Boating Tips: Winter boat safety check and preparedness

Published 12:26 am Sunday, January 18, 2015

With our boats tucked away for the winter, now is the perfect time to check your safety equipment.

PFD, Personal Flotation Devices: Have an approved personal flotation device for every person on board, including children and adults. Consider pet PFD too. PFD requirements cover any length boat, including canoes and kayaks. Boats 16’ or longer should have one Type IV throwable PFD. The new Type V, inflatable PFD while expensive is comfortable, assuring greater wear and saves more lives.

Don’t forget your dinghy PFD. My wife and I had a waterproof dinghy bag with extra PFDs, navigation lights, small first aid kit, flashlight, and four flares. We added a mud anchor with 20’ of line and a beach towel for warmth or sunshade. Our waterproof, hand held radio went in the bag as we left the boat.

Fire extinguishers: Forget the rules about outboards and boats with fixed fire extinguishing systems. In a fire too many extinguishers is never enough. Boats less than 26’ should have one Type B-1, handheld extinguisher, 26’-40’, two extinguishers and 40’-65’, three extinguishers with one being a Type B-II. The Coast Guard requires fewer handheld fire extinguishers on boats with fixed fire suppression systems. Since, fire extinguishers empty rapidly even in a small fie, meeting the minimum requirement is not enough.

Ventilation systems: Engine compartment venting (blower, ducts and outlets) must operate. Check clamps and for leaky ducts. Replace worn parts. Remove obstructions and gear from the intake side. Check outlets, removing bird and wasp nests. Fiberglass window screen glued behind the outlet prevents critters, birds and insects from entering ducts and the engine compartment.

Sound signal: Test each whistle, horn or other sound signal device or system. If the sound is weak, repair or replace. Add cheap whistles to every PFD especially those with the dinghy, canoe and kayak since more people die using these than large vessels.

Backfire flame arrestor: Inboard gasoline engines must have a marine approved backfire, flame arrestor. Dust and dirt clog them in regular use. Wipe with a cloth saturated with WD-40 or similar solvent to remove oil soaked particles. Also, inspect for holes and corrosion. Replace when needed.

Visual distress signals: Requirements differ by boat size, type, use and normal operating hours. Determine your boat’s visual distress signal requirement. Inspect flares and rockets for expiration dates and update to guarantee they work. Flares and rockets, like fire extinguishers, you can never have enough. We kept one outdated group as back up with a couple of outdated flares in our dinghy bag.

Depending on your boat and boating area, an emergency flag, signal mirror, smoke flares and florescent painter will aid in your rescue.

Navigation lights: Similar to visual distress signals, navigation light requirements differ. Turn on your navigation and anchor lights. If faint, replace the bulb. If not working, check for loose wires or blown fuses before replacing the bulb. Clean the lens, remembering not to use petroleum solvent or abrasive cleaners that damage plastic. Do not mount objects like flags and rod holders where they obstruct its view.

While not required safety items, lines and anchors lines: inspect, clean and allow lines to air dry or repair or replace when necessary. Anchor: inspect the anchor and connections then repair and replace.

Finally, vessels 39’ and larger must have a copy of USCG Navigation Rules — international and inland, rules of the road. However, it is a good idea for all boats to have and be aware of these navigational rules.

Come spring, you’ve prepared your boat to pass safety inspection plus be safe on the water.

For more boating safety and education opportunities, visit your local Power Squadron web site at or contact Tom at 252-946-7632 or to register for any boating class or seminars.

Biff Matthews is a member of Pamlico Sail and Power Squadron.