Boat Safety Checklist: Key Items to Have Before Taking Out Your Boat


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Going out on your boat is always a fun time, but it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for anything that might happen. While it is important to remember key items for a fun trip like food, portable speakers, drinks, games, and floaties, it is even more crucial to have the right safety gear. That’s why we’ve put together this boat safety checklist – to help you make sure you have everything you need before hitting the open water. And don’t forget to check the weather forecast before you go. With this checklist in hand, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your day on the boat worry-free.


Life Jacket

One of the most important items on any boat, and legally required for children under 13 to wear whenever the boat is on the water.

You’ll want to make sure that there is one life jacket available for every person on the boat, and that they are the appropriate size and weight. This is often the regulation for many bodies of water, so be sure to know the regulations of the water you will be boating on.


Throwable Flotation Device

Adults aren’t required to wear a life jacket in most states, and most know how to swim if they’re going out on the water.

This doesn’t make them immune to potential dangers should they accidentally fall in the water, or find they can’t swim or float.

A life preserver ring, or anything else that’s designed to float, is essential in these situations. It will buy time for you to swing around and grab your friend.


Functional Navigation Lights

Most boats are equipped with lights either around the edge or on the canopy over the driver’s seat. These need to be in working order if you plan on doing any nighttime boating.

These are another legal requirement, but it’s just smart as well. All sorts of accidents can happen if another boat doesn’t see you, so be prepared by keeping your lights in working order.


Light Signal Device

In addition to the built-in lights on your boat, you’ll want some sort of signal device that lets off light. Examples include flare lights, orange smoke, parachute flares, an orange flag, or an electric distress light.

You’ll want one that works better during daylight hours, such as the flag or smoke, and one that’s better at night, like the flare lights or electric distress symbol.

Getting stuck dead in the water can be scary, so you’ll want a visual way for search and rescue to find your boat and get you back to shore.


Sound Signal Device

As a backup precaution, a sound signal device is another essential to maintain on your boat. Whistles, horns, and even bells fulfill this requirement nicely.

These are great not just in case of an emergency, but if the weather turns foggy and you can’t see as far. Any sort of sound device can help signal your location to other boats and prevent collisions.



Yes, you can be pulled over in a boat, so you’ll want to make sure to have all your documentation in a clean, dry place in case you need it.

Things like boat registration may be required if asked, and this is especially important if you are fishing. If you’re caught fishing without a permit, it can lead to serious fines that you don’t want to pay.


First Aid Kit

An essential to have on any adventure on land or water. Your feet might get sliced from some sharp rocks on the shore, or maybe someone slips and bumps their head.

Regularly check that your first aid kit is stocked and all the medical products haven’t expired. If anything has expired, replenish it before your trip.



Another necessity if you’re boating at night. Boats have all sorts of weird angles on them that would hurt to bump into.

It also helps if you’re looking for a specific item in the dozens of compartments many boats have, like your first aid kit.


Fire Extinguisher

It seems counterintuitive given you’re on the water, but boats can catch on fire, and it’s not as easy as it looks to use the water to put it out.

Fire extinguishers are specifically designed to quickly suffocate a flame, so if your engine starts burning up you’re not wasting any time in putting it out. The are also required on boats in most areas.


Radio Communication Device

If you’re boat breaks down and leaves you stranded in the middle of a lake, you’re going to want a way to call for help.

A cell phone can function in this regard, but more often than not they won’t have service. This is why a radio, often built into the boat, is so important.

Make sure you know how to use it and that it’s functional before every boating adventure.



There’s a lot of junk and trash in most bodies of water, unfortunately. From cans to nets to even entire cars.

If you’re unlucky enough, that junk can get caught up in your propeller and stop you dead in your tracks. Seaweed can also be problematic for your boat.

Having a knife on board will make clearing the obstruction much easier for yourself and your boat.


Bucket Or Bailing Device

Boats will take on water. Most of the time the boat handles it just fine and drains it back where it came, but sometimes more water will be taken on than it can handle.

A bucket or anything you can use to bail the excess water out is extremely helpful in these situations.


Appropriate Anchor

If you plan on parking in a specific spot to fish or enjoy the weather, make sure you have an anchor that will keep you in place but can be pulled up with relative ease.

You don’t want to get lost or pushed into shore because the currents drifted you elsewhere.


Oars or Paddles

Depending on the size of your boat, these might not be helpful. For smaller vessels, a pair of oars or paddles may allow you to move your boat if the engine dies and you can’t get it back up, but you’re close enough to get it back to the dock.


Boat Shoes

Minimize your chance of slipping and maximize your comfort by getting a pair of good boating shoes.

There are several types of shoes with different styles. Pick one that’ll give you long-lasting comfort and keep your feet warm.



Goggles are a safety device in case you need to inspect the underside of your boat, or remove a line tangle. Goggles will allow you to work in the water in a way that may not be possible without them.


Diver Flag

This is only applicable if needed for diving purposes, but you need to denote to other vessels that divers are in the water.


GPS And Weather Technology

Today’s technology means that boats can get accurate GPS location and weather reports up to the second from just about anywhere. This is a hugely valuable safety device that should be equipped onboard any boat where the captain can afford it.

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about