What Should I Know About Safety on a Boat?

When it comes to safety regulations, the most important thing to remember is that you must have a coast guard approved life jacket for each person on board. Everyone must know where the life jackets are stored and how to use them. Life jackets must be in good condition and easily accessible. Small children should wear a life jacket at all times while on deck.

You should always have the proper type of life jacket for the water sports that you are engaged in. Fast action sports, such as jet skiing, require a different jacket than those used to float down a river. Inflatable life jackets are the most comfortable to wear and are now coast guard approved. They’re also the most expensive and require more maintenance. There are 5 types of coast guard approved life jackets. The best way to find out what type you need is to get advice from your local boating supplier. Boating in a lake and cruising across the Gulf Stream are two entirely different circumstances.

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A safety harness is usually worn by crew on sailboats and is available for both adults and kids. You can even get one that’s combined with an inflatable life jacket. The idea here is not only can a harness keep you on board in the first place, but it also makes it easier to haul you up if you do fall overboard. Be sure to buy an approved ORC harness that meets the following requirements: has a minimum breaking strength of 1500 pounds, has sewing that has been lock stitched, has hardware that is non magnetic, and has snaps that can withstand a load of 3,300 pounds and have a ½” opening.

The life sling is an excellent crew overboard system, and is found on most cruising yachts. It allows for a rapid and easy deployment to an overboard crew member. This system consists of a traditional 20 pound horse shoe flotation buoy connect to 150 ft. of 3/8” poly propylene line that’s stored to a convenient bag attached to a rail. To retrieve a victim, deploy the life sling and circle the boat around the victim until contact is made. Stop the boat, shut down the engine, and allow the victim to put the sling under the arms. Once you have a victim alongside the boat, attach the hoisting tackle and heave the person aboard.

With few exceptions, you’re required to carry approved visual distress signals. You should carry at least 3 hand held coast guard approved flares and check those expiration dates. Some available types of flares include parachute flares, hand-held rocket propelled flares, and orange smoke flares. It’s a good idea to have an orange distress signal flag. You must also have some sort of sound making device, such as a horn or bell, that’s appropriate to the size of your vessel. A signaling mirror or a water dye can be used to attract aircraft from great distances. Even a metal container containing a burning oily rag will produce a lot of smoke.

Knowing CPR and first aid are essential skills for anyone contemplating an off shore voyage. However, even weekend or short trips near shore can bring tragedy if someone is in need of CPR and no crew member knows what to do. If you venture off shore, a life vest and EPIRB are life saving essentials for an emergency situation such as a fire or sinking.

Life rafts should be easily accessible and should be large enough to accommodate for everyone on board. Life raft inspections are required each year to make sure that your raft will operate properly when needed. Learn how to launch and inflate your raft well before it becomes necessary. Rafts are usually heavy items, and any means that will allow them to be thrown overboard easily will help. Life vests do not come with a lot of emergency rations. It’s a good idea to keep an abandoned ship bag stocked full of survival gear.

An EPIRB or an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon is indispensable for letting the world know where you are. The 406 Megahertz models send a signal to satellites which make your recovery a lot quicker. Be sure to check the battery condition on a regular basis and also register your EPIRB as required.

A fire aboard can ruin your whole day. It’s one of the most feared emergencies in boating. An inexpensive smoke detector can save your life. If your vessel has multiple cabins and a saloon, put a smoke detector in each area and be sure to replace the batteries on a yearly basis. CO, or carbon monoxide, is a deadly, odorless, colorless gas that will kill sleeping occupants in a matter of minutes. If you have a gas powered generator, and you sleep on board, make sure it’s in excellent condition and that you have a CO detector in each cabin or enclosed area. Gasoline and flame detectors will let you sleep a lot sounder if they’re installed in engine compartments.

Every boat with an engine must have an approved marine grade fire extinguisher on board. Keep cabin extinguishers where they can be easily seen and not hidden away in a locker. In an emergency, no one will know where to find them. Be sure everyone on board knows how to use an extinguisher. Engine rooms should have an automatic fire extinguisher with an alarm. Buy extinguishers, especially made for marine use, that are rated type A, B, and C. This means they will put out all types of fires. Also, buy the right quantity and size extinguisher for your boat length. Check your fire extinguishers at least once per season to make sure they’re still working. Automatic engine room fire extinguishers should be checked by weight.

There is no sure method to protect your boat against a lightening strike except to get out of it’s way. A metal hull vessel that is grounded via a lightening rod can be placed at the highest point of the mast probably has the best chance to disperse the awesome electrical power of the strike. On fiberglass vessels, it’s best to connect your lightening rod via no. 4 wire to a large, underwater grounding plate bolted to the hull. Keep all crew out of the water and inside the boat. Disconnect as many electronic gadgets as you possibly can. Remember to properly ground your vessel when it’s hauled out for storage or bottom painting. It can be very vulnerable to lightening strikes while in the boat yard.

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