Every vessel is required to have safety
equipment, but there’s more to it than just having it on board. Let me
tell you about a boarding that I did while stationed in the USCG at
Alexandria Bay, NY.
It was a nice day, middle of the week, we had just started out for a routine patrol and to do random boardings to check boats for compliance with Federal Regulations. The first boat we encountered was heading straight towards us as we got out into the channel. It was a center-console, open design boat approximately 18-20’ in length being operated by a young girl probably 18 years old. When we boarded her boat she was very put out that we had stopped her. When I started asking her where items were located she had no idea. She had borrowed the boat from a friend. So I started helping her look for things. After finding two or three items, her attitude started to change. By the time we were done she was very glad that we had stopped her. Everything was there and no violations were issued. Why was she glad? Because after the first couple of things were located, she realized that everything was there for a reason and if she had needed something in an emergency she would not have had any idea where these safety items were located.
What other thoughts should we have about safety equipment other than having what is required under Federal Regulations?
First, do we know how to use everything? Second, does it meet the Federal Requirements and is it in good working condition? And last, but probably the most important thing, how often do you go out on other peoples’ boats? How often do you have people on your boat? Do you know where safety equipment is on their boat? Do you educate your guests invited on your boat? What if something happened to the skipper, how much help could you be in a crisis? So the last thought is to think of the crew and passengers on your boat. Make sure that they know where everything is and how to use it.
I won’t get into every requirement for each boat, but I will try to list some of the required items and some things that you may not have thought of about.
PFD’s - Personal Flotation Devises:
Not just have them on board, I hope that everyone has one on, if not make
sure that they are readily accessible and within reach; that means out
of the plastic bags they came in. Did you know that if they are still in
the plastic that you could be cited? It’s a violation, that’s what they
mean by “readily accessible”. Don’t forget to have one for each passenger
you carry and have children’s sizes on board, too.
Visual Distress Signals - Are they in date, if not replace them but keep the old ones for spares?
Fire Extinguishers - Check for proper charge, and check the nozzle openings, I could not begin to tell you how many I have inspected that had insect nests built onto them plugging the openings. Now for the big thing…if it is a dry chemical type, can you feel the powder inside move? If not, it won’t work!! If you can’t feel the powder move, turn it upside down and hit it with the heal of your hand or a rubber mallet until you feel it move. The powder packs at the bottom and if you try to use it in a crisis, you’re in trouble. Do not test it to make sure it works. If you periodically loosen the powder, it will.
Ventilation - Does it work and is the hose in good shape?
Backfire Flame Arresters - Are they clean?
Sound Producing Devises - The best way for most of us to meet this on boats under 39.4’ is to attach a whistle to every life jacket. This is good for two reasons. First, there will always be one onboard, but secondly, it is a great safety item for each individual. If you fell overboard at night it makes you easier to locate or for you to warn an approaching boat that may not see you in the dark.
Navigation Lights - Do they all work, are there spare bulbs, fuses and lenses on board?
Registration on board and numbers properly displayed - The numbers must be 3” block letters, not script, and must be a contrasting color to the boat hull. The problems that I see most often is that the numbers are jammed together, and the space between the letters and numbers is missing. Correct example: NY 1234 AB, the space must be large enough to fit another full letter in between.
As we prepare for the up-coming boating
season take the time to go over these items, think about the worst case
scenario, plan for it, educate your passengers
and crew and check your equipment. Until next time, safe and happy boating
and keep the bottom wet.