Boat Safety Gear Checklist: Stay Safe on Your Water Adventures

Whether you plan to use your boat for fishing, wakeboarding, skiing, diving, day cruising, or overnight trips, make sure to bring the necessary safety equipment. If you decide to keep it onboard, thoroughly check it and keep it in working order.

Even though there are different requirements for various types and sizes of vessels, some essential items will help keep you safe and out of trouble with the law. Here are a few items to pack aboard your boat this boating season that are both essential and recommended.

What Safety Gear Should You Have on a Boat?

When you search for safety gear for boat, you’ll come across various products and boat accessories that focus on ensuring safety, such as lifebuoys, fire extinguishers, PLBs, EPIRBs, and inflatable life jackets. How far offshore you travel and the vessel you are operating will determine how much and what type of boat safety equipment you’ll need.

Life Jackets and Wearable Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

life jackets

Every person on board must have an accessible, wearable life jacket (PFD type I, II, or III). A PFD is also required if pulling a skier or wake surfer behind the boat. Children 12 and under must always wear their PFD while on a moving vessel. The same rule stands for the person operating a personal watercraft (PWC) at all times.

In the event of a life-threatening situation, the first thing you should do is make sure everyone on board puts on their life jackets. Alternatively, you can advise everyone to put them on before leaving the pier. Your pet should also wear a life jacket even though it’s not required.

Throwable Flotation Devices

You should have at least one Type IV floating device (in addition to the life jackets you are wearing) that you can toss to someone in the water in an emergency. It’s ideal to have more than one of them, even though only one is necessary. These can be cushions, ring buoys, or other objects. A line may be tied to some of these objects, allowing you to draw someone closer to the boat and haul them out of the sea.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are an essential piece of safety gear for boat. The law requires a fire extinguisher for most boat types (inboard engine, closed living spaces, permanently installed fuel tanks, portable fuel tanks, etc.). Since fires often happen unexpectedly, you must always prepare.

Extinguishers come in various types and classifications. To keep things straightforward, keep in mind that boats under 8 metres (including PWCs) require a minimum of one B-1 type extinguisher, while those between 8 and just under 12 metres require two B-1 types or one B-2 type. Talk about how to use an extinguisher with your family and guests: pull the pin, press the handle, and aim at the flames’ base.

Visual Signalling Devices

visual signalling devices

Depending on the size of the vessel and even where you go boating, there are varied criteria for visual distress signals or warning lights. There are requirements for flares or other nighttime signals on boats under 5 metres. Boats bigger than 5 metres must have both daytime and nighttime signals.

Some examples of pyrotechnic objects or flares that might meet the requirements are the orange or white smoke aerial light flares. While some flare models may launch on their own, others need a flare gun to do so. A strobe light is another nighttime gadget that can be very handy. PWCs don’t require nighttime equipment because you can’t operate one between dusk and dawn; you can use white flags during the day.

Sound Signalling Devices

You can use sounds to call for help both during the day and at night; they work best when there is fog. Horns and whistles, whether portable or fixed, are considered sound-generating equipment for all boats. Larger boats (those longer than 12 metres) should additionally have a bell that rings periodically during poor visibility conditions like fog.

Compass and Chart

Maps and compasses are types of navigational aids. They help in route planning and risk avoidance. They also assist you in pinpointing your precise location, which is useful in an emergency.

You must have a compass and a map when sailing in open waters. They should include navigational characteristics like shallows, reefs, hazards, and channels.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)


EPIRBs are electronic distress beacons used in an emergency to notify search and rescue teams.

An EPIRB emits a distress signal for at least 48 hours after being triggered. Satellites and aircraft can pick up this signal and transmit it to a nearby rescue coordination centre.

An EPIRB must comply with Standard AS/NZS 4280.1 and emit at a frequency of 406 MHz. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority must also receive a copy of your EPIRBlaunch registration (AMSA).

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

An EPIRB is larger than a PLB and intended to be carried by humans rather than by a ship. As a required piece of safety equipment, a PLB doesn’t take the place of an EPIRB. In situations where an EPIRB isn’t required or if the individual becomes separated from the vessel, it might serve as an extra measure of protection.

Handy Nice-to-Haves

Some of these items might be essential or just recommendations, depending on the boating and where you do it. In any case, you can fit the majority of these on even the tiniest boats.

  • Medical supplies for minor emergencies like cuts, scratches, and seasickness
  • Anchor to keep your boat in place while you wait for assistance
  • Dewatering tool or bucket that will help you stay afloat
  • Paddles or oars in case the engine quits
  • Mobile phone to call for assistance
  • VHF radio to request assistance
  • Knife so you can cut out a fouled propeller
  • Snorkel mask to see what’s happening under the boat
  • Robust flashlight
  • Flag, diver or skier down
  • Working running lights
  • Device to check weather updates because conditions can change quickly, even on a lake

Make sure to read safety guidelines or take proper training to learn how to use the boat safety gear you buy. Only that way, you’ll stay safe while enjoying your water adventures.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.