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Coast Guard Required Equipment
The Rest of the Gear We Recommend
Most new boats arrive from the factory with the equipment to meet the minimum Coast Guard safety requirements, and not much more. Of course, there may be a stereo with all the latest SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a telescoping boarding ladder, comfortable cockpit cushions, color-coordinated fenders, and everything else needed to dazzle the customer at the boat show, but there is a lot of safety gear that is not included. What else should you purchase?
As representatives of West Marine, we're tempted to present an extensive list of "must have" equipment. As boaters ourselves, who have experienced the "sticker shock" of purchasing a new vessel, we know how the extras can add up to a lot of cash. We'll therefore try to take a moderate approach, and suggest some key safety products you will want. Helping you equip your new boat with what you really need is good customer service, good for our bottom line, and good for promoting safety on the waterways.
Numbers tell the story
Most recent statistics show that boating accidents in the United States account for about 700 deaths, nearly 4,000 injuries, and over $40 million in property damage annually. Most boating fatalities—over half of all cases—happen because a vessel capsizes or somebody falls overboard. Of those who drown, 87 percent are not wearing a life jacket. In most states children are required to wear a Personal Flotation Device, but adults can use their discretion, and many boaters choose to leave the PFD sitting in a locker. When an emergency happens, the PFD in the lazarette is useless.
The solution? Invest in a comfortable PFD appropriate for your type of boating and wear it every day. We see an extensive selection of unobtrusive PFDs are on the market, and we especially like inflatable life jackets. Lower priced models like the West Marine Coastal PFDs are available with 26lb. of buoyancy, instead of the 35lb. coastal or offshore versions. These streamlined, lightweight vests are perfect for inshore boating on lakes and rivers, don't inhibit your movement, and are available in automatic, manual and manual beltpack activation.
The Lifesling product range
If boaters go overboard with or without a lifejacket, getting hoisted back aboard is the most daunting challenge. Extensive testing of Crew Overboard Recovery gear in San Francisco Bay produced a clear consensus that one product, the Lifesling, is a great device for getting a person back to the boat and aboard safely. The Lifesling2 includes a flotation collar (a hybrid of a traditional horseshoe buoy and a helicopter rescue sling) with 125' of floating retrieving line. It can be towed to the victim so they do not need to swim after it, and then used as a lifting sling (using a separate hoisting tackle). The Lifesling Inflatable combines these capabilities with the compactness and throwability of a rescue throw rope bag, inflating instantly on hitting the water.
Coast Guard safety inspection results
Communication, or the inability to contact rescuers to get assistance, is also a problem. When the Coast Guard Auxiliary performs free boating safety equipment checks, they have found VHF radios to be the most common missing piece of recommended safety gear (missing from 33 percent of the inspected boats). A VHF is one of the key safety items onboard, and especially now with Digital Selective Calling. DSC is like 911 for your boat—better in fact, because rescuers have the technology to determine exactly who and where you are, and sometimes the exact nature of your emergency. But to make DSC work, boaters need three things: a DSC-equipped VHF, a connection to a GPS receiver (to pinpoint your position so rescuers can find you), and to register for a free MMSI Number (so they know who you are). Push one red button on your radio, and it automatically sends a distress message to everyone within radio range.
Safety checks also reveal that many boats are equipped with bilge pumps that are not sufficient to handle a real emergency. The common fallacy is that small boats require small pumps and big boats need big pumps, and the facts support the reverse conclusion. A small runabout, with a very limited volume of interior hull space, can afford to ship only a limited quantity of water (like one decent sized wave) before engines or batteries are submerged and a real emergency occurs. Since a typical outboard or I/O with engine failure naturally turns broadside or stern-to the waves, a disabled vessel presents its most vulnerable face at the worst time. That's why we advise our customers, when replacing a pump, to buy the biggest model that fits the hoses in their boat. Centrifugal pumps are cheap, and upgrading from 360 to 800 gallons per hour (with the same 3/4" ports) is almost a no-brainer.
A lack of adequate ground tackle, either no anchor at all or a system without the scope or weight for the local conditions, has caused many boats to end up on the rocks. For smaller boats with less rigorous anchoring requirements, anchor and rode packages are economical. We test anchors frequently, and completed a series of tests in 2007 with representatives from SAIL, Yachting Monthly, and Power & Motoryacht magazines. After dozens of anchor tests in the past, this was by far our best-documented and instrumented test. We used a 10,000lb. load cell, which read in 2lb. increments, linked to a computer running Excel. We had cameras, GPS receivers, lots of observers, and a powerful boat with a very capable captain. The Fortress aluminum anchor once again achieved spectacular numbers. We were also very impressed by the “roll bar” anchors, including the Manson Supreme.
Many boats that venture offshore carry an EPIRB, a satellite beacon to summon rescue during a life- or vessel-threatening emergency. Less expensive and pocket-sized versions, called Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs), are available and can mobilize Search and Rescue assistance anywhere on land or water. PLBs can go along in a dinghy, and on backpacking, cross-country skiing or river rafting trips. While an EPIRB protects the boat, a PLB ensures the boater's personal safety. The Fastfind 210 PLB, manufactured by McMurdo, includes an internal GPS receiver and is the smallest, most affordable PLB.
Equip for the conditions
In conclusion, these are the conditions where we encourage you to upgrade to higher performance safety products:
Cold water: few environments in the world are as dangerous to humans as cold water. If you operate your boat in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes or in other cold-water regions, offer gear that protects them from hypothermia.
Poor visibility: things get challenging in a hurry in foggy areas, rainsqualls or at night, with a far greater need for radar reflectors, radar, quality navigation lights and sound signals.
Distance from help: if your cruising route includes the coast of Mexico, Bermuda or a trip to Hawaii, you'll be far from the convenience of your local boating supply store and far from the security of the US Coast Guard. The need to be self-sufficient is greatly increased away from inland and coastal US waters.
Rapidly changing weather conditions: many boating areas are subject to squalls or other fast moving weather systems that can stir up trouble in a hurry. Boats operating in these areas should have gear aboard which can be used defensively, like larger anchors, lightning detectors and grounds, mainsail reefing equipment, drogues and sea anchors.
Rough seas: many areas, like San Francisco Bay in the summer, have consistently strong winds and heavy chop. That makes for great sailing, but also raises equipment requirements for sailboats and powerboats alike.
For more info:
Read this short article on how to stay safe from the Coast Guard: 12 Tips for 12 Weeks of Summer.