Friday, March 9, 2018


This article is part of a two article series about what safety equipment is required and what is needed. If you look at the picture above do you see any issues with the boat? The sun is setting and the boat has no lights, making matters worse the cloud coverage is making it darker sooner. Even with a big sail sticking up in the air the boat will become more and more invisible as the sun goes down creating a dangerous visibility situation not only for the people on this boat but for others that might now see them and run into them.

It seems some get confused about what safety gear is required on their small trailerable sailboats, 26 feet and under, which this article is geared. I think the confusion in part is due to safety checklists being geared are for all boats, more specifically geared towards powerboats. In all my searching online I could not find a single small sailboat safety checklist. The good news is attached to this post I have created and attached such a safety checklist.

So let's get started and eliminate the confusion...

1 & 2. PROOF: The first items you need on your boat is your registration numbers/letters and stickers, plus your registration documentation on the boat and ID on your person. In almost every state your boat needs to be registered, and the trailer must be registered (remember to cross the safety chains when trailering, it's the law). If you live in a state such as Washington that does not require sailboats that have no motor of 16 feet and under to be registered and then you go to a state where it does, your likely to have issues with law enforcement when they see no registration numbers on your boat. My recommendation is register your boat no matter what, plus it's a plus if your boat is stolen. Like with your car you need your license plates on and with boats you need your registration numbers/letters on your hull(s). Numbers must be highly visible in block letters that are at least 3 inches high and placed nearest the bow. Validation/Registration stickers (some call them Decals or Tabs) like with cars you will get two stickers (to place on either side of the hull) to put at the end of the series of numbers/letters. Some states have invasive species stickers that are placed aft of the validation stickers. See your state laws for any differences. Boats are not required to be insured as is the case with cars.

Remember Safe Boating Certification is required in all but 4 states (for now) if operating a boat of 10 hp or greater. It's only a matter of time before the motor hp limit is removed. A little
 extra education can only be helpful so is best just to take the class and get the certification. You can get this certification online for a small fee at or for free when taking it in class or during one of our beginning sailing classes. A note of caution... If you get this certification from the US Coast Guard Auxiliary some states do not recognize certifications from this organization, which is strange when it's the Coast Guard that sets the standards. California is a state that does this, who knew this would happen in CA. ;)

3. EXTINGUISHERS: Fire extinguishers are required if your boat has gas on board, and if so a B1 type is required. I recommend you get a type BII, why because it is not that much bigger and gives you a little more time to put out a fire. I actually recommend all boats carry a fire extinguisher even if not required because you never know when you will be needed to help put out a fire. Remember this article is related to sailboats 26 feet and under.

4. Life Jackets or Personal Flotation Device (PFD) in great condition of the correct size must be available for all on board. Any child 12 years old or under while the boat is underway MUST be wearing theirs. Life jackets must be readily accessible, meaning out in the open, not stored away or stuffed in a bag, etc. All PFD's are made for certain conditions. Type III or inland waters PFD's for example are perfect for lakes but if you try to use them on the coast the Coast Guard will require you to go and buy the right ones (Type II/near shore), you may even get a ticket. My recommendation is to always use Type II's/near coastal PFD's because even big lakes can potentially have ocean like conditions. Basically all PFD's are designed to keep you afloat and some float you higher than others, the lower the number the higher the flotation. Type I and II will help keep you face up when unconscious, a big plus for anyone, particularly for those with disAbilities who can not swim, etc. Also if your boat is 16 feet or longer you must have a US Coast Guard approved type 4 throwable flotation device, such as a square like seat cushion (a seat cushion is not approved) or life ring, etc. I recommend having more than one throwable on board so if someone falls overboard you can throw a bunch in the water, basically literal the water with them so the person in the water has a choice of which one to go for. Also it makes the person in the water more visible so no other boats run the person over. State, County, and City laws vary so check first before going boating.

5. SIGNALS: Day/night Visual Distress Signals (VDS) are required on all boats operating between sunset and sunrise. To keep it simple buy a night and day pyrotechnic, if not one could buy a day emergency signal flag (flag with black squire and black circle on orange background) and add a mirror for day signalling (mirrors are not recognized as a qualifying day signal by the US Coast Guard but are recommended especially if you do not have a day pyrotechnic signal), and a flashlight for the night that one can use for a SOS signaling. Boats under 16 feet are not required to have distress signals because you should not be out on the water at night, however we all know things happen that could result in you being out at night, so just have a VDS on board.

6. VENTILATION: Proper ventilation is noted on all safety checklists but sailboats up to and under 26 feet in length do not have any ventilation requirements. Sailboats built with cabins and compartments where small portable gas tanks can be stored are typically built with vents, but not always so make sure you check to make sure you have proper ventilation. If you keep gas for a cooking stove and/or fuel for your outboard and put them inside your boat of course there MUST always be ventilation.

7. SOUND: One must have a sound producing device. Basically all you need is a whistle that can be heard a half mile away. You want a whistle that will work when wet, so make sure its a high quality outdoor/marine whistle. Instead of a whistle there are all types of air horns available from very small in size to large, with a mechanical or manual method to produce the sound. I recommend you put a whistle on each Like Jacket so such a sound producing device is available at all times.

8. LIGHTS: Working navigation lights must be operational on your boat if you are operating between sunset and sunrise, no exceptions. If your boat is under 16 feet all you need is a white light, such as a powerful flashlight, but if your boats theoretical hull speed is 7 knots or greater then you will need a three light navigation system (Red port light, Green Starboard light, and white stern light) no matter its length. If your boat is 16 feet or greater in length then no matter its theoretical hull speed it must have the three light navigation system. Every time you go sailing you must check and make sure your light(s) are working. One more note if you are anchoring for the night you must have a white mast light.

9. TOILET: If your boat has a toilet it must be operational, secure, and not able to discharge into the water.

10. LAWS: An important requirement is to be aware of the laws and rule of where you are sailing. For instance there can be environmentally protected areas one is not allowed to sail, or military restricted zones, or LJ requirements beyond what you have on board. So it is REQUIRED that you check and be in compliance with local, county, and state laws beyond what is required federally. Also many states have launch, moorage, and other usage fees, some of which are not available on site. If you do not pay the fee expect to get a ticket. Doing a little planning goes a long way in creating an enjoyable sailing experience.

11. CONDITIONS: The final REQUIREMENT is that the boat MUST be in overall good condition to be on the water. See attached checklist.

12. RECOMMENDED: Please see the attached documents for recommended items to have on board, such as cell phone and/or VHF radio, first aid kit, chart/map, etc.

SMALL SAILBOAT SAFETY CHECKLIST: Page 1 & 2 Jpeg pics. To convert to PDF files save the pics and then load them into following site converter...

SEE Other great articles...

Buying a used sailboat link
What to rent a sailboat link

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