Being safe is a priority on every boat, and that’s why we bring you articles and videos ranging from Gas safety onboard: guide for yachts and powerboats to Buying a lifejacket: 10 top tips for powerboaters. For everyone who goes afloat, no matter what type of boat you own or how long you’ve been on the water, safety begins with some basic must-have gear. Ready to make sure you have yours in order? Let’s go through the safety gear check-list.


1. Lifejackets

You need to have at least one, in good condition, recently serviced and properly sized, for everyone onboard. It’s important to recognise the differences between a buoyancy aid, typically with a 50N (Newton) rating, and a proper lifejacket with a rating of 150N or more. The former is merely an aid to swimming, whereas as a 150N+ lifejacket will support an unconscious person face upwards. Whichever type is appropriate for your boating, don’t forget they only work if you’re actually wearing them. Read Buying a lifejacket: 10 top tips for powerboaters.

2. Lifebuoys

These should be kept near the helm position where they will be easily accessible at all times, so if someone falls overboard, you can quickly toss it to them. They should be equipped with a small drogue to prevent them being blown away by the wind. In addition, if there’s ever any chance that you will be out after dark, even if it’s just a later than planned return to harbour, then lifebuoy lights should be fitted as well.

3. Sound signal

Some boats have a built-in horn, but most need an aerosol foghorn. This is especially important in spring and early summer, when fog is more prevalent.

4. Fire extinguishers

If your boat has an engine or cooker of any type, you should keep a fire extinguisher handy. Ideally there should be one near both the forehatch and the main companionway, as well as an automatic type in the engine compartment. They must be serviced regularly, or replaced every three to five years.

5. Marine communications

Don’t just rely on your mobile phone – they aren’t waterproof and, if you do get into difficulty, you don’t want the battery of your smartphone to be rapidly running out of charge. That’s where traditional distress flares are helpful – as well as being seen by other vessels, many people on shore also often spot them. Don’t forget flares need to be replaced every three years.

A VHF marine radio (see The 10 best handheld VHF radios) will enable you to communicate both with the coastguard and with other vessels nearby. If venturing further afield, an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) that will send a distress message via a satellite is a worthwhile investment.

6. Navigation lights

Test your lights before any trip when you think there’s a possibility you’ll be on the water after dark and make sure the boat’s battery is sufficiently well charged to power them. Day boats that return to their home port later than planned are the most likely to have inadequate lights – don’t get caught out!

7. First aid kit

This is an absolute necessity aboard any boat. When you’re out on the water you may not be able to get to help for many minutes or hours, so make sure you have plenty of first aid basics safely stowed onboard.

8. Extra food and water

Even inland and near-shore boaters should always have an emergency supply of food and water, even if it’s just a cereal bar and a plastic bottle. You never know when mechanical difficulties could leave you stranded.

9. Appropriate clothing

When leaving for a day out on a calm and warm summer’s morning it may seem as though shorts, t-shirts and sun screen are all that’s needed. However, conditions can change very quickly when you’re on the water –warm fleeces, hats and wet weather gear are also essential.

10. Safety talk

Whenever you take out guests, be sure to start the trip with a safety briefing. Show them where all of this gear is stowed, and how to use it. Otherwise, valuable time may be lost during an emergency.

11. Kill cord

This is a vital piece of equipment for any small powerboat (see Use a kill cord: its use can prevent injury or death). If you’re thrown from the helm and the engines keep running, the rest of the safety gear won’t help you one bit—as you watch the boat cruise away with no one at the wheel, or even worse, circle back towards you while you’re in the water.

12. Shore contact

Before leaving make sure someone on shore knows your plans and when you expect to be back in contact. They can then raise the alarm if you don’t show up when expected.

13. Compass

Any boat that ventures on the sea, or a branch of the sea such as an estuary, should carry a compass – if visibility reduces it may be the only means you have of returning to safety.

14. Bucket and bilge pump

While no one expects to get a big ingress of water into the boat, if the unexpected happens effective pumps, with a couple of sturdy buckets as back up, can keep you afloat until help arrives.

Read more in our in-depth feature 10 essentials for long distance cruising.

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.