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What Safety Equipment is on Our Boat?

Updated: Mar 12

Did you know boaters are required to have certain safety gear onboard their vessel? Much like receiving a violation for not having headlights or mirrors on your automobile, boaters can receive violations for missing equipment on their vessel. The United States Coast Guard has established the required items however any ocean or lake law enforcement entity can ticket boaters for not having the required safety gear.

While requirements for vessels vary depending on size, length, and tonnage, we will discuss the standard required for our 25-foot proline.

Life Jackets

One USCG-approved lifejacket (Type I, II, III, or V) must be onboard for each passenger present. Children under the age of 12 are required to wear a life jacket at all times. More information on life jackets can be found online, I’ll post the link at the bottom of this blog.

Throwable device

Vessels over 16 feet are required to have a throwable device-(type V). This throwable flotation is primarily used in a man overboard situation to quickly get flotation to a person in the water.

Fire Extinguisher

This is one of those regulations that drastically differs depending on vessel size and type. For a motorized vessel less than 26 feet, a class B extinguisher is required. The extinguisher must be filled and not expired (sounds silly, but you would be surprised at how many people think they can get away with an old expired extinguisher).

Visual Distress Signals

Vessels must have daytime and night-time signals. The most common signal is a flare, which can be used day or night. During my tenure in the Coast Guard, we were able to find, and ultimately rescue many boaters who were able to light off a flare. Did you know that if the Coast Guard receives a notification of a flare sighting, they are required to search the area? Another great signaling device is a mirror. By using the sun, a mirror can re-direct the sun's light back toward another vessel or aircraft. There are reports of aircraft spotting signal mirrors from up to 40 miles away!

Audible Signals

Bells and horns are used to identify a vessel's location in low visibility conditions such as fog. Special rules apply to vessels underway vs at anchor when in low visibility to avoid collisions. Sound signals are also used by captains to communicate with other captains when getting underway, passing, and overtaking other vessels.

Navigation Lights

Vessels over 20 feet in length are required to have red and green bow lights, as well as an all-white stern light. These lights allow captains to recognize the heading of other vessels at night. A green light is illuminated on the starboard (right) side of the vessel and a red light is illuminated on the port (left) side of the boat.


Vessels with gasoline engines and storage tanks are required to have ventilation, often called a blower. A blower allows trapped, combustible gasses to be removed from the boat before starting the engines, significantly reducing the possibility of igniting the fumes in the air which could result in an explosion and/or fire onboard the vessel.


While this device is only required by inspected passenger vessels operating more than three miles from shore, I believe all boaters should have one. This device can be manually activated, or water-activated when submerged and provides a radio and GPS signal to orbiting satellites and aircraft. Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) can be purchased for under $300. Your PLB is registered to you or your boat and entered into a NOAA and US Air Force database which monitors for signals. Did you know most PLBs update your GPS location every minute for the first 24-48 hours?

While this short list of boat safety equipment is a good start, I highly recommend boaters identify the weather patterns and navigational hazards in the area and use this information to add additional gear to be prepared for the unknown. Stay tuned for future blogs where we will dive deeper into gear, safety, and water survival!

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