The Ultimate Boating Checklist 2024

Boat owner performing seasonal cleaning and maintenance on the hull

Caught up in the thrill of adrenaline-pumping tubing adventures and weekends spent on the dock, new boat owners often neglect boat safety. And it’s no mystery why. 

When given the choice between purchasing jet skis, inflatable water toys, and snack-serving trays vs. fire extinguishers flame arrestors, flares, ventilation systems, bilge pumps, or boat drain plugs, focusing on the fun splurges over the bare essentials is to be expected.

While learning to jet ski may sound far more glamorous than learning how to use a marine flare, a safe and responsible boater won’t overlook the safety essentials.

Our comprehensive boat safety equipment checklist for boating trips will help you organize your thoughts and devise a game plan. Before you know it, these safety precautions will come as second nature.

Boating Safety and Equipment Checklist

Owning a boat comes with a list of responsibilities that keep you, your passengers, and those around you safe from harm. 

Federal Safety Requirements

There are specific federal and state regulations surrounding boating safety. U.S. federal boating requirements dictate the minimum equipment you’re required to have for a safe boating experience. Use this federal requirement checklist to ensure you comply each time you use your boat- otherwise, you will face penalties and fines.

Pro tip: Besides following federal safety requirements, you’ll need to check up on regulations specific to the state or local community in which you’ll be operating your boat.

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Vessel Registration

All boats with a motor must be registered with the state of primary use, and carry the certificate number issued at registration when you’re using the boat.

Display of Numbers

Your boat must display the numbers assigned at registration and your state validation sticker.

Life Jackets

Also known as “Personal Flotation Devices, all recreational boats must carry one wearable life jacket for all members on board. Life jackets must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved, sized properly, and in good condition.

Throwable Flotation Device

Any boat 16 feet or longer (besides canoes or kayaks) must have at least one throwable floatation device on board.

Visual Distress Signals

Distress signals may include flares, orange smoke signals, electric distress lights, and orange distress flags.

Fire Extinguishers

The U.S. Coast Guard approved legislation mandating that fire extinguishers be stowed on boats where a fire hazard could be expected from the engine or fuel system (all boats with motors). Boats over 40 feet in length must carry two fire extinguishers. Fire extinguishers for marine use should be labeled Marine Type USCG, Type B (size I or II).

Sound-Signaling Devices

A sound-producing device is required; approved devices include a whistle, bell, gong, or air horn.

Recreational vessels must display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility (fog, rain, haze, etc..)

Boating Safety Equipment and Gear Checklist

There are select pieces of safety equipment that the Federal law requires for the safety of all passengers aboard your boat. However, you may wish to include additional safety gear that surpasses the minimum requirements.

Be sure to distinguish between mandatory safety equipment and optional safety equipment.

Mandatory Safety Equipment Checklist

While some pieces of safety equipment are optional, you should have these items on board at the very least.

  • Life vests: One wearable Life Vest is required for all passengers. Children under 13 are required to wear life vests while the boat is in motion. (Type I PFD: Offshore Life Jackets, Type 2 PFD: Near Shore Vest, Type III PFD: Flotation Aids)
  • Distress signal devices: Visual and sound-producing devices are useful and required in an emergency
  • Throwable flotation device: Many boat experts recommend having multiple flotation devices (TYPE IV PFD) on board. Some of these devices include an attached rope for pulling an individual back to the boat.
  • First aid kit: Have a fully stocked Marine First Aid Kit on your boat for minor injuries, motion sickness, or insect bites and stings, even though there is no legal requirement
  • Anchor: An attached anchor allows you to keep the boat from drifting
  • Bailing device: When emergencies arise, a bucket might be the most valuable item onboard.

Optional Safety Equipment Checklist

In addition to safety gear, there are some other additional items that are worth keeping on your vessel.

  • A paddle or oar
  • Cell phone (and charger)
  • VHF radio (required for boats 65 feet long or longer)
  • Snorkel mask
  • Flashlight
  • Knife
  • Boat Safety Throw Ring
  • Sunscreen
  • Water for drinking

Basic Equipment Checklist

A day of boating isn’t all about safety. Adding additional items to your boating checklist can make being out on the water more fun. The following items are nice to have in your boat.

Entertainment: rafts, tubes, water skis and water toys, binoculars, camera

Maintenance: tool kit for engine malfunction, extra hull plug, spare keys, engine oil, spare parts

Comfort: Bug repellent, snacks, drinks (especially freshwater), towels, trash bags

Boating Departure Checklist

Before you tow your boat, following a guide is essential so one mistake doesn’t lead to disaster. Use this departure checklist to ensure your vehicle and trailer are properly prepared.

Departure Supply List

Stock up on the supplies featured in this checklist to ensure you, your vehicle, and your trailer are prepared for the road.

  • A spare tire and jack that fits your trailer
  • Side mirrors with a wide view
  • A small toolbox equipped with emergency tools for your vehicle and trailer
  • Mobile phone and charger

Departure Task Checklist

Before you leave for your trip, you should take a series of steps to ensure your boat and trailer will remain firmly where they belong. Additionally, your crew should be prepared for emergencies on the water before they arise. Use this checklist to avoid missing any crucial safe departure steps.

Before You Start Driving (Pre Departure Checklist)

  • Practice driving your towing vehicle locally to get the hang of backing up and making wide turns.
  • Inspect your vehicle and trailer for road preparedness (brakes, tire air pressure, lug nuts, weight, capacity) and complete maintenance chores.
  • Tell a relative or friend about your float plan for the day, and when you return, check the weather forecast.
  • Lower the hitch onto the ball, close the latch, secure the safety pin, check the safety chains, and attach the brake safety line
  • Ensure the trailer jack, tongue support, and stabilizers are raised and locked.
  • Do a walk around the boat to make sure no wires touch the road, ratchet straps are secure, and all items (like boat fenders and extra dock lines) are tied down

Before Launch

  • Check the hubs and tires of your boat trailer to ensure they’re not hot when you reach your destination.
  • Allow all passengers to exit the vehicle before launch
  • Ensure the hull plug is secure.
  • Acquaint all boaters with safety gear
  • Demonstrate the engine shutdown process for your crew.
  • Inspect the bilges, and run the blower if necessary, depending on the type of boat.
  • Double-check that you have all essential documents and safety gear on board your watercraft

Final Thoughts

Whether you have a sailboat or you have a cruiser as your PWC, you have to have a great place to keep it. When not using your boat for an extended period of time, or when the weather gets a little cold, take a look at the boat storage unit options Neighbor has.