Marine Safety Equipment for boats

Marine Safety Equipment for boats

Personal equipment

Before launching your vessel or heading out on the water, it pays to check that you have all necessary

  • safety equipment on board
  • lifejackets for all
  • at least two forms of communication that will work when wet
  • up-to-date flare pack
  • up to date marine charts of the area where you intend to go
  • food (normal and emergency)
  • water (normal and emergency)
  • warm clothes in case you get delayed overnight
  • enough anchor chain (at least 10m) and warp (at least 3 X depth) with a suitable type and weight of anchor for where you may have to anchor 

A checklist for your particular vessel and suitable for your area of operation is a good idea.

Check that all on board know what to do in the event of an emergency and are wearing lifejackets before you head out. Hold a drill and practise what to do in the event of an emergency. Does someone on board know how to drive the boat if you can’t? What should you do if someone falls overboard? Does everyone know where the emergency communications equipment is kept and how to use it? Be prepared. Know before you go.

If in sunny climates ensure you take adequate protection from the sun, include long sleeved shirts and hats. Wet and cold climates are made worse by wind chill exacerbated by the speed of the boat. Consider taking waterproof clothing, gloves, dry suits and helmets. Children get cold very quickly, so plan your trips accordingly.

Other personal kit can include sun cream (high protection factor); medication (and instructions); water; snacks; waterproofs, warm clothing; personal buoyancy; suitable footwear; sunglasses; sun hat; towel.

Boat equipment

You do not need to spend a fortune equipping a boat. It is more important to have the correct safety gear than the latest electronic gizmo. Inexpensive purchases can be made via: boat jumbles, web based auction sites, mail order catalogues or simply by shopping around the multitude of chandlers’ shops. The equipment carried depends on the intended area of use. It is vitally important that both you and the crew know how to operate the safety equipment. Ensure the equipment is stored in dry accessible places and consider marking lockers containing important items so that everything can be found easily.
Some items will depend on the area and particular use of the boat. Items to consider including the following.

Boat equipment: anchor with warp (rope) and chain, radar reflector, kill cord and a spare, tool kit and engine spares, compass, mobile phone, flares, fire extinguisher(s), a fire blanket, lifejackets or buoyancy aids, bilge pump or bailer, charts, watch or clock, first-aid kit, GPS, hull repair kit (e.g. wooden bungs) or tube repair kit, paddles or auxiliary outboard, mooring warps and fenders, throwing line, water, navigation- lights, horn, relevant shapes, VHF radio (fixed or hand-held), knife, almanac.

Extra equipment for longer offshore passages: EPIRB (a distress transmitter using satellites), PLB (Personal Locator Beacon – for man overboard situations), hand-held VHF, depth sounder, Iifebuoys with lights, Chartplotter or simple GPS unit, hand bearing compass, binoculars, liferaft.

A short video produced for New Zealand Marine Safety

When deciding on what to take, consider the following:


Choose the right size and type of anchor for your vessel and the nature of the sea bed. For example, an anchor designed for rocky bottoms may not hold in sand or mud.

Bailer/bucket/fire bucket

At least one solidly constructed bucket of metal, robust canvas or plastic must be carried with lanyard attached. It is useful as a safety item for both bailing water out and fighting fires.

The bucket can also be used as a sea anchor.

Bilge pump(s)

Vessels with covered bilges are required to be fitted with a bilge pump or pumps capable of draining each compartment of the vessel. They may be manual or powered and must be protected by a strainer to prevent choking of the pump suction.

Compass and chart

Any boat being operated offshore is required to have a compass. Even if your boat is fitted with satellite navigation equipment, a good marine compass will indicate the course back to shore if the electronic equipment fails or rain, fog or sea haze obliterates the land from view.

An appropriate chart or map that identifies prominent shore marks and offshore reefs and shoals is also required on all vessels offshore. Charts and maps help to determine your position, which can be of particular importance in an emergency.

Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers are becoming increasingly popular as a navigation aid but should never be relied on as the sole source of information regarding your position and course. Always carry a chart and check your position visually. Never navigate solely on the basis of the GPS at speed or at night.


Diagram showing how EPIRB works.

An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) suitable for marine use must transmit on 406 MHz and conform with all relevant standards. A 406 MHz EPIRB only complies if it conforms with Standard AS/NZS 4280.1 (It is the ‘1’ which indicates compliance).

Any 406 MHz EPIRB must be properly registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and have an AMSA registration sticker affixed.

A 406 MHz EPIRB is a simple and effective alerting and locating device that is compulsory for all vessels operating more than two nautical miles from the shore. It is also recommended for all vessels operating in remote locations or areas of high risk. The EPIRB should be accessible but stowed to avoid inadvertent activation. Do not stow the EPIRB in the bottom of a locker.

The diagram shows that when activated, EPIRB signals are detectable by satellites and aircraft. When a distressed vessel activates the EPIRB, the signal is received by a satellite, and the satellite relays the signal to the satellite receiving system. The search and rescue centre communicates with the search and rescue unit, such as a helicopter.

Fire extinguisher

All vessels with an electric start motor, gas installation, fuel stove or battery must carry a fire extinguisher. Fire extinguishers carried on board must be appropriate for the type of fuel carried on the vessel. Additional fire extinguishers may need to be carried if there are several fuel types onboard or the size of the vessel requires it.

Regular maintenance checks are recommended to ensure the charge indicator is registering in the green zone. If it is in the red zone you need to replace the extinguisher.

Image showing man leaning out of lifeboat holding a lit flare.


Flares signal that you are in trouble and provide an exact location for searching aircraft or vessels. Ignite them only when rescuers are in view and can spot your flare.

A minimum of two red hand flares (for night or day use) and two orange smoke flares (for day use) should be carried on all vessels – more when operating in open waters

You should be able to locate and ignite the correct flare in total darkness.

Most flares have a use-by date of three years and they must be replaced before the expiry date.

It is an offence to set off flares, except in an emergency.

Fresh drinking water

At least two litres of fresh drinking water per person must be carried on all vessels operating on any open (ocean) waters.

Marine radios

Different types of marine radios are available so have a look at where you will be going and get the right kit.

Marine radios are strongly recommended for all vessels operating out at sea.

They provide a means of advising shore stations of your itinerary, checking boating weather and navigational warnings and making distress calls which can be picked up by other vessels in the area or by shore stations.

Marine radios are relatively inexpensive and available for general use.

Paddles or oars and rowlocks

Oars with rowlocks and/or paddles must be carried on most vessels under six metres in length unless a second means of propulsion is fitted.

Owners of larger vessels should consider some means of auxiliary power as an effective safety device.

Sound signal

You must have some means of providing a sound signal, such as an airhorn, whistle or bell.

Waterproof floating torch

A floating waterproof torch must be carried on all vessels at all times and be operational. A torch is a valuable safety device for signalling, for use as a navigation light on small vessels at night and when working on the engine.

Spare bulbs and batteries should be carried.

First aid kit

It makes good sense to carry a complete first aid kit aboard, appropriate to the size of the boat.

Tool kit

Although not part of the safety equipment requirements, every vessel should have a tool kit.

The basic items in a tool kit include a spark plug spanner and spark plugs (for petrol engines), small adjustable spanner, pliers, metal file, wire brush, hacksaw and blade, phillips head and standard screwdrivers, spare fuel line, electrical wiring, insulation tape and a can of water repellent.

Care of equipment

Safety equipment is generally durable and long lasting. Keep small, storable items like flares, V sheet, EPIRB, torch and other bits and pieces in an accessible, sealed, waterproof container.

Make sure items like the radio and fire extinguisher are protected from saltwater.

You must look after your lifejackets, don’t use them as cushions or fenders and keep them away from oil and fuel. Remove new lifejackets from their plastic wrapping. Ensure they are stored in an accessible, dry and well ventilated area and let everyone on board know where they are.

Anchor –  A device, normally made of metal, used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the craft from drifting due to wind or current.
Bailer – It can be used for both bailing water out of the boat and fighting fires.
Bellows – adevice for producing a strong current of air, consisting of a chamber that can be expanded to draw    air through a valve and contracted to expel it through a tube.
Bilge pump – Vessels with covered bilges are required to be fitted with pumps capable of draining each compartment of the vessel. They may be manual or powered
Binocular – provide assistance to the captain, navigator, by allowing them to clearly make out navigational aids such as buoys and day marks..
Fender –  a cushion,as foam rubber or a wood float between a boat and a dock or between two boats that lessens shock and prevents chafing
Rocket parachute signal – A signal distress, a parachute flare fires an extremely bright pyrotechnic signal that floats from a small parachute. The flare can reach a height of about 300 m
Local chart –  It shows water depth, the shoreline of adjacent land, prominent topographic features, aids to navigation, and other navigational information.
Cable tie – A type of fastener, especially for binding several electronic cables or wires.
Distress flare pack – Include hand flares, rocket flares, buoyant floating smoking flares
Buoyant smoke signal – is a compact, day-time orange smoke distress signal providing effective position marking or indication of wind direction during rescue operations.
Drinking water – an emergency of drinking water should be carried at the rate of 2 litres per person on board.
Kill cord –  if used correctly, will stop the engine if the driver becomes dislodged from the helm position.
EPIRB – An alerting and locating device that is compulsory for all vessels operating more than 2 nautical miles from the shore. It is also recommended for all vessels operating in remote locations or areas of high risk.
Foam fire extinguishers –  for extinguish fires involving wood, paper & flammable Liquids. They are not suitable for use with electrical or Class D Fires.
First aid kit – content may include a first aid guide, seasickness tablets, non-prescription drugs, band aids, eye wash, elastic and crepe bandage…etc
Foam lifejacket – provide face-up flotation with sufficient levels of support  in various water activities. Life jackets have a buoyancy distribution sufficient to turn the users to a position where the mouth has a defined safe distance above the water surface.
Foghorn – a warning signal that makes a loud noise when it’s very foggy. The sound of a foghorn is a warning to sailors and ship captains.
GPS chart plotter – a device used in marine navigation that integrates GPS data with an electronic navigational chart. The chartplotter displays with the position, heading and speed of the ship, and may display additional information from radar, automatic information systems (AIS) or other sensors
Grab bag –  designed for marine aviation use,  waterproof and buoyant grab bag is perfect for holding emergency equipment
Hand Bearing compass – used to measure the magnetic direction of sighted objects relative to the user. While on the water usually concern your heading and your position
Hand flare – A distress signal, red in color and can be used during the day to show that you need help and require immediate. assistance.
Handheld radio – work within specific frequencies reserved for marine use, can monitor and respond to distress calls, and can usually receive weather reports and severe weather alerts
Heliograph – A type of sunshine recorder. which records the duration of sunshine and gives a quantitative measure of the amount of sunshine by the action of the sun’s rays upon blueprint paper.
Horseshoe buoy- A floatation device shaped like a U and thrown to people in the water in emergencies.
Inflatable lifejacket –  a personal flotation device, inflating it with a gas by compressed gas cylinder or alternatively by an oral tube attached on the life jacket
Safety knife – for cutting rope off the propeller
Lifebuoy – A buoyant device, such as a cork or polystyrene ring,for keeping a person afloat in water
Lifebuoy light – A self-igniting light with a lanyard attach to lifebuoy
Liferaft –  A raft used in case of emergencies, such as sinking or fire, inflated by compressed gas. Provide a amount of shelter, equipment, hypothermia protection and a larger target for rescuers
Mask and snorkel – use for dive in water to clean the bottom or cut the rope off the propeller.
Paddles – must be carried on most vessels under 6m in length unless a second means of propulsion is fitted.
Phone charger – during at sea, your phone might be getting a weak signal. Weak signals can kill a battery faster. It is better to bring a phone charger before you get on a boat.
Radar reflector – An electronic devices that receive the incoming radar energy, amplify it, and then re-transmit it so that the ship sees a greatly increased reflection on its radar screen.
Buoyant rescue quoit and line – quoit and retrieval line provides assistance to survivors some distance from the survival craft.
Rescue rope – a rope that floats, usually attached with lifebuoy, Intended for high-load applications
Safety equipment –   Including liferafts, life jackets, waterprrof torch, whistle, immersion suits, and various other pieces of marine safety equipment
SART – an electronic device that automatically reacts to the emission of a radar. This enhances the visibilty on a radar screen,  ease the search of a ship in distress or a liferaft.
Sea anchor –  a device used to stabilize a boat in heavy weather, increases the drag through the water and thus acts as a brake.
Seasickness tablets – tables to prevent unpleasant combination of symptoms, such as dizziness, nausea and vomiting that can occur when sailing at sea.
Spare navigation light – It is important check all navigation lights working properly Spare navigation lights … replaced before start of passage
Spark plug socket –  to remove the spark plug. This specialty socket have rubber inserts to protect the spark plug’s ceramic body, and they’re available in a variety of sizes to fit any size spark plug.
Spark plug – A plug for all marine applications including inboards, diesel engines that require glow plugs, outboards, jet boats and personal watercraft.
Sun hat – a head covering specifically designed to shade the face and shoulders from the sun
Sunscreen – a lotion, spray or other topical product that absorbs or reflects some of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and thus helps protect against sunburn
Emergency food ration – provide a balanced diet for survival at sea.
Tide table – table used for tidal prediction and show the daily times and heights of high water and low water
Tool kit – Include a spark plug spanner and spark plugs (for petrol engines), small adjustable spanner, pliers, metal file, wire brush, hacksaw and blade, phillips head and standard screwdrivers, spare fuel line, electrical wiring, insulation tape and a can of water repellent.
Watch – It is better have a waterproof or even better a water resistant one before start the voyage.
Water dispersant spray- Spray lubricates, penetrates and protects. Ideal for wet engines to disperse excess moisture and keep out salt. Corrosion inhibitor added to help prevent rust.
Cell phone waterproof bag – Bag Protects your phone from water, sand, grease and dust.
Waterproof slate – For writing down the emergency information broadcast by Traffic Control or reported by ship nearby in distress…etc
Waterproof torch – Is a valuable safety device for signalling, for use as a navigation light on small vessels at night and when working on the engine.Spare bulbs and batteries should be carried.
Whistles – for any life-saving situation, makes sure you have a signalling device nearby when in distress.

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