For many boaters, January is a period of downtime, and that makes it a great month to inspect and update boating safety equipment — particularly if you have pulled it off the boat for winter storage. Here is my suggested 10-point checklist, but feel free to add to it and use each new year to ensure the season ahead is as safe as possible.
1. Check Flares
These require replacement every three years. Check the expiration dates on your handheld and meteor flares. If they are set to expire midseason, put a reminder on your calendar. If they expire within a month or two, you might as well replace them now.
2. Inspect Fire Extinguishers
Check the pressure gauges on all of your boat’s fire extinguishers to make sure they read in the green “full” zone. If any of them appear to have been even partially discharged, replace them with Coast Guard-approved fire extinguishers. Give existing extinguishers a good shake to break loose the fire-retardant powder that might have become caked at the bottom. Make sure the bracket still holds the extinguisher securely.
3. Test EPIRBs and PLBs
These require re-registration every two years, as mandated by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which sends a reminder. But if your address or email has changed, you might not have received it. Check your EPIRB and PLBs for the re-registration date, and if it is time, go to www.sarsat.noaa.gov to update the information. Also, check to see when you need to replace the batteries in your EPIRBs and PLBs. Most of these devices offer a test procedure, and now is a good time to run it.
4. Examine Life Jackets
Make sure fabric, straps, buckles and flotation materials remain in prime condition. If there’s any doubt, throw them out and replace them with brand-new life jackets. If you have inflatable life jackets, remove and inspect the CO2 cartridges. If any are damaged or used, replace them with new ones.
5. Check Your Horn
Make sure you have a functioning Coast Guard-approved sound-producing device on board.
6. Replace Batteries
Replace all of the batteries in your flashlights, and buy spare fresh batteries to keep on boat. If any of your flashlights have rechargeable batteries, give them all a charge, and enter reminders on your calendar to recharge them again in the future.
7. Test Your Bilge Pump
You might have to wait until spring commissioning for this, but as soon as the boat is ready, stick your head in the bilge compartment while someone presses the bilge pump switch to make sure it runs. While you’re there, lift up on the float on the automatic bilge-pump switch to ensure that it turns on the pump. Check all of the wiring and connectors to verify that they are corrosion-free as an extra boating safety equipment check.
8. Inspect Ground Tackle
Pull out and inspect all of your anchor rode and ground tackle. Replace elements such as the line, chain or shackles that show excessive corrosion or wear and tear. Now is also a great time to create a new chain-to-rope eye splice.
9. Switch on Navigation Lights
Check them all to make sure they work.
10. Schedule a VSC
If you want the Coast Auxiliary or Power Squadrons to help in making your boat as safe as possible, schedule a Vessel Safety Check. Volunteer members of either group will come to your marina or your house (for trailered boats) to conduct a VSC. If you pass, you receive a VSC decal for the year. To schedule a VSC, visit wow.uscgaux.info.
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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.