The Essential Safety Checklist for Every Boater

The Essential Safety Checklist for Every Boater

Owning and operating a boat or personal watercraft (PWC) of any type or size is a lot of responsibility. From the time your boat/watercraft enters the water or pulls away from the dock until it’s removed from the water or properly secured back on land, you’re responsible for following boating safety rules. The rules ensure the safety of your passengers and crew as well as complying with all applicable federal, state and local laws governing boating in the waters you’re navigating.  

To help guarantee that you and your passengers can enjoy your time on the water safely, you should always go through a boat safety checklist prior to heading out. Here’s a list of items you’ll need to have on board and checks that a game warden or peace officer certified as a marine safety officer will look for when making a boater safety check.

Boater’s Education Card: If you were born after 1993, a Boater Safety Course is required by state law. Once you’ve taken the course, you’ll receive a Boater’s Education Safety Card as confirmation. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) offers these courses throughout Texas, online and through home course kits. The programs will teach you the importance of boating safety and responsibility. Boat insurance companies will often provide discounts after you successfully complete the course.

Title/Registration Numbers: If you own a boat or PWC, it is imperative that your vessel is registered and meets all requirements. All motorized boats, regardless of length, and sailboats that are 14 feet or longer or have an auxiliary motor must be registered with the state. Those numbers must also be visible and properly displayed on your vessel. 

Personal Floatation Devices: In Texas, children under 13 years of age are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved lifejacket/personal flotation device (PFD) while boating. All boats, including canoes and kayaks, must have one suitable and approved PFD for each person onboard. Both children and adults must wear lifejackets while on a PWC.

In addition to the PFD for every passenger, boats must also have one Type 4 throwable device on board. This could be in the form of a seat cushion or the traditional floating ring. 

There are several types of PFDs; be sure you are familiar with which type is necessary for your next trip on the water. For a description and illustration of each type of PFD, please click here.

Sound-producing devices: Boats and PWCs less than 16 feet in length are required to carry a sufficient sound-producing device. Devices can be whistles, horns, or other sound-producing devices that signal intentions and position when visibility is reduced.

Navigational lights: All boats must have U.S. Coast Guard-approved red and green side lights and a white all-around light when not at dock. White lights need to be visible at a distance of at least two miles and colored lights need to be visible at a distance of at least one mile. 

The light must be visible all around the horizon from sunset to sunrise, in all weather conditions and during restricted visibility. Certain navigation lights are necessary on specific vessels as specified by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). 

Vessels with no motor must have at least one bright light, lantern, or flashlight of white color when not at dock. 

Fire extinguisher: Most boats and PWC must carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved type B-1 marine-grade fire extinguishers onboard, except boats with outboard motors that are less than 26 feet in length, of open construction and that are not carrying passengers for hire. Fire extinguisher requirements and types can be found here.  

Engine cut-off switch (ECOS): this emergency switch is designed to instantly shut off the engine in an emergency. The operator wears a lanyard attachment that activates the ECOS if the operator falls overboard or moves beyond the length of the lanyard. Not only does the boat or PWC need to be equipped with an ECOS, but it must also be in use by the operator.  

Mirrors: If you own a motorboat, you must have either an observer (someone other than the operator) or rearview mirrors installed. The rearview mirror must be at least four inches long and wide.

To ensure the safety of boat owners and passengers, game wardens and other peace officers certified as marine safety enforcement officers may stop, board, and inspect any vessel at any time.

For additional information on Texas-required safety equipment for powerboats, sailboats and manually prepared vessels, go here.