Safety First

I know that phrase has been seriously over used. But it's the first thing that comes to mind when we're planning a project or preparing for a cruise. Sure there are the usual safety equipment requirements for your boat, but there are many other pieces of safety equipment that for us are cruise specific, depending on when and where we plan to travel. We have an entire category for safety on this blog. That's how serious we are about the issue. In preparing Beach House for our upcoming cruise to the Bahamas and the Great Loop, we had different safety considerations than our recent trips along the Atlantic ICW. Being in close contact to land and having had good VHF and cell phone coverage, our communications equipment was satisfactory at the time. Crossing the Gulf Stream, traveling alone across the Bahamas Banks, anchoring in remote areas or crossing the Gulf of Mexico will mean we need to be able to provide for ourselves without outside help for a period of time. It also means we will need to be able to communicate long range in an emergency.

One of the first installations to improve communications was our Icom 802 for SSB and Ham communications as well as email via a Pactor modem. We wrote about the installation in a previous post and have now had the time to use the radio and modem successfully. The radio will give us the long distance communications we need for emergencies and allow us to get important weather information and stay in touch with the many marine SSB and Ham nets. It's great for both safety and keeping in touch with family.

Another important piece of communications equipment that we have installed is a Class B AIS unit from Milltech Marine. The installation was straightforward and connects to our Standard Horizon Chartplotter. We opted to use an separate external GPS antenna for the AIS and, since we are running out of real estate for antennas, a VHF antenna splitter. The Class B AIS allows us to receive other AIS broadcasts as well as broadcast our own information to other boats with receivers. Our past experiences with AIS on Sea Trek has made us firm believers in how effective this piece of equipment can be. Installing a Class B AIS means getting an MMSI number from the FCC for your AIS and any other DSC equipment on board. This can be done at the same time as you file for your radio license.

A liferaft can be a big expense, but out there in the middle of the Gulf Stream or the Gulf of Mexico, it can be comforting to know that you have an alternative to just the dinghy if the ship goes down. It's one of those things you hope to never have to use but shouldn't leave shore without it. We considered renting a raft for the Bahamas trip and the Gulf crossing, but no one has a rental plan that would not cost us as much or more than outright purchasing the raft. It just so happened that the planets aligned perfectly or God reached his hand down at the right time and place (take your pick) and we found a great deal for a liferaft from Landfall Navigation while we were at the AGLCA Rendezvous in Alabama giving a presentation. 

The Coasal Commander seems to be a good fit for the type of cruising we plan to do, and the valise style makes it easy to move around the boat to stow. We plan to have it sitting on the aft deck while doing open passages and then stow it out of sight while close in cruising. We can always sell the raft later if we find we won't need it. 

The EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) is an absolute must, in our opinion, on any vessel. It can send a distress call to a satellite and get rescuers on their way to your location. A good explanation of how that works can be found here. It can't be stressed enough how important it is to properly register your EPIRB as soon as it is purchased and received. The form should come with the EPIRB or can be downloaded from NOAA here. If you purchase a boat with an existing EPIRB, be sure to update the registration. Your life might depend on it. We chose the Accusat EPIRB without the integrated GPS based on feedback from both suppliers and users. If we had been going long distances offshore, we would have chosen the added GPS for additional safety. We also like the Accusat's non-hazard battery in case we needed to transport it at some point in time. 

A small, but important, item that we probably should have installed a long time ago is a radar reflector. We've done a lot of research on these over the years and the simple Davis units have done better over even the very expensive units in almost every independent test. One thing that ticked me off a bit since we last purchased one is that Davis no longer provides the mounting hardware unless you buy a more expensive package or buy the mounting hardware separately. We have really had a lot of negative feedback from boaters on Davis equipment in general over the last few years, but the radar reflector has not changed in design, so there is little chance of any kind of failure. We made our own bridle to haul it up one of our flag halyards. 

This is by no means a complete list of our safety equipment. We consider our radar, VHF radio, depth sounder and even our Chartplotter all significant safety equipment. Anything that helps us get from point A to point B or provides a service to the vessel or crew in an emergency is critical safety equipment. Even safety gloves or goggles while working on the boat is part of the list. Every Skipper will have their own preferences, as the equipment will be as extensive as the voyage demands or the bank account can afford. But you can't put a price on health and well-being of the boat and crew. So let us hear from you. What do you consider essential safety equipment on your boat?


  1. I think that an important piece of "equipment" is having more than one person on board that knows how to operate the boat. We don't travel like you do (yet), but it amazes me how many of our friends in the Chesapeake Bay have only one captain - usually the husband. What if something happens to him in the middle of the Bay? Does the wife know how to navigate the boat back to shore safely? My husband is certainly the better captain but I can navigate and dock the boat.

    Always love your posts. Thanks!

  2. Julie: I couldn't agree with you more. For the 20+ years that we have been boating/cruising, I have taken a key role in navigation. I plan most of our trips and the routes to get there. I, too, know all too many couples where one person, usually the man, takes care of all things boating and the partner, usually the woman, rarely takes the helm much less navigates. It is essential that the mate on board know how to start and stop the engine, raise and lower the anchor and navigate the boat to shore and dock it if necessary. The first mate is a key part of safety on board. Thanks for your input!! Susan (First Mate, Chef and Navigator)


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