Boat Safety Equipment Checklist

Ready to get out on the water? Before you do, it is vital to plan accordingly. The pre-departure checklist will help you not be caught unprepared at any point in your trip. Download this checklist and remember to complete one every time you get out on your boat!

Items most commonly included on a pre-departure checklist are listed below. Because not every person, boat, or trip is the same, make sure to include all additional items that you know are necessary for your situation.

Personal Flotation Devices (Life Jackets)

  • At least one U.S. Coast Guard–approved personal floatation device is required on board per passenger. The minimum number of PFDs required is two, regardless of the number of people on board.
  • Boats longer than 16 feet must also have a throwable Type IV PFD on board.
  • All passengers should know where the PFDs are located.

Sound-Producing Devices

  • At least two sound-signaling devices (air horn, bell, or whistle) are required on board.
  • Always pack a spare can of compressed air if your sound signal is an air horn.


  • Make sure all navigation lights are up to requirements and in working order.
  • Always carry a backup flashlight on board.

Distress Signals

  • All passengers need to know how to use and locate distress signals. Flares should be stored in a dry, easily accessible location.

Docking and Anchoring

  • One anchor attached to an anchor line is required on all boats—always inspect anchor lines before going out on the water.
  • Two fenders are needed for docking—always check the fenders before getting out on the water.
  • Have some spare dock lines on board.


  • Always carry your boater education card, boat registration, radio license, and documentation for activities such as fishing.
  • Make sure you have local charts for quick reference.

Fire Extinguishers

  • If your boat is required to have a U.S. Coast Guard–approved fire extinguisher, make sure it is stored in an accessible place.
  • Know your fire extinguisher’s expiration date and replace it when necessary.
  • Make sure it is securely mounted.
  • Notify passengers of the fire extinguisher’s location.

Tools and Spares

  • Always have a toolbox on board with spare parts, including fuel filters and light bulbs.

Emergency Boat Operation

  • Inform passengers of all emergency procedures.
  • Carry a VHF radio and know how to use it.
  • Always keep a well-stocked first-aid kit in an easily accessible location.

Fuel and Oil

  • Always check fuel, oil, and coolant levels before departing for the trip.


  • On powered vessels, make sure enclosed spaces are well ventilated.
  • Run the blower for four full minutes before turning on the inboard engine.
  • If fumes are present after blowing, look for a leak or spill.

Battery Care

  • Make sure the battery is fully charged before departing.
  • Make sure all battery-powered equipment is working and that you have spare batteries.

Weather Forecast

  • Always know the weather forecast in your area before getting on the water.
  • Keep a handheld radio handy and regularly monitor the weather.


  • Ensure the bilge is dry and clear of waste and that your bilge pump is working correctly.

Float Plan

  • File a float plan with passengers and boat information with a friend or responsible party.

You should also read:

Boating Terminology

Parts of a Boat