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8 things to include on a small boat safety checklist

As someone who has fished from a small boat all my life, I am shocked when I see a watercraft whose occupants have clearly just jumped in and drove off, perhaps with almost nothing in the boat but themselves and often obviously overloaded. Sometimes I think that every boat’s cannon should have a non-removable small boat safety checklist affixed by the boat manufacturer.

They don’t, of course, but you can make your own small boat safety checklist. I actually have two checklists for my own use, one for kayaks and one for other types of small boats. They contain other items for small boat fishing in addition to safety items, and I refer to them before any trip in the water to make sure I don’t forget what I need or want to take with me.

There are security items that you must have and security items that you should have. These vary depending on the size and type of boat. A small boat makes fewer demands on safety equipment, but no less on safety. This post explains these requirements in more detail.

If you define a small boat as a boat less than 20 feet in length, which could include both a high powered bass boat and a 12 foot non-powered jonboat or kayak, here are some things to keep on your small safety checklist Note boats:

1. Drain plug

You’re not going anywhere without one, and it should fit snugly in the mirror’s drain hole.

2. Life jacket (PFD)

State and state laws require that each person on board have an appropriately sized personal flotation device (PFD). Teenagers under a certain age (check your state rules) must carry a PFD at all times on a small boat.

3. Fire extinguishers

This would apply to boats over 16 feet in length and those with a permanent or immobile gas tank.

4. A device for generating sound

These include a horn, bell, or whistle, the latter being most commonly used for kayakers, canoeists, and small aluminum or wooden vehicles.

5. A visual distress signal

Boats under 16 feet are exempt from this requirement, but a torch, or at least a flag, could one day be a lifesaver.

6. Navigation lights

Navigation lights are a night consideration and a requirement for larger vessels. Small unpowered boats should be able to produce a light to ward off a collision, and a white stern light is preferable.

7. Different needs

While these are not strictly safeguards in and of themselves, these items should also be kept when boating and fishing from a small boat: dock line to secure the boat; an anchor and a sufficient anchor line; one or more oars or paddles. Still, add them to a small boat safety checklist.

8. Checking the total weight

Finally, make sure that the total weight of occupants and equipment does not exceed the maximum capacity of the boat, which would lead to an unsafe condition, and make capsizing due to wave motion or switching bodies a real problem.

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