By Capt. Gus Cane
A sudden emergency situation on the water is the absolute worst time to realize your boat’s safety gear isn’t up to standard or functioning properly. With the busy summer boating and fishing season here, thoroughly inspect all safety gear before hitting the water to make sure it’s compliant. It could save your life.
Start with life jackets. All passengers on board are required to have one and this isn’t the time to be frugal. Buy the best jackets you can afford. Automatic inflatable jackets are comfortable and will inflate even if you are thrown overboard and are unconscious. Type V inflatables must be worn at all times; Type III can be stowed with quick access. Slip-on foam vests should also be stowed where they can be reached quickly. If you do opt for foam vests, consider Type I Offshore vests if space allows. The flotation and self-righting capabilities are superior to the cheap orange collar versions. For all jackets, inspect for rips in the fabric or dry rot with the straps/foam. Inflatable CO2 cylinders have to be replaced periodically, so check the expiration dates.
Make sure your fire extinguisher is fully charged and hasn’t expired. It should also be within easy reach. Fiberglass is highly combustible and will burn quickly if it isn’t extinguished right away. Replacement extinguishers should be rated for both Class B (liquids and gases) and Class C (energized electrical equipment).
Check all signaling devices. Day/night flares, smoke flares and pencil flares all have expiration dates. Make sure yours are still in force and check the flare launchers for corrosion/damage. Bright orange water streamers can be seen for miles from the air, as can bright signaling mirrors. An air horn or whistle can be heard greater distances than the human voice.
A well-stocked first aid kit is essential to treat any onboard injuries. A fixed mount VHF radio should be a standard item or carry a waterproof VHF handheld in the ditch bag. Don’t depend on cellular phone coverage in emergencies. Also, consider a Personal Locator Beacon. They aren’t too expensive and quickly alert rescue personnel multiple ways if and when you really need help.
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