Off-Season Safety Upgrades
From Boat U.S. Magazine...
Fixing broken gear, installing new equipment and generally making your boat ship shape for the next season is what most boaters do over the winter.  But there is one thing that should always be at the top of your winter punch list—making safety improvements or upgrades.

Here are 10 easy steps you can take over the winter to improve your margin of safety next year:
  1. CO Detector:  Newly manufactured boats with enclosed cabin spaces (and gasoline engines) should come with a CO detector, but many older cruisers lack this life saving device.  This should also be on your must list if you have a generator.  You can buy them for as little as $75 for a wired, 12 volt version.  If you have a batter powered unit, replace the batter each year.  
  2. Upgrade your life jackets:  Everyone has those cheapie horse collar life jackets stowed somewhere.  But it’s a sin to think that they are an adequate investment in your safety or that of your friends or family.  Consider replacing those cheapies with a jacket that you think you’ll wear more often, is more comfortable and fits the kind of boating you do ($20-$80).  Equipping a life jacket with signal mirrors, whistles and signal lights are also very low cost upgrades (about $33/vest).
  3. More fire extinguishers:  If you have a fire in your home, you can easily run out of the house.  Not so with a boat.  Adding extra extinguishers and mounting them in different areas, especially near cabin egress locations, could help you get out safely and give you a better chance to put out a fire.  While they cost a little more, “tri-class” (A-B-C rated) fire extinguishers will handle all three types of fires:  solid, liquid or electrical ($20-$25 each).  Also, adding labels on cabinets or storage lockers that contain fire extinguishers can help everyone on board find them quickly.
  4. VHF Radio:  The closest rescuers are often other boaters, and the only way they’ll know you’re in trouble is if they hear your may day call over a VHF radio—not your cell phone.  If you have a small boat, a handheld VHF ($100-$120) will save you installation headaches, and if you already have a fixed mount VHF, think about upgrading to a DSC capability ($120-$160) as the Coast Guard’s new DSC-capable, “Rescue-21” system is now up and running in two areas of the country with more regions being added in 2007.  Remember, pushing the “mayday” button on a DSC VHF that is connected to your GPS will allow fellow boaters with DSC VHF radios to pinpoint your location.  Another great features is that anyone aboard can press built-in distress button to summon emergency help.
  5. Add handholds, non-skid:  Nearly every boat could use more hand holds ($15-$75) and a little more non-skid ($3-$11) to help keep everyone safely on board.
  6. Add a Fireport:  Another inexpensive safety upgrade is to install a small round window to allow you to inspect an engine compartment without inadvertently adding oxygen to a fire.  You can also insert a fire extinguisher nozzle into the port to put out the blaze ($11).
  7. Inventory all safety gear:  The “Boaters Toolbox” ( also has a “Required Equipment” section to keep you on top of the minimum safety requirements as well as additional recommended equipment.  Make sure your gear is serviceable and check the dates on your flares.
  8. Install a bilge alarm:  While wet ankles may be a good indicator that you’re taking on water in a small boat, it’s not always easy to determine that in a large boat.  An audio alarm wired to a float switch positioned three to four inches above your normal bilge water levels can buy you more time ($50).
  9. Wood Bungs:  Attaching the right sized wooden bung (tapered wooden plus) with a lanyard to each of your thru-hulls can stop a leak quickly and you won’t waste precious time looking for them ($11).
  10. Continuing “Ed:”  If you have never taken a basic boating course from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadron there is no better time than the winter.  You can find classes near you by going to the BoatU.S. Foundation’s “Courseline” at  More classes are offered in the winter so now is the time to sign up.  If you’d rather stay inside by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate, you can take the BoatU.S. Foundation’s free online boating safety course (  Don’t worry if your time is limited.  You can start, stop and pick up where you left off at any time.  The Foundation’s free online “Toolbox” ( also has a great, interactive “Rules of the Road” section.