It’s time to get the boat out – if you haven’t already! This is a good time to go over that checklist of items you need to have on board to insure everyone’s safety.

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

If your boat is 16 feet or larger, you must have a throwable PFD onboard and immediately available in case someone falls overboard.

Every boat needs a working whistle or horn to make sound. Boats more than 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.

Motorboats 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.

Before you depart the dock, check the local weather forecast. At certain times of the year, weather can change very quickly.

Be sure to disconnect all utility lines and power cords. Take in all dock lines and fenders.

Let your passengers know you are departing and have them keep arms and hands inside the boat. Keep a lookout at all times for other boats, people and objects in the water. Proceed slowly when leaving and returning to the dock.

Never forget about the danger that propellers are to people in the water. Shut off your engine when approaching swimmers and always keep them in your view.

Here are a few other items good to have on board:

  • Operator’s certificate or license and any ship documentation.
  • Anchor lines appropriate to the area, depth and conditions.
  • Charts for the area.
  • Tool kit with basic tools.
  • A flashlight, so that other boats can see you if the weather turns bad. You can also use it to signal in the dark, like the Morse code “SOS.”
  • A bucket to 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.