Safety is the number one priority when it comes to any fishing trip or boating activity on the water. From having the correct safety equipment to checking the weather and marine conditions, there are many aspects to keeping yourself and your passengers safe. While having the right safety equipment on board is essential, it is also important to ensure that passengers know where safety items are located and how to use them in case of emergency. The following is a safety item checklist for fishermen of required safety equipment and nice-to-have safety items to bring aboard any fishing or boating trip.
- Personal Flotation Devices (PFD): It is required for vessels to have at least one U.S Coast Guard-approved Type I, Type II, Type III, or Type V personal flotation device for each person on board. Also, each vessel 16 ft or longer is required at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type IV throwable floatation device.
- Fire Extinguishers: Fire is a boater’s worst nightmare; having the proper type of fire extinguishers and quantity is crucial. Vessels with a model year of 2018 or newer are required to have 5-B or 20-B rated fire extinguishers onboard and that are date stamped. 2017 model vessels and older are also required 5-B or 20-B rated fire extinguishers that are unexpired or B-I or B-II rated fire extinguishers that are in good working condition.
- Visual Distress Signals (VDSs): It is also required by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry VDSs (Visual Distress Signals) in the event you need to signal for help. VDSs are classified as day signals, night signals, or both day and night signals, and can be either pyrotechnic or non-pyrotechnic. Day and night signals include handheld red flares, red meteors that are launched with a flare gun, and parachute red flares. Day-use-only signals include handheld orange smoke signals and floating orange smoke signals. An example of a night-use-only VDSs is an electric distress light. All vessels are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise, and most vessels are also required to carry day signals. Ensure all your VDSs are U.S. Coast Guard-approved, in serviceable condition, and easily accessible.
- Horns: In times of reduced visibility on the water such as fog, utilizing sound-producing devices can help notify others that you are in distress. Most boats contain an installed horn that can be used but, if that is not the case, a handheld horn is essential in providing a sense of your location to other vessels in range.
- VHF Radio: Your VHF radio is your main communication system on the boat and can be your lifeline. For emergencies, Channel 16 is the dedicated channel and is monitored by the U.S. Coast Guard. It is also important to ensure your VHF Radio is working before heading out by asking for a radio check on channels like 72. Also, having a spare handheld VHF radio is good to have in case of an emergency. Make sure to understand and use proper radio etiquette while on the water.
- Satellite Communicator: While not required, having a Satellite Communicator (SAT Phone) can provide peace of mind knowing you have another form of communication on the vessel. A great option is the impact and water-resistant Garmin inReach Mini 2. It contains satellite coverage that offers 2-way messaging, interactive SOS alerts, the ability to share your location with others, and many other features.
- EPIRB: An EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) is another important safety communication device that will transmit your vessel’s location when experiencing distress. An EPIRB can be triggered manually or activated automatically when submerged in water, alerting search and rescue services of your vessel’s position.
- First Aid Kit: Every boat owner should keep a First Aid Kit on board for dealing with the unfortunate hook/lure in the hand or other injuries until full medical treatment is available.
- Foul Weather Gear: If the weather turns for the worse, a waterproof jacket and fishing bibs can protect you and keep you warm from the elements.
- Ditch Bag: In the event you need to abandon your vessel, having a ditch bag loaded with essential items such as flares, a horn, a flashlight, a radio, and even water can increase your chances of being rescued.
- Float Plan: A float plan is an overview of a boating trip such as the description of the vessel, number of passengers, destination, and estimated timeframe of the trip, which is then given to a trusted family member or friend who can notify the Coast Guard in case of emergency. While not required, it is a good idea to complete a float plan or at a minimum notify a trusted contact of your trip details so they can provide accurate information to authorities if need be.
The U.S. Coast Guard also offers free safety checks of your vessel to ensure all required safety items are on board and in good working condition. Another good resource, especially for new boat owners, is to take a boating safety course which provides valuable information such as navigation, rules of the waterways, basic boating skills, and much more. Next time you head out, use this list to confirm you have the required safety items onboard and acquaint crew members with the location of these items in case of emergency. At the end of the day, practicing safe boating should not be overlooked and arriving home safely is the number one priority. Have fun and be safe out there!