration — One thing your boat always needs is a valid registration. For smaller vessels without a boat name, that also means having your CF number displayed on your hull, usually near the bow. If you happen to get pulled over by law enforcement, you need a valid boat registration just like you would in your car.
ID and Certificate — In many states, you may be required to pass a boating safety course and carry proof, along with your ID. The steps to apply for registration are different in each state, so be sure you know what’s required. We like to recommend keeping your important documents in waterproof covers.
2. Boat Safety Item Checklist
One of the most important things to keep on a boat is safety equipment. Be sure to bring everything that is required according to U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Regulations. Here’s what you need to keep onboard:
- Lifejackets — Called ‘Personal Flotation Devices’ by the Coast Guard, every boat needs to have lifejackets aboard, one for every person. Since little kids need to wear lifejackets at all times when they’re aboard, make sure they like their lifejacket, so they want to wear it
- Fire Extinguishers — As required by U.S. Coast Guard regulations, every boat under 26 feet needs to have one B-1 type fire extinguisher aboard, and vessels over 26 feet need to have two — one near the engine compartment and one on deck. Make sure they’re easily accessible and full.
- Visual Distress Signals — Another mandatory part of your boat’s emergency equipment — distress signals need to be aboard every vessel, so you can let other boaters and law enforcement know if you’re in need of assistance. The main types are flares and electronic signaling equipment.
- Flares — The most common visual distress signals people carry are flares, mainly because they’re cheapest and satisfy the Coast Guard requirement. There are handheld and launchable options, and it’s a good idea to have both kinds. Although it’s unlikely, if you need them, you’ll be glad you have them.
- Electronic Signaling Equipment — As a substitute or in addition to your flares, some boaters like to carry electronic signaling equipment. The advantages are that they last much longer than flares, and there’s no fire produced.
- EPIRB — An Emergency Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) lights up and sends out a GPS distress signal when it contacts water. It’s a wise investment if you plan on boating in the ocean. If someone were to fall overboard, throwing the EPIRB over makes sure they don’t get lost.
- Horns — Sometimes, making your location known with sound is all you need. If your boat’s horn fails and you need to notify other vessels of your presence, having a handheld horn is an essential backup.
- Anchor and Line — Every boat should carry an anchor and enough line — called rode — to anchor where you plan on boating. Check marine charts to determine depths and bring about three times the average depth in length of line. Anchoring can be near impossible in deep ocean waters, so some boaters opt to carry a sea anchor, which acts to slow your movement on windy days by dragging through the water. It can help you maintain your position if you’re waiting for assistance from another vessel.
- First Aid Kit — Every boat should have a first aid kit aboard. Make sure it has gauze, bandages, medical gloves, scissors, antiseptic and pain relievers. Bandaging small nicks and scrapes lets you continue your day with peace of mind, and you won’t have to head back home for minor injuries. You might also want to add a pair of tweezers to your kit, too. They’re great for removing splinters from wooden docks, among other things.
- Marine Radio — When cell phones don’t have service, you can still communicate to other vessels if you keep a marine VHF radio onboard. If you need to, use channel 16 to call law enforcement for assistance. Also, the Coast Guard will sometimes notify boaters of military operations in their area that could affect their activities.
- Cell Phone — Besides making sure your phone is charged and ready before you set out, you may want to consider getting a waterproof case. Also, it’s a good idea to get the number of your marina and Coast Guard station in case you need to call for assistance. If you frequently go in the ocean, it can be valuable to enroll in a marine assistance program. That way, you can avoid costly expenses if you need a tow or other help.
- A Full Fuel Tank — While this one may seem obvious, it can be easy to forget when you get wrapped up in other preparations for the day. If you don’t fill up before you go, remember to follow the golden rule for fuel consumption — a third of your fuel to get out, a third to get back and a third to keep as a reserve.
- Watersports Safety Flags — In most states, watersports like diving and wakeboarding require you to carry additional safety gear like a signaling flag. Check the regulations for your state and body of water for your activity.
Since you won’t be able to run to the hardware store to pick up what you need when you’re far away from shore, you’ll want to carry a simple set of tools to fix small mechanical problems, at least enough for you to get back to the dock.
While you can’t bring every tool you have at home, you can assemble a small, versatile set of equipment that can help you out of a jam.
Don’t bring a hard metal toolbox aboard your boat — they can scatch the interior very easily. A soft tool bag is much better. The soft bags also have side pockets you can use to store your most-used tools for quick access.
Here’s what to keep in your boat’s toolbox:
- Phillips Head Screwdrivers — You’ll use these for everything from mechanical problems to fixing one of your kid’s toys. Keep a few different sizes onboard, so you’re ready for small and large projects.
- Flathead Screwdrivers — Besides their usefulness for fixing mechanical problems, flatheads come in very handy for a wide variety of things — from prying to poking and more.
- Pliers — Bring needle-nose pliers and a pair of vise-grips. They’ll help you out with plenty of small projects and tasks.
- A Hammer — While most jobs won’t require one, a hammer can be useful if you need to dislodge a rusted bolt or pry off other pieces of hardware.
- Measuring Tools — Keeping a ruler or tape measure onboard your boat probably won’t help you fix anything on the water, but they’re easy to include in your tool bag and can help you determine the size of replacement parts to buy for your next trip to the marine supply store.
- Wiring Tools — If you know your way around electronic components, keeping wiring tools aboard can let you fix a problem yourself and avoid having to call for help. If you do decide to bring these tools along, be sure to get sturdy marine-grade ones from a marine supply store, not the same ones you use for your car.
- Spare Spark Plugs and Spark Plug Sockets — If one of your spark plugs goes out, it could mean your engine won’t start. It can be a simple fix, as long as you have spare spark plugs and a spark plug socket onboard.
- Adjustable Wrenches/Socket Wrench — Socket wrenches are usually best for removing and tightening nuts, but an adjustable wrench can be a good option if you’re worried about losing a socket into the bilge.
- Duct Tape — Where isn’t duct tape useful? It can come in handy for an almost endless list of strange and temporary fixes, so you might want to keep a few rolls on your boat.
- Allen Wrenches — A set of Allen wrenches is easy to stow and can come in handy for a broad array of small fixes and projects. It helps to get a set of standard and metric, as you’ll often encounter a mixture aboard most boats.
- A Knife — Sometimes what you need most is a simple cutting tool. Every boat should have a knife or multitool onboard. Remember to stow it somewhere where the kids won’t find it or keep it on your person for quick access.
- Hemostats — Also known as surgeons pliers, hemostats are very skinny and great for fine projects. They’re cheap and easy to stow in your toolbag.
- WD-40 — Especially if you’re boating in a saltwater body, cleaning and lubricating your tools after you use them will protect them from corrosion and keep them functioning well, but be careful to avoid getting oil on your wooden decks, if you have them.
- Fan Belt — When you’re heading out on the water, the last thing you want is a failure that brings you right back to shore. That’s why it pays to prepare by keeping spare parts on board to fix any issues as soon as they arise. One of the spare parts you might need is a fan belt — commonly referred to as a serpentine belt. The serpentine belt keeps all your engine’s accessory components running smoothly. When it begins to wear, you might have difficulty steering your boat, or the engine might overheat. If you notice signs like these, the serpentine belt needs to be replaced. Keeping a spare onboard means you’ll be able to replace it right away — even on the water — and get back to a safe, adventurous day at sea in no time.
4. Personal Items
The following items aren’t for emergencies but are still essentials for a fun and safe day on the water:
- Food and Water — Any time you head out and away from land, be sure to carry enough food and water to stay hydrated and happy throughout the day. It’s a good idea to bring a little extra, too, in case you end up staying out for longer than expected.
- Towels and Blankets — For a day of aquatic fun, there’s no such thing as too many towels. And the ones that don’t get used can stay on the boat for next time. Blankets can be a more snuggly choice than extra layers if you stay out to watch the sunset.
- Sunscreen and Hats — Sun protection is vital when you plan to spend the whole day outside. Save your skin and bring plenty of sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat to leave on the boat. Some SPF chapstick is never a bad idea, either.
- Hand Sanitizer — After handling your dock lines and other things that may have your hands in need of disinfecting, hand sanitizer is always good to keep onboard — especially if you have kids and plan on bringing sandwiches and snacks for the day.
- An Extra Set of Clothes — Playing on the water all day sometimes means getting wet and needing a second set of clothes. It can be nice to have a change to go to dinner ashore, or just to be dry, too. Also, keep warm weather gear onboard in case the temperature dips, or you’re out later than expected.
- Motion Sickness Pills and Bracelets — If you plan on spending the day in the ocean, bring some motion sickness pills. Some people swear by pressure point bracelets for reducing nausea on the water, so you may want to bring a few of those as well. Ginger, lime and other natural remedies can also help to ease queasiness.
- Camera — Boats are for making memories, and photos only help you preserve those moments. Plus, there’s no better backdrop than shimmering water to the horizon. Disposable underwater cameras are cheap, and the kids love them.
- Binoculars — From looking at marine life to other vessels, a quality pair of binoculars is always fun to bring aboard your boat. Your kids can spark an interest in wildlife, and you can use them as a lookout tool, too.
- Clean-Up Rags — Being onboard a boat means something is bound to get spilled. Have some extra towels you don’t mind using for messy cleanups, and you can save your beach towels for swimming and laying out.
Make a Checklist
The easiest way to make sure you don’t forget anything is to create a checklist for the day. As you gain more experience of your own, you can perfect it for how and where you like to boat.
Count on Formula Boats
Here at Formula Boats, we love the water as much as our customers. We’re eager to share what we’ve learned from years of boating, so you can enjoy being on the water with your family, too. When you’re prepared with the knowledge and equipment you need, nothing will catch you off guard, and every trip will be enjoyable.
If you have any other questions about what to take boating or would like to ask us about our models, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.