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Personal Injury

What Boating Safety Equipment is Required on the Lake?

Boating Safety equipment

Summer is here and the sun is shining. But before you hit the water, it pays to remember what equipment you need on your boat for a beautiful day on the lake (beyond a cooler of ice cream sandwiches).

We’re talking about the equipment that saves lives, rather than just making your day. These are the tools that will make all the difference between a minor mishap and a dangerous boating accident.

Here’s a look at all of the essential boating safety equipment you need to keep on hand this summer.

What Equipment is Required?

When your boat hits the water, you are legally obligated to have the following safety equipment on board:

  • Personal flotation devices, also called life jackets (Type I, Type II, Type III, Type IV, or Type V)
  • One throwable flotation device
  • Navigation lights
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Ventilation system
  • Backfire flame arresters
  • Mufflers
  • Sound-producing devices (in state waters, this means a whistle; in federal waters, this means an air horn)
  • Night signals
  • Day signals

Here’s a closer look at a few key items.

Life Jackets

Type I life jackets are wearable offshore jackets intended for cruising, racing, fishing offshore, boating alone, or boating in stormy conditions. It’s best for open, rough water where rescue may be slow to arrive.

Type II life jackets are wearable near-shore vests intended for inland day cruising, sailing, and fishing, as well as light craft boating. This is good for buoyancy in protected, near-shore boating where the chance of immediate rescue is high. These jackets are not intended for extended survival in rough water, as they are less buoyant than Type I and require the wearer to tread water to keep their head above water.

Type III life jackets are wearable flotation aids meant for supervised activities such as water skiing, fishing, canoeing, dinghy racing, sailing regattas, kayaking, and personal watercraft. As you can guess, this jacket is good for inland, protected near-shore activities where the chance of immediate rescue is high. It is more comfortable than Type I or Type II but provides far less flotation.

Type IV flotation devices are throwable devices intended to be thrown to an overboard victim. They can be square-style, ring-style, or horseshoe-style and have a minimum buoyancy of 16.5 pounds for ring buoys or 18 pounds for cushion buoys.

Type V life jackets are special-use jackets designed for specific activities, such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water skiing. They must be worn when underway—simply carrying one does not meet Coast Guard requirements.

Navigation Lights

For powered vessels less than 26 feet long, required lights include:

  • Red and green side lights visible from one mile away
  • An all-white round light OR a masthead light and stern light; all must be visible from two miles away

For powered vessels 26 feet or longer, required lights include:

  • Red and green side lights visible from at least one mile away
  • A masthead light and stern light visible from at least two miles away (masthead light must be higher than the stern light)

For unpowered vessels less than 26 feet long, required lights include:

  • If practical, these vessels should have red and green side lights or masthead lights
  • If not practical, the operator should have at least one white light lantern or flashlight

For unpowered vessels 26 feet or longer, required lights include:

  • Red and green side lights visible from at least two miles away
  • A stern light visible from at least three miles away

All vessels when not underway are required to use a white round light between sunrise and sunset anytime they are anchored to waters in and around the Great Lakes.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are always good to keep on board, but they are required under the following conditions:

  • If the boat has a permanently installed fuel tank
  • If the boat has an inboard engine
  • If the boat has a closed living space
  • If the boat has compartments with flammable materials
  • When double-bottom hulls are not completely sealed
  • When double-bottom hulls are not completely filled with flotation materials

Approved fire extinguishers can be identified by the marking on the label, “Marine Type USCG Approved”. Extinguishers should be in an accessible area where they can be reached immediately (not near the engine or in a compartment).

When Do You Need It?

As a rule, it’s safe to assume that you always need safety equipment.

Even if you’re taking your boat for a short jaunt, no jaunt is too short to justify skipping your precautions. There are also certain requirements for specific types of safety equipment—for example, life jackets should be worn at all times when the vessel is underway. Under Michigan law, children under the age of six are always required to wear a USCG-approved Type I or Type II life jacket when the vessel is underway.

Certain safety equipment is required at certain times, such as night signals. That said, you should always keep your safety equipment on hand just in case.

Boating Safety Equipment Saves Lives

Remember: boating safety equipment saves lives. Always make sure to keep your equipment on hand, because you never know when smooth sailing might take a sudden turn for rough waters.

If your trip to the lake ended in a trip to the hospital because of someone else’s carelessness, our team of expert boating accident attorneys are here to help your family recover. We treat every client with the same care, kindness, and diligence we would give our own loved ones, because we know that when you’re struggling to stay above water, you wouldn’t want anything less.

If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, schedule your free consultation today.

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