Safety equipment on a sailboat

Safety equipment on a sailboat is mandatory. The type of safety equipment you need to carry on your sailboat very much depends on its size and purpose. We will try to set out some tables showing you what safety equipment you need for your specific circumstances after which we elaborate on each of the requirements individually…

Legislative framework

Safety equipment on boats is a state issue so there will be differences between requirements from state-to-state. Saying this, luckily there are more similarities than differences between the states.

For the purposes of this article, we will talk about your average cruising yacht which is none-commercial and with an engine larger than 3kW. Boats of this size need to be registered and rules and regulations are specific to this “recreational demographic.

To be ready for emergencies you should comply with the rules and regulations that covern boat safety. To comply with your General Safety Obligation you should carry the appropriate safety equipment for the or waters where you will be boating. This will ensure you are prepared for an emergency or any unexpected events.

MUST carry equipment Smooth waters Partially smooth waters Beyond partially smooth waters
EPIRB or PLB* Yes
Flares (2 red hand-held and 2 orange smoke) Yes Yes
Fire fighting equipment Yes Yes Yes
Signalling device if operating at between sunset and sunrise (e.g. torch, lantern, glow stick) Yes Yes Yes
V sheet Yes Yes Yes
Lifejackets Lifejacket level 50, 100, 150, 275 or level 50 Lifejacket level 100, 150, 275 or level 50 Lifejacket level 100, 150, 275
SHOULD carry equipment Smooth waters Partially smooth waters Beyond partially smooth waters
Anchor With cable appropriate for the size of vessel With cable appropriate for the size of vessel With cable appropriate for the size of vessel
Chart Yes Yes
Compass Yes Yes
Drinking water Yes Yes Yes
Pumping or bailing equipment Yes Yes Yes
Handheld electronic navigation device (if not equipped with a chart and compass) Yes Yes
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Beyond partially smooth waters
GPS and chart redundancy In addition to your chart plotter, carry some smaller tablet or phone size systems. Apps for mobile devices are super cheap and even without subscribing to detailed charts, they will tell you where you are on a rudimentary map.
Power redundancy Make sure you carry a small solar array to charge you mobile phone in case your regular power supplies have failed. This could also be replaced with a good quality "power bank" which does the same job. Having both is best.
VHF radio Any boat moving beyond mobile reception should have a VHF radio. You need a license to operate these so do the simple course and get yourself some must have comms.
AIS Having AIS (Automatic identification systems) not only shows you where other ships are but also lets other ships know where you are.
Radar If you are operating in areas where visibility is often affected by mist or fog, get yourself a radar.
Get yourself a first-class first aid kit. You can read more about first aid kits for sailboats here. First aid on a sailboat

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