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Boating Safety Equipment You Must Have
Whether you're piloting a 40-foot sailboat or a canoe, the United States Coast Guard requires that every boat carry certain safety equipment. The equipment is not expensive or hard to find and may save your life in an emergency. Boaters who carry the standard safety equipment are statistically far more likely to survive a boating emergency than those who don't.
The Coast Guard requires that there be a personal flotation device for each person present on the boat. Although the Coast Guard does not mandate that the personal flotation device actually be worn, some state laws require them to be worn at all times when the boat is underway by children under a certain age. Most reputable marinas will be able to provide you with information on applicable state laws regarding personal flotation devices. Additionally, if a boat is more than 16 feet in length a personal flotation device that can be thrown into the water, like a life ring, is required by the Coast Guard.
Every boat, of all sizes, must have a whistle or horn. This noisemaking device serves to warn other boats of your presence and to use as a distress signal in case of emergency. Boats larger than 39.4 feet must carry both a bell and a whistle. The whistle must be able to be heard at a distance of one half a nautical mile. The bell must be at least 7.87 inches in diameter.
Visual distress signals for night time use, such as emergency flares, are required on all boats traveling coastal waters, the Great Lakes, and any connecting body of water that is more than two miles wide. Larger boats are required to carry a daytime visual signal as well. Besides flares, other visual distress signals include flags, flashlights, water dye markers, and smoke signals.
Boats larger than 26 feet must carry a Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher. Boats with no motors such as canoes or row boats and boats less than 26 feet that don't have permanent fuel tanks are not required to carry a fire extinguisher.
The Coast Guard recommends, but does not require additional safety items. These include a blanket, oars in case the motor is disabled, a bucket for bailing and a first aid kit. Other useful items include rain ponchos and a tarp or plastic garbage back to keep yourself and your boat dry in a storm.
Finally, the Coast Guard recommends filing a plan with a responsible party before you leave so that there is at least one person on land who knows where you plan to be.
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