Put safety first, before you put your boat in the water

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OK, it's time to get the boat out - if you haven't already! This is a good time to go over a checklist of items you need to have on board to insure everyone's safety.

There needs to be a PFD (personal flotation device) for every person onboard your boat. PFDs must be the type approved by the Coast Guard.

If your boat is 16 feet or longer, you need to have a throw-able PFD onboard and immediately available, in case someone falls overboard.

Every boat needs a working whistle or horn to make sound. Boats over 30 feet have additional requirements. Make sure you have a whistle that will work when wet; that way you can attach it to your PFD.

A chart of visual distress signals should be carried on all boats operating on coastal waters. There are day and night signals. Motor boats less than 16 feet and manually propelled boats are not required to carry signals if they operate only during the daylight hours.

Pyrotechnic distress signals, such as flares, can be very dangerous if not used properly. A U.S. Coast Guard approved, marine-type extinguisher should be carried on your boat in a place where you can get to it quickly and easily.

Extinguishers are not required on boats that don't have motors or on outboard motorboats less than 26 feet if there are no permanent fuel tanks installed.

Recreational vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of reduced visibility.

Here are a few other items good to have onboard:

• A flashlight. You can use it so other boats can see you if the weather turns bad. You can also use it to signal - for instance, S-O-S, in the dark.

• An anchor and anchor line.

• A bucket, which can bail out any water that gets in the boat.

• A first aid kit is a must!

• Two ropes (lines). You can use them to tie up the boat and also to help a person overboard get back to and in the boat.

• Big garbage bags can serve as a rain poncho in a pinch, or you can make a "tent" over your boat to protect you in a rainstorm.

Be prepared so you can make it a safe and enjoyable boating season.

Cinda Seamon is the fire and life safety educator for the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue.

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