Family Boating on a Sea Ray

Tips for Safe Boating

Published on May 20, 2022



When you’re about to cast off the dock lines for day or weekend outings, make sure you’re ready with good boating safety gear and knowledge of the latest regulations.

Prepping your boating safety kit
There are many items to compile in a boating safety kit. Some of them are required by law while others may help in an emergency. Since there’s limited space onboard, think through what you must or need to have. 

  1. USCG requirements – Recreational vessels are divided into five groups by length and each category outlines what must be aboard including lifejackets, fire extinguishers, signaling devices and more. You must be in compliance so gear up.

  2. Documents – Before you head out, make sure you carry a copy of your vessel registration (or documentation) and proof of insurance. You’ll need both in case of an accident. Some states also require you to carry proof of your competence like a boating card and if you’ll be fishing, have a license aboard. You may need all of these if there’s an accident or you get stopped.

  3. VHF radio (fixed or handheld) – You may need a radio, especially if you’ll be boating coastally or offshore. Store it with your binoculars that you can use to spot navigation markers or entrances to marinas. 

  4. First aid kit – you can buy one or assemble it yourself to help with minor injuries like cuts, small burns, fishhook mishaps and so on. 

  5. Tool essentials – This includes a multitool or a screwdriver, knife and crescent wrench, along with electric and duct tape, and cable ties.

  6. Paddle – You may not get too far with it, but a paddle comes in handy when launching and loading or pushing off a dock or other obstruction.

  7. Sunscreen – Guests may forget to bring it so extra is useful. Check the expiration date and replace as necessary.

  8. Dry wear – A change of clothes, raingear, towel or blanket may be needed to ward off hypothermia if you’re caught out in inclement weather or at night. Pack it in a dry bag to keep it fresh.

  9. Flashlights/headlamps – you can’t have too many if you’re out at night and make sure you have extra batteries.

  10. Trash bags – Make sure a bag and its contents don’t fly off the boat and pollute the environment.

New U.S. Coast Guard regulations (2022)
Per USCG safety regulations, it’s mandatory to use an installed engine cutoff switch (ECOS) – unofficially also referred to as a kill switch or kill cord. An ECOS links the vessel operator to the propulsion system and shuts off the motor (outboard or sterndrive) if the driver is separated from the controls or is thrown from the vessel. The switch breaks an electrical circuit when it’s removed/pulled away and that stops the engine. 

On April 1, 2021, a federal law went into effect requiring the operator of a recreational boat with an installed ECOS to use the link on any vessel up to 26 feet in length, powered by any engine of three or more horsepower, and operating on plane or above displacement speed. 

Wear the ECOS link, or lanyard, attached to your wrist or PFD. An ECOS doesn’t need to be worn when docking, trolling, operating at no-wake speeds, or when launching and loading onto a trailer. 

Where to keep safety equipment on board
Where do you keep all this stuff? One word: accessible. No amount of emergency gear will help if you can’t get to it quickly. It’s not realistic – or necessary – to keep it all in one place, just make sure you or someone else can get find it in case you’re the one who’s incapacitated or has gone overboard. Here are 10 storage tips to get it all organized.

  1. Keep the kill switch attached to the boat operator when under way, or with your boat documents safely locked up when off the boat. 

  2. If you only have a handheld VHF radio, keep it together with the binoculars, licenses, documents and possibly cruising guides/charts near the helm.

  3. Flares, signaling devices, and bailers can be kept together in a locker. You can put all the items into a duffel so they’re together. 

  4. Fire extinguishers should be spread around the boat in strategic areas like near the engine(s), in the galley, in the cockpit and potentially the cabin. Basically, you don’t want to have to go far to reach an extinguisher.

  5. The first aid kit should be in a dry compartment and reachable by your smallest crew member.

  6. Lifejackets should also be stored where crew can find them quickly and where they’ll be dry to minimize mildew.

  7. Tools, tape and so on can be kept under a settee or in a compartment below the sole. Just make sure the tools stay dry to minimize rust.

  8. Keep a paddle wherever it’ll fit – most likely below the cockpit sole. 

  9. The anchor and chain/line should be in the anchor well and attached to the windlass. 

  10. Make a checklist and possibly a diagram outlining what’s where. That way you can share it with onboard guests during a pre-departure vessel safety walkthrough and you’ll always remember where everything is yourself.

It doesn’t take much time to make a checklist of what safety gear you’ll need, learn how to use it, and decide where to keep it. Even if it takes a weekend, it’s time well spent and will ensure you’re ready for boating fun on your Sea Ray.