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Brown: Having these items will make your next boat trip safer

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As boaters we are required to carry a lot of marine safety products in our boats.

Some of those products are required, while others are just good to have in the boat if the need arises or an accident happens.

Some are for the safety of boaters, and some are for the safety of others — on the water, you have to expect the unexpected. No doubt we all have been there and thinking things through before hitting the water is just good business.


A mandatory requirement for everyone in the boat has to have a lifejacket. Those passengers under 13 have to wear them all the time, but adults can remove them while fishing or just boating. In tournaments we have to have them on and buckled up any time the engine is running.

Lifejackets should be sized based on weight and they should be zipped up or buckled when in use. Falling into the water can remove the jacket if not.

There are several kinds of jackets available including foam-filled and CO2-activated suspender-style inflatables. Many have gone to the suspender-style jackets for comfort, but scrimping on a lifejacket is like scrimping on a steak…you get what you pay for.

I suggest automatic jackets over the manual inflatable ones and I like the foam ones over inflatables with higher horsepowered boats because they can provide body protection for impacts should one occur.

The suspender-style jackets come in two flavors — manual and automatic. The manual type uses a bobbin with a pellet that dissolves to puncture a CO2 cartridge that inflates the jacket. They should be kept in a dry location when not in use as they can auto-inflate if wet for a long time.

The automatic or hydrostatic pressure jackets are reliable and activate with water pressure. A bobbin under a few inches of water and they, too, will fill the jacket with air. Many are designed to bring your head out of the water and some will turn the wearer so his face is out of the water. Check with your preferred manufacturer on what style is best and what weight requirement each has.

The manual ones don’t work if you are knocked out. The pressure-activated ones are a little more expensive, but how much is your life worth? I’ll spend the money. A couple of manufacturers to look at are Mustang Survival and Onyx.

Other essential gear

Other safety equipment includes a paddle, if no trolling motor is on-board, and also a whistle or horn. An engine kill switch — attached to the operator's life jacket, preferably — is required in Illinois. Fifty feet of rope and a throwable cushion are also required, and I attach the rope to the cushion so it can be retrieved easily if tossed to someone in distress. An anchor is another great item to have in the boat.

Many don’t wear their lifejackets when the boat is in operation, but the kill switch is still required. In fishing they are required while the boat is underway. Statistics show lifejackets are saving lives but don’t work if they are in a compartment of not worn.

Remember that boat ramps and docks have a high propensity of on-the-water accidents. Wear your lifejacket when loading and unloading the boat or while on the dock, too.

I carry a first-aid kit, and there are several good ones out there for boaters. Make sure they are water tight — a new one by Angler Aid is a great choice. Check periodically on the condition of the first aid kit and replace items when they have been used. An inexpensive pair of safety glasses is also a good item to have handy.

Another essential item is a tool kit, with items like a knife, needle-nose pliers, side cutters, a small socket set, duct tape, electrical tape, tie wraps, and some wire strippers and connectors in the boat. I also carry a spare boat plug in that kit as well. A pair or two of rubber gloves is another item worth carrying in the boat, as are a shop rag or two, and anesthetic wipes.

A can of compressed air for inflating a flat tire comes in handy. There are also small, inexpensive compressors you can carry with you, which are also great for filling air mattresses and tubes.

This is not a total comprehensive list, but it will get you started.

Make a checklist

Labor Day weekend is just around the corner and a lot of boaters will be having their last hurrah in the boat that weekend, so now is a great time to check all of your gear. A checklist of safety equipment is a great idea and you can get more info at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) website.

Enjoy boating and time on the water, but as the Boy Scout motto always says: "Be Prepared." They are called accidents for a reason and being prepared and equipped to handle those accidents — either small or big — is essential.

Terry Brown is President of, an industry leading, daily website and social media fishing centered community that provides information on products, industry newsmakers and fishing techniques. You can read more by going to


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