A Complete Guide To Pontoon Boat Safety Equipment

On some bodies of water (such as my local lake), I’m stopped by the sheriff every time I go out.Every single time.

They’re never far away.

I’ve never seen police enforcement at any of the other lakes I visit. The question isn’t whether or not you’ll be subjected to a safety equipment inspection. It’s a question of life and death.

As the captain of your ‘toon, it’s your job to make sure everyone makes it back to the pier with all of their limbs and heads intact. Boating safety is a collection of behaviors. For ten, twenty, or thirty years of boating, you can get away with not following one or two of those habits, but if you haven’t acquired the safety habit, there will be regret and harm at some time.

Every time I go out on the lake, for example, I see boaters without a PFD or even a life preserver. Is it conceivable that they’ll perish on the journey? No way. Pontoon boats are quite safe to use. But we’ve all heard of that one unusual catastrophe where someone was struck unconscious and tossed out of the boat—and killed because they didn’t have the habit of wearing a life jacket.

Having the appropriate boat safety equipment (and even a boat emergency kit) on board every time you go out is a habit you must develop in order to be prepared in the event of an emergency.

Safety Equipment That Is Generally Required

  • Registration and Numbering — The state tries to persuade us that it is for our protection, but I believe we all know it is truly about revenue.
  • Every Passenger Should Have a Properly-Sized PFD – This rule must not be broken. Just get it over with. Even though my pontoon has a capacity of 11, I carry roughly 16 PFDs since I don’t know how many newborns, children, and teenagers I’ll have on board. Collect a variety of PFDs in various sizes so that you have one that suits everyone on board. There are no justifications.
  • Fire Extinguisher in Good Working Order — Some sheriffs will check the expiration date or the charge to see whether it still has pressure, but in any case, you should have one on board. Make sure it’s a maritime fire extinguisher, not just any old fire extinguisher. The Coast Guard, in classic US Government form, does not refer to this as a basic fire extinguisher. “Backfire flame control,” they call it. It has to have a muddled name if it isn’t the government.
  • Noise-Making Device — This might be a horn, whistle, or bell, but you’ll need something to alert another boat in the event of an emergency.
  • Downed Skier Flag — This is often overlooked, but it is crucial. My father knew someone who was killed when a boat failed to use a downed skier sign, and the skier was ran over and killed.
  • Throwable PFD — This might be a basic square throwable like Gilligan’s or a ring-type throwable like his. My pontoon has a square kind that rests between the captain’s chair and the side of the boat, but we’ll probably never need it because everyone on the pontoon wears a life jacket.

Safety Equipment (Optional) (Required Only in Certain Regions)

Please keep in mind that while some of this gear is essential to carry on board, it is not necessary on every body of water. Check your local rules, too, because various areas have varying requirements for different safety equipment on your boat. Some boat safety equipment is simply vital, especially if you’re out on larger waterways.

  • Visually Distressed
  • Flashlight
  • Red and green lights on the front of the deck indicate that the navigation lights are operational. One white light on the boat’s highest position (on top of the bimini for a pontoon boat).
  • Primary and Secondary Propulsion (An oar or a trolling motor)
  • Line and Anchor
  • Kit for First Aid
  • Tools and Repair Parts for Boats (Extra prop, spark plugs, wrench, pliers, screw drivers)
  • Battery Charger (in case your battery dies while you’re out on the water)
  • Cell Phone
  • Bailout System (kind of funny to require this for a pontoon boat since water just runs off the deck, but sometimes they ask for it)

That’s quite useful!

I took care of your purchasing. If you’re buying a new pontoon boat and need to outfit it with all of your safety equipment, I’ve put up an Amazon shopping list of the things I’ve purchased or suggest for safety gear. To see the Amazon.com pontoon boat safety equipment list, go here.

Notice: While I try my best to give factual and useful pontoon boating information, you must conduct your own study and look up your local boating rules to discover what equipment is suggested and necessary for your boat and boating location.

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