Skip to main content

Know How by Mike Saylor

11 must-carry low-cost safety items

11 must-carry low-cost safety items

Is anything low-cost when it comes to boating safety? Certainly. Here are 11 affordable items you should keep on board.

1. Signaling mirror. When the pyrotechnics are exhausted and the VHF is not transmitting, what will you use to signal that passing vessel or aircraft? Sunlight reflecting off a mirror. Obviously, any mirror will work, but one that’s purpose-built will have a sighting hole in the silvering to help aim the reflection.

2. Chemical light sticks. Flex the sealed plastic cylinder to activate, and the sticks will glow for about eight hours. Brightness dims considerably after about four hours but is still pretty effective for about six hours. You can read by them, but they are most effective when searching for a gasoline or propane leak or cutoff valve. They won’t cause an explosion or support combustion, and don’t get warm to the touch. Light sticks come in a variety of colors.

3. Light, strong line. Waxed light line can be used to make scores of jury-rigged repairs, from seizing objects such as lines to each other (as in making an eye or extending the length of a line), to securing solid objects (splinting a broken pole or securing a broken antenna or even a broken bone). Light line also can be used to secure objects to your person, such as a whistle, knife or chemical light stick. In addition, it can hold a damaged Bimini top in place or a sail with a torn out cringle. Somewhat heavier line, 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch-diameter, is a very good idea for powerboaters to keep on board, as well as sailors. I feel braided line is better than three-strand laid line. The very light line also can be used to tighten lashings in the larger line.

4. Whistles. Everyone on board should have a whistle — something substantial that will make a loud noise even if you’re in the water. It can, in an emergency, be used a sound signal as per the Rules of the Road.

5. Horns. Canister-powered horns are very loud — louder than mouth whistles. Most small-boat owners routinely carry them, but they also make a good backup for larger vessels. Make sure you carry spare gas canisters. When an aerosol canister is depleted or doesn’t work, a lung-powered horn such as the Admiral Hornblower is an excellent backup. Air pump-operated horns work well but need to be pumped when their reservoirs are depleted, and if the pump handle breaks you’re in trouble.

6. Sailmaker’s needles. Sailors obviously should carry these, but even powerboaters may have to make temporary repairs to canvas. Sailmaker’s needles are much stronger than the needles used for routine domestic sewing. They’re a lot easier to thread and will penetrate heavy, tightly woven canvas more easily.

7. Sail repair tape. Again, sailors certainly should have this on board, but powerboaters can use sail repair tape of Dacron polyester or rip-stop nylon to repair small tears in their canvas tops.

8. Flashlights. This is really a no-brainer. Waterproof flashlights are necessary on the water. Lights that you can signal with are preferred. And use your chemical light sticks when the spare batteries have bought the farm.

9. Portable AM/FM radio. For weather, this is a good, inexpensive item to have aboard. At the lower frequencies, between stations, they can pick up electrical discharges in the air to alert you to lightning.

10. Usable multitool. There are some really cheap multitools available, but get one that can actually be used without breaking. Good multitools are relatively inexpensive, but you get what you pay for. Leatherman, Swiss Army, and SOG are among the many manufacturers.

11. Personal strobe. Everyone on the boat should have one, power or sail and during the day or night. Anyone can go over the side, and even in daylight a strobe can be seen more readily than a human head. A human head in the water is about the same size as a cabbage. And at only 1 knot your boat will travel about 100 feet in one minute.