Here’s a list of the things you should always bring on your boat.
We have written extensively about all types of boats for a long time and these are the things we believe should be standard equipment for all captains.
Let’s get started!
1) A Handheld Horn (For Backup)
If the horn on your vessel fails you it’s great to have a backup.
The horn sometimes dysfunction. In that case, it’s absolutely crucial to bring a handheld horn you can sound to alert other boats or in order to get found in case of emergency.
This horn is a powerful 120db signal that meets all the USCG requirements:
Make sure to bring a bike pump as you can use it to refill the air tank. Very handy and easy to fill up with 10-20 pumps!
2) Extra Life Vests
This next one is a no-brainer. You should always bring extra life vests in proper sizes for when you are bringing guests on the boat.
Here’s our recommended model. It’s a very popular model from O’Neill and you can check the sizes and numbers on the chart that’s uploaded as an image on the product listing below.
It is important that you make sure that each passenger’s life jacket fits them and is proper for their particular weight.
Children’s life jackets are very important, especially when it comes to fit. Children under a certain age are also required to wear life jackets at all times while on the boat. These regulations change based on area, so you will want to know your laws.
3) First Aid and Safety Kit
It is also important to have a first aid kit on board while you are out on the water. This will help you deal with any emergency that might arise while out on the water or even at the beach.
In your safety kit, you will also need emergency equipment. This equipment includes:
You can check the price here at Amazon.
You need to make sure it contains:
- Flares in case you need to signify your location. This electronic flare never expires and meets USCG regulations
(It’s required by law and the coast guards regularly check for these!)
- Bandages etc.
- A handy multi-tool with a screwdriver, cutting edges, different wrench sizes, etc.
- A loud whistle
- A water-proof case
A properly packed safety kit can help you in any emergency. You should place all this in a dry box and store it somewhere on the vessel.
Some other things that you could keep in case of emergency are spare towels or spare clothes.
I myself like to have a sweatshirt on the boat no matter how warm it seems to be outside. Sometimes it cools off in the evening and on the off chance you are stuck out on the water later than you intend to, it can come in handy.
4) Fire Extinguisher
A fire extinguisher is important to have on the boat. You are required to have a fire extinguisher onboard by law. You will want to make sure that it is charged and usable.
You cannot necessarily use a regular fire extinguisher but you will need a marine fire extinguisher. Make sure you know the difference and pick up the proper one.
Here’s the one we recommend:
A paddle is a good thing to have in case of engine failure. Depending on the size of your boat this might not be feasible, but for smaller boats, this can be a lifesaver.
We recommend this paddle that also double-functions as a hook:
We love this paddle because:
- It’s telescopic so it can fit in small spaces
- It’s plastic so it flats
- It’s also a hook
- It’s affordable!
You can even purchase a fold-able paddle that will save space when stored.
6) Jump Starter / Battery Bank
In case something does happen with your battery, you will want to invest in a jump pack for your boat, or at least the proper jumper cables for your particular engine.
These can be very useful for other charging needs as well.
With phones becoming an increasing part of our lives, it is good to make sure you have a way to charge them. Your phone can act as a GPS, a way to call for help, or even a flashlight.
With a solar panel, you will often not be able to bring the battery back to a full charge using solar energy alone.
We recommend this bandit from Noco. It will not only jump-start ANY boat engine but it will also let you charge your electronic devices several times.
Having your own jump pack, or cables will ensure that if you need help from another vessel you are not relying on them having cables.
7) Solar Panel (For Backup Power)
A solar panel can be the best piece of emergency equipment you can buy for your vessel. Like a car, the battery on your boat can die when used too much while the engine isn’t running.
A boat can use even more battery than a vehicle because you are more likely to casually hang out on a boat and run equipment like lights and the radio.
When purchasing a solar panel, you will want to make sure you do not buy one that will “overcharge” your battery.
Here’s a popular model we recommend:
You can mount it with silicone adhesive or even velcro! Or you can keep it in the storage departments until you might need it.
A solar panel should not be a complete replacement for other battery chargers, but it can help to keep your battery alive while other chargers are not operating.
General Boating Equipment
Besides safety equipment, there are other things that you need for your boat. This equipment is often things that are not thought about until they are needed.
You will want to make sure you have every piece of equipment necessary before you set out on your vessel. There is nothing worse than being out on the water, needing something, and not having it.
9) Dock Lines
Dock lines are needed to fix your boat to the dock. You will need dock lines on the boat in case you are going to tie up on an unfamiliar dock.
This could include a marina or a dockside restaurant. If you cannot tie up in these areas properly, it could be dangerous to your vessel and the other patrons. Most of these places will not service you if you are not properly tied up to their docks.
These are the ones we recommend. They are made by Predator and are extremely durable. They come with a handy bag so you always know where they are and to avoid getting them tangled up in other stuff.
I myself have lines that are permanently fixed to our dock and end in clips that fix to the boat. This eliminates the guesswork and effort that can go along with tying off.
Boat fenders are sometimes called “boat bumpers”. These are used to make sure that your boat does not bump against things when it is rocked by waves.
These can be used when you tie your boat to a dock or even another boat. This can be especially useful when you are tied off to a large metal wall often found on rivers.
These are the ones we recommend:
You can check the prices here at Amazon (they vary per size.)
It is good to have at least two, for the front and the back of the mooring side, but it can’t hurt to have a spare or two. It is better to be over-prepared and it can’t hurt to overprotect your boat.
All boats need an anchor. This ensures your boat does not go anywhere while you are not currently using it or otherwise run the engine.
Each anchor type is better for a different water bottom as well as for different types of vessels. You will want to look up which anchor is right for you.
It is also a good idea to have multiple anchors on your vessel. Having two anchors and two anchor types can be good in case you do not know what type of water bottom you are expecting.
This is a great anchor that we recommend you keep on your boat:
Most anchors allow for a vessel to drift with changes in wind and the waves. This is not a bad thing when you have enough space to do so. This can only be bad when you are on a crowded beach and do not have the luxury of drifting.
In this scenario, two anchors can anchor you and reduce drifting. This will allow you to confidently anchor next to other vessels.
Two anchors can also be good if you need to stay extra steady in a crowded area.
Some anchors work better for sand, some work better in mud, and some work better in rocks or grass:
An anchor is highly important for the integrity of your boat and you will want to make sure you do the research to find the type that is best for you.
When you are picking out an anchor you will want to make sure you find the right type and size for your boat. Each anchor has a different level of “holding power” which means you will need a different weight for your boat depending on which one you choose.
If you are unsure, always opt for the heavier choice.
12) GPS / Fish Finder (must-read!)
GPS navigation devices can be very useful on your boat. If you are going on a boat in unfamiliar waters, a GPS can really help you find your way around.
This is not the only thing they can do, however. A GPS device used on a boat is often also equipped with depth measures and fish finders. This can be helpful if you are a fisherman or even if you just want to know how deep the water is.
Knowing the depth can be very important. If the water is too shallow you will need to know so you can properly lift your engine or perform other precautions.
Here’s a GPS we can recommend.
It’s great because it can:
- High-frequency sonar system to show you what’s in the water
- Will locate fish around you
- Will mark and safe a good spot for you
- See your position in relation to waypoints you choose.
- See all the cool features here…
Shallow water is also likely to have large obstructions like rocks or trees.
If you do not know these are there, you can damage your prop or engine on impact with them.
You also want to know how deep the water is in case you intend to jump off while swimming. Like a pool, you will not want to dive into water that is too shallow because you can risk hitting your head.
These devices are getting more technologically advanced every day and most include touch screen displays.
13) VHF Radio
A VHF radio is often used to communicate between vessels or between a vessel and shore. These are most commonly used on large ships and small watercrafts that plan to set shore in the sea.
This does not mean that you cannot use it on a smaller vessel, or on a river or lake.
A VHF radio can be used to summon rescue services or other communication needs including communications with:
- or marinas.
When going through a lock system, it is required that you be able to communicate with the operators.
Radios communicate on channels. There are multiple channels and you will want to know which ones to use to get help if needed. There are different protocols to use depending on what type of vessel you are on, what type of water body you are on, and what type of traffic is near you.
Here’s the VHF radio we recommend:
Check the prices here on Amazon.
(it’s not without reason this bandit has the best review-score on Amazon!)
You will want to be familiar with not only the radio channels but also the proper protocol on how to use it.
14) Navigation Lights
Each vessel is required to have proper navigation lights.
Navigation lights are required to be used in cases of low visibility brought on by conditions like fog or heavy rain. They are also required when the vessel is away from the dock between sunset and sunrise.
In the dark, navigation lights can help you see and can also help others to see you.
Navigation lights required are different per vessel. You should never have FLASHING red or blue lights on your vessel. These are only to be used by law enforcement vessels.
Most vessels require a red and green light visible of up to at least two miles away. These are used to indicate the sides of your boat and help other boaters know how wide your vessel is.
Here is a great option:
It is also required that you have a white light.
Depending on the length of your vessel you may only need one, or you may need one on the front and the back.
You will want to make sure you know what is required of your particular vessel. It is highly important that you are able to see while boating in the dark. A lack of vision can be dangerous for any motorist and a boat operator is no exception.
It’s always nice to have a good binocular onboard your vessel. It’s great for spotting things and knowing what approaches you.
This is a great model that we can recommend because they are water-proof and they float in the water:
Recreational Equipment You Should Consider
Most recreational boat owners use their boat for just that, recreation.
The final category of equipment that we are going to talk about is recreational equipment. Not everything in this category is required, but depending on what you want to do on your boat, you will want to make sure you have the proper equipment for your recreational activities.
This might seem obvious, but if you are going out on a boat and are bringing food and drinks, you will want a cooler.
It is important that you at least bring plenty of water while boating.
Dehydration can be very serious and you are more susceptible while out on the water with very few sources of shade.
You will also want to make sure that you keep drinks and cold food in the cooler. Spoiled food can be bad for you as well.
21) Tow Lines
Tow lines can be used for a variety of water sports.
These can include tubing, water skiing, kneeboarding, and other activities.
You will want to make sure that you purchase or use the proper tow rope length for the sport you are planning on participating in.
You will also want to make sure that you have the proper equipment for the sport that you are doing.
Certain tubes are not suitable for being pulled behind a boat.
You also want to make sure that your equipment fits and is the right size for you. While water-skiing you want to make sure the skis properly fit your feet.
22) Fishing Rod Holder and other Fishing Equipment
In addition to a depth and fish finder, you can also get fishing equipment for your boat. A fishing rod holder can help you fish without having to constantly hold the fishing rod.
These can be fixed right to your boat. This helps them with their security and holding ability.
When you invest in this, make sure that you do not go too cheap or you might lose your fishing rod.
Other fishing equipment can include:
- Additional coolers,
- And everything you might fix to the end of your line.
Fishing on a boat is a great way to catch fish that aren’t reachable close to shore or on the side of a river.
23) Floats and Other Swimming Equipment
If fishing isn’t your thing, and you are more into swimming, you should invest in a fun float. Fun floats are good when you and your passengers are just hanging around and swimming.
You will just want to make sure that if you are using these floats you do not try and pull them behind the boat.
This can be dangerous and will ruin your float.
You can also invest in diving boards, slides, specialty ladders and other swimming equipment for your boat.
Your ability to use something like a diving board will depend on your boat. These are ideal for pontoon boats and other stable flat boats.
They even sell ladders for your furry friends. This will help your pet get in and out of the water with ease.
As the proud owner of a dog who loves the water, I can tell you firsthand how hard it is to pull a wet dog back into the boat. It becomes even more difficult if you cannot touch the bottom of the lake or river.
24) Summer Toys
If you have children passengers on your vessel, you might want to invest in some toys. This can help keep them entertained while out for a long day on the water.
Water guns can be a fun toy for children to play with. They will also be easy to fill up when surrounded by water.
If you plan on stopping by a beach you might want to bring sand toys. This can entertain your smaller passengers while you spend time on the beach.
You can also bring balls, Frisbee, and other toys to play with if you plan on tying off somewhere shallow.
Even some of your adult passengers might like something to do. When we go out on the water, we enjoy a good game of catch.
If you plan on being out all day, you might want to invest in a boat grill. This is a great way to cook a meal while out on the water.
A boat grill is often used on pontoons, but they can be mounted to other boats also.
These are often mounted to the railing of the vessel.
This is a great way to cook on a steady cooking vessel on board. You can cook up your summer favorites and enjoy them while out on the water.
26) Bluetooth Speaker
If you want to play music without the fear of killing your battery you can bring a different speaker.
A Bluetooth speaker will allow you to play music without using your boat’s battery. When we use our Bluetooth speaker on our boat, we stream our local radio station.
This is the same music we would play over the boat speakers and allows for continuity.
Because this is an electronic device, you will want to make sure that it is safe from water damage. You will want to put it in a place where it is not likely to get wet.
One important thing you need to bring for recreational boating is sunscreen. Sunscreen is important while doing any outdoor activities, but is especially important while out on the water.
The reflection of the water can make the sun’s rays more intense.
Not only will you want a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30, but you will want to make sure you apply it as recommended.
Most sunscreens recommend that they must be reapplied every two or three hours. You might even want to apply more often if you are swimming.
While most sunscreens are made to be waterproof, they can become weakened with exposure to water.
What Else Do You Need Onboard Your Boat?
Listed above are some of the equipment you will need while you are boating. This is by no reason an all-encompassing list.
You will need to make sure that if you plan on doing anything else, you bring all that is necessary.
One good way to know what is needed for your boat and it’s maintenance is to check your owner’s manual.
Usually these will list what is required for your boat and the specifics needed when you are purchasing equipment.
It is likely that this will list the basic tools needed to work on your engine if a problem arises.
Being prepared can make sure that you have a fun time out on the water and you don’t run into any difficulties.
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.