Safety Equipment for Sailing

Safety Equipment for Sailing
Sailing can be an exhilarating way to explore the water, both on lakes and in the ocean. To do it safely, you need to have certain equipment with you at all times. Depending on the climate, it can also help to have certain clothing to help increase the chances of survival in the event of an accident.


Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are mandatory. There are five different classifications for PFDs. A Type 1 PFD is designed for off-shore boating where a rescue may not happen quickly, and a Type 2 provides less flotation and is designed for boating on a lake or near the coast where rescue would happen quickly. A Type III is a flotation device designed more for comfort and ease of motion. A Type IV is a throwable PFD, such as a life ring, that is designed to be hung onto. A Type V is a special PFD that combines auto-inflation via gas with flotation. Type I devices are probably the most common, and should be considered the minimum for most boating.

In addition to the Type II and Type I PFDs, all boats are required by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry at least one Type IV PFD.

Fire Extinguishers

On bigger boats, a fire extinguisher should be carried. There are two types of fire extinguishers: B-I and B-II, the latter of which are bigger and have more CO2 and extinguishing chemical.

Signal Devices

Horns, whistles or bells, which can give location information, should be carried. Signal flares are also recommended for both day and night use. Carry waterproof flashlights at the very least, or some sort of stronger signal light.

Radar Reflectors

Radar reflectors are also recommended to help larger boats find smaller ones in low visibility. These reflectors can be raised to the top of the mast as conditions warrant.

Man Overboard

A man-overboard pole, which is a long pole with a flag on one end and a float on the other, should be carried to assist crew in finding sailors who fall overboard in rough seas. They are designed so the weighted float will keep the pole upright and the flag will be visible.

In addition to the pole, a Lifesling, usually connected to a 125-foot long cord, can be used to help pull someone back on board the boat in rough seas. This is equipment that most smart boaters will add to their gear.

First Aid Kit

A good first aid kit should be carried on all boats. The contents can vary, but a variety of bandages and trauma dressings are a good place to start; gauze wrap can be used to keep trauma dressings in place. Triangular bandages that can double as slings should be included, and cissors and tweezers are mandatory. A SAM splint is very useful in the field for helping to splint a broken limb. The kit should also have vinyl or latex medical gloves for working on bleeding patients, and a CPR mask. Duct tape is useful for many applications as well.

A first aid kit is only as good as the knowledge of the people on board; all sailors should have basic first aid knowledge and feel comfortable using the kit.

Life Rafts

Each boat should be equipped with a life raft that can carry everyone onboard. The liferaft should be able to be launched in 15 seconds; as such, it should be stowed on deck so that it is easily accessible. U.S. Sailing also recommends an insulated floor for the liferaft for use in colder water. It is recommended that a grab bag be stowed on the liferaft and equipped with a lanyard and clip. The grab bag should have a watertight hand-held marine VHF transceiver plus a spare set of batteries, a watertight flashlight with spare batteries and bulb, a GPS, a Search and Rescue Transponder, dry suits or survival gear, water, a first aid kit, a signalling mirror, red two parachute and three red hand flares and cyalume-type chemical light sticks and high energy food. These items are not required in addition to what is already on board the ship; they should just be easily accessible so they can be put on the liferaft quickly.

Article Written By Candace Horgan

Candace Horgan has worked as a freelance journalist for more than 12 years. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Denver Post" and "Mix." Horgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and history.

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