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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Lambert

4th of July Boating Essentials

The Fourth of July is not only America's birthday, it is one of the biggest boating days of the year. There's nothing like cruising out to a sandbar for the day, casting a reel or two, and watching an amazing display of fireworks later that night. For a successful and happy 4th on the water, it is crucial you pack your boating essentials before you set sail.

Essential Safety Equipment:

Have a Float Plan

Your first boating essential safety equipment is your float plan. Your float plan involves having someone responsible offshore aware of your boat, your boating destination, your crew, and the time you plan on being back. This designated person can call the authorities on your behalf in case you cannot.

You can also file your float plan with your local on-water towing service.

Life Vests

Dog with Life Vest

Everyone needs a life vest when they are on a boat. If you end up caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, you don't want to be without one. Life vests save lives. According to statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard, of the 75 percent of people who died in boating accidents, 85 percent of them were not wearing their life jackets.

Bringing your dog on your 4th of July boating trip? Make sure that furry friend of yours has a life vest, too.

Fire Extinguisher

Fireworks are (usually) set off above water, so make sure you don't anchor directly underneath them, or else you risk hot ash and debris landing on your boat. With fireworks illuminating the night sky this 4th of July, keeping a fire extinguisher handy is not only a boating essential but it is required by law (with only 1 exemption). Your boat should have a type B Fire Extinguisher-a type B extinguisher is designed to extinguish burning liquids such as grease, gasoline, or oil (all common fire starters on a boat).

If your boat's less than 26 feet, it must carry at least one B-I Fire Extinguisher. Boats that are 26–40 feet must carry two B-I or one B-II fire extinguisher(s). If your boat is 40 - 65 feet, you must carry three B-I, or one B-II and one B-I extinguishers. Also, you should never have to travel more than half the length of your boat to get to the fire extinguisher.

Other safety gear includes visual distress signals (flares--required by all boats if cruising between sunset and sunrise), navigation sound equipment (whistles, bells, hailer horns), a medical kit, flashlights, and more.

Assign a First Mate (aka Sober Skipper)

Woman first mate steering boat

Drinking and boating is illegal, not to mention dangerous. If you plan on having an adult beverage or two, assign a First Mate to drive the boat. Your first mate should be connected to an ECOS (engine cut-off switch) and be able to operate all marine electronics, steer, and maintain the safety of the vessel and all aboard. Rather than risk hurting someone or yourself (and to avoid a BUI), it's crucial that you designate a Sober Skipper to navigate the boat and bring it safely to shore.

Boating Essential Gear

While safety is always first, there are other essentials you should have to give you peace of mind and stamina on your trip. Pack a medical kit, extra clothes, bottled water, and plenty of food. If you stay out overnight, you and your crew are going to need to recharge your own batteries in the morning. Don't forget your preferred sunscreen as well as hats, sunglasses, and maybe a buff or two.


Pre-Departure Boating Essentials

Center console boat

Check Your Engine and Your Bilge

Checking your engine and your bilge should be routine, whether you're going out on the water for a day or only an hour. Your engine should purr, and your bilge should be free of water. If not, plan on staying home because you don't want to risk running a boat that could either sink or die on you out on the deep blue sea.

Inspect Your Electronics

Having the proper marine electronics equipment can also help you navigate the open seas while giving you the advantage to tune into weather coverage. Examine all your running lights and set your chartplotter with your waypoints and routes. Also, have your VHF ready to signal someone if need be. A quality VHF radio can keep you connected to the coast guard should trouble arise and you cannot safely make it back to shore. A VHF with an Automatic Identification System (AIS) is ideal because it broadcasts your boat's position so that other ships are aware of your location, and it can also display across your chart plotter.

Maintain Boat Capacity

Bringing your friends and family aboard can be exciting, especially if you're a new boat owner. Your boat has a capacity limit, and even if it looks like they can fit, really consider the situation. Your friends and family cannot sit on the bow, gunwale, or transom. Make sure you are adhering to your boat’s weight limit and carrying capacity. Overloading not only risks your boat keeling over, but it also causes your company to be uncomfortable.

Stock Extra Fuel

You're fueled up and you're ready to go. Or are you? Extra fuel is another boating essential to have on board, especially if the weather turns its back on you. There are modern Jerry Cans that are made to prevent spills, or you can bring a pillow bladder. If you know you're going to be out on the water for more than a day, extra fuel is essential. We recommend fueling up a few days prior to your trip to avoid long lines.

Know Before You Go

Check the weather. Your marine forecast will give you significant weather coverage including the roughness of shore waters, wave heights, and wind speed and direction. Even if it's a sunny day with blue skies and not a cloud in sight, you should always double-check the weather. Know before you (and bring ponchos just in case).



fireworks over sea and boats

The last boating essential is to enjoy yourself. Boating on the Fourth of July doesn't have to be an anxious or hurried time. It is the biggest boating day of the year, so there's going to be plenty of people every which way you go. Maintain caution and courtesy on the water, and drive at a reasonable speed. If you plan and prepare accordingly, you and your crew can avoid unwanted chaos and enjoy your holiday.

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