Boat Operators Should Have Which of the Following Onboard

If you are new to boating or would like to know what safety gear you should have on your boat or personal watercraft then you have come to the right place. I have been involved in boating ever since I could walk. First as a deckhand on a sailing boat and now with my own powerboats and a Sea-Doo PWC.

Often at the boat ramp, I see people launching their pride and joy and being clueless about what safety equipment they need. Sure we all are green when we buy our first boat, and often dealers do a great job in teaching people the basics.  Learning how to launch, retrieve, and use their boat are often covered but they often fail to mention what gear is needed in an emergency and what to have onboard.

Boat Operators Should Have Which of the Following Onboard?

Boat full of life jackets

I like to take a fun inventory of any boat I am a passenger or an owner on so I can be prepared for any emergency. The main safety gear each boat operator should have especially if going offshore are:

  • CB radio and Phone – For emergency calls
  • Life jackets for all onboard and a few spare in case needed.
  • Emergency food and water – If you get stranded, MRE food packs work great.
  • Spare change of clothes – For if you get wet.
  • Anchor with chain and 100m of rope.
  • Parachute Flares, smoke flares, and SOS electronic LED signal light
  • Nautical Charts – To find your way home and to locate landmarks.
  • Fixed or Portable Depth Sounder – To find hidden reefs, fish, and obstacles.
  • Bucket, Oars, torch, and first aid kit.
  • Spare fuses for all electronics onboard like navigation lights.
  • US registration Eperb if going offshore. SOS Personal Locator Beacon with GPS
  • Porta Loo for those little emergencies.
  • Toolbox with some basic hand tools like a wrench, screwdriver, tape, sockets, and a hammer.
  • Powder fire extinguisher – For fuel fires.
  • Spare drain bung plugs.
  • Backfire Flame Arrestor for the motor.
  • Well-maintained and functioning Muffling System.
  • Ventilation System for ventilation of internal compartments.
  • Sound Signaling Devices such as an electric or air horn.

For a full list of legal requirements then check out the California Safety Equipment List.

Nice to have onboard but not a necessity

Being comfortable on a boat is half the battle. Having those added luxuries will make it a perfect trip so don’t forget to include the following items.

girl driving a boat what to bring

It’s going to take a few boating trips to work out what you need and what you can leave behind on your next trip. It’s often when you go to use something you realize that you don’t have it.

Check out our cool gifts for a fisherman if you are looking for Christmas or birthday ideas.

What tools should you have in the boat?

boat marine tool kit
Marine toolkit click for full list of tools on Amazon

I always like to take a few tools with me as most times I can fix a problem myself. Like the time my battery terminal connection came loose and the motor wasn’t turning over. I had a spanner in the toolbox so it was an easy fix. Now, this was a replacement battery which the boat mechanic had installed. Must have had the apprentice do the job. He sure got an ear full when I returned to shore.

So I like to carry the following tools on my boat.

  • Spanner or wrench
  • 3/8 Drive Stanley Socket set
  • Spark Plug Remover
  • Large and small Screwdrivers
  • Electrical tape
  • Small Hacksaw
  • Hammer
  • Pliers
  • Allen Keys

The Crescent CTK170CMP2 marine tool kit shown above is the 170-piece kit. It’s the same one I use for my boat and jetski. With so many tools vacuum molded into a rattle-free design, you will be able to tackle any emergency.

I like to spray the whole toolkit with Lanox spray to give the metal pieces some rust protection. Any good quality lubrication spray will do the job.

This is all dependent on the size of your boat. If you have a 12-foot runabout then your storage options are going to be limited. On the other hand, if you have a 22-foot cabin cruiser then you have all the room in the world.

Duty of Care

As a boat operator, you have a duty of care for yourself, your passengers, and other boat owners around you. I always like to tell someone where we are going just in case we break down or get caught in a storm. Many people have been rescued just because someone on shore knew where they were out in the sea.

I never drink alcohol while driving the boat. It’s just like being responsible on the road as well as on the water. Sure my friend can drink all they want but I’m in charge of their safety so I’m the designated driver or captain.

Boat Lighting

boat navigation lighting picture

Every boat no matter the size, if used at night, must have navigation lights. These lights are used to notify other vessels of their location and heading.

  • Red light for the left side or Port for those using the sea language.
  • Green lighting for the right or starboard side of the vessel.
  • White light for the front and rear of the boat.

Some smaller boats like dingy and rowboats are not required to have navigation lighting but also should not be out at night. If you are just going a short distance you can use a hand-held torch to notify passing boats of your presence and also see where you are going.

Many people like to install boat light bars which will throw out a huge amount of light in the front to light up the way. It’s an easy upgrade to the small headlight that’s standard with most watercraft.

speed boat LED light bar


Being responsible on the water is so important for all of us. Don’t rely on others to get you out of trouble. Be prepared in both rescue equipment and learn how to fix basic mechanical tasks yourself.

All the items listed here will prepare you for most situations. As a boat operator, it’s your responsibility to carry most of these safety gear and tools. I feel safer knowing that if I’m 30 miles out from shore I can still have contact with land via the radio or Eperb if something goes wrong.

Let me know in the comments below what other safety equipment you would like to carry on board as a boat owner.

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