What Should Be Included In A Basic Boat Emergency Kit?

So, you’re planning to go out on the open waters and have a great time on your boat. That sounds like a fantastic idea! But, before you set sail, it’s crucial to make sure you have a basic boat emergency kit packed and ready to go. What items should you include in this kit to ensure your safety and peace of mind? In this article, we will discuss the essential items that should be a part of your basic boat emergency kit, so you can navigate any unexpected situations with confidence.


Communication is crucial when you find yourself in an emergency situation out on the water. Having the right communication tools can make all the difference in getting the help you need quickly and efficiently. Here are some essentials you should consider including in your basic boat emergency kit:

VHF Radio

A VHF radio, also known as a marine radio, is a must-have when it comes to communication on the water. It allows you to communicate with other boaters and, most importantly, with the coastguard in case of an emergency. Unlike cell phones, which may not have reliable coverage in all areas, VHF radios have a wider range and are specifically designed for maritime use.

Cell Phone

While a VHF radio is your primary communication tool, it’s also a good idea to have a cell phone as a backup. Make sure to keep it in a waterproof case or bag to protect it from the elements. Although cell phone coverage may be limited in some areas, it can still be useful for contacting friends or family on land or for using navigation apps if you have a GPS signal.


Flares are essential for attracting attention and signaling for help when you’re in distress. They emit a bright light that can be seen from a distance and are typically used to communicate your location to other boats or search and rescue teams. It’s important to check the expiration date of your flares regularly and replace them when needed to ensure their effectiveness.


A whistle may seem like a small item, but it can be a lifesaver in an emergency situation. If you’re unable to shout for help or if you need to conserve your energy, a whistle can be used to produce a loud, continuous sound that can be heard from a distance. It’s a simple and effective way to grab the attention of other boaters or rescuers.


Having the right navigation tools is vital for ensuring your safety on the water and preventing getting lost or stranded. Here are some key items to include in your basic boat emergency kit:


A compass is an essential navigational tool that can help you determine your heading and navigate in the right direction, even if your electronic devices fail. It’s important to learn how to use a compass properly and familiarize yourself with basic navigation techniques.

GPS Device

While a compass is a reliable backup, a GPS device can provide you with real-time information about your location, speed, and direction. Make sure to keep it charged and have spare batteries on hand. Additionally, consider waterproof and floating GPS devices for added safety.

Charts and Maps

Even with a GPS device, it’s a good idea to have paper charts and maps as a backup. They provide a more detailed and broader perspective of your surroundings, including important landmarks, water depths, and potential hazards. Familiarize yourself with the symbols and information on the charts relevant to your boating area.

Signal Mirror

A signal mirror can be an effective tool for attracting attention during the day. By reflecting sunlight, you can create flashes of light that can be seen from far away. It’s lightweight and easy to use, making it a valuable addition to your navigation and signaling equipment.

First Aid

Being prepared for medical emergencies is just as important as being prepared for any other kind of emergency. Here are some essential items to include in your basic boat emergency kit:

First Aid Kit

A well-stocked first aid kit is a crucial component of any boat emergency kit. It should include adhesive bandages, sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, tweezers, scissors, and any necessary prescription medications tailored to the needs of your crew.

Medication and Prescriptions

If you or anyone onboard requires regular medication, make sure to include an ample supply in your emergency kit. Consider packaging them in waterproof containers or bags to protect them from water damage.

Emergency Contact List

Having a list of emergency contacts readily available can be lifesaving in critical situations. Include the contact information for the Coast Guard, local authorities, nearby marinas, and anyone else who may be able to provide assistance in an emergency.


Including a first aid manual in your kit can be invaluable, especially if you’re not trained in medical procedures. It provides step-by-step instructions for various emergencies, guiding you through the necessary actions to take while waiting for professional help.

Safety Equipment

Your safety should always be a top priority when boating, and having the right safety equipment can significantly increase your chances of survival in an emergency situation. Here are some essential items to consider:

Life Jackets

Properly fitting and Coast Guard-approved life jackets should be available for every passenger on board. Make sure to have a sufficient number of life jackets, including different sizes, to accommodate all passengers. Ensure they are easily accessible and properly maintained.

Throwing Device

A throwing device, such as a throw rope or a throwable flotation device, allows you to assist someone in the water without having to enter it yourself. It can be thrown to a person in need and provides them with something to hold onto until help arrives.

Life Ring or Buoy

A life ring or buoy is another valuable piece of safety equipment. It can be thrown into the water to provide flotation support or used as a floating marker to help indicate someone’s location.

Fire Extinguisher

Having a fire extinguisher on board is crucial for quickly and effectively extinguishing any fires that may break out. Make sure it is Coast Guard-approved and easily accessible. Regularly check the pressure gauge and expiration date to ensure it is in working condition.

Tools and Equipment

Having the right tools and equipment on board can help you address minor issues before they escalate into emergencies. Here are some key items to consider including in your basic boat emergency kit:

Bailing Bucket

A bailing bucket is essential for removing water from your boat in case of leaks or flooding. It’s recommended to have a sturdy bucket dedicated to this purpose, ideally with a lanyard or attachment to prevent it from going overboard.

Paddle or Oar

A paddle or oar is a versatile tool that can help you maneuver your boat if the motor fails or if you run out of fuel. It’s essential to have at least one aboard, and if your boat is small or has limited engine power, consider having multiple paddles or oars for additional propulsion.

Boat Hook

A boat hook can be useful for grabbing onto buoys, lines, or other objects in the water. It can help with docking, retrieving items, or even fending off from other boats or obstructions.

Knife or Multi-tool

Having a knife or multi-tool can be invaluable in many situations, from cutting lines to repairing equipment. Make sure to keep it easily accessible and consider a stainless-steel, rust-resistant option for marine use.

Food and Water

In case you find yourself stranded or in an emergency situation for an extended period, having provisions for food and water is crucial. Here are some items to include in your basic boat emergency kit:

Bottled Water

Staying hydrated is essential, especially in emergency situations. Keep a sufficient supply of bottled water on board, and regularly rotate it to ensure freshness and prevent expiration.

Non-perishable Food

Include an assortment of non-perishable food items in your emergency kit, such as canned goods, granola bars, trail mix, and dried fruits. Make sure to include a manual can opener if necessary.

Can Opener

If you include any canned goods in your emergency food supply, having a reliable can opener is essential. Make sure it’s a manual alternative, as electric can openers may be useless in a power outage or emergency situation.

Waterproof Matches

Having a supply of waterproof matches is crucial for starting a fire in case you need to cook food or stay warm. Store them in a waterproof container along with a small amount of tinder or fire-starting material.

Shelter and Protection

Protecting yourself from the elements is vital in emergency situations to avoid hypothermia, sunburn, or insect bites. Here are some items to include in your basic boat emergency kit:

Emergency Blankets

Emergency blankets, also known as space blankets, are lightweight and compact. They provide insulation and help retain body heat, protecting you from hypothermia in case you’re stranded or exposed to cold weather for an extended period.

Rain Gear

Include waterproof jackets and pants or ponchos in your emergency kit to stay dry in rain or rough weather conditions. They provide protection against hypothermia and help maintain your body temperature.


Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is essential, especially when boating for extended periods. Include a high SPF sunscreen in your emergency kit, and remember to apply it regularly to exposed skin.

Insect Repellent

Insects can be a nuisance and, in some cases, carry diseases. Including insect repellent in your emergency kit can help protect you from mosquito bites and other pests, ensuring your comfort and well-being.

Emergency Signaling

In an emergency situation, it’s crucial to have equipment to signal for help, especially if you’re out of sight from other boaters. Here are some items you should consider including in your basic boat emergency kit:

Signal Flares

Signal flares are one of the most effective ways to attract attention during both day and night emergencies. They emit bright, visible light and smoke, making them visible from a distance and alerting others to your location.


A whistle is a small, lightweight item that can produce a loud sound and attract attention. It’s an essential signaling device, especially when you need to conserve energy or can’t shout for help.

Orange Distress Flag

An orange distress flag is a highly visible signal that can help indicate to others that you’re in distress. It’s easy to store and deploy, making it an essential item for any boat emergency kit.

Portable Air Horn

A portable air horn is another effective audible signaling device. It can produce a loud sound blast, which can carry over long distances and alert nearby boats or rescuers to your presence.


Having the necessary documentation readily available can help expedite any assistance or support you may need during an emergency. Here are some essential documents to include in your basic boat emergency kit:

Boat Registration

Make sure to keep a copy of your boat’s registration or documentation on board. It provides proof of ownership and may be required if you need assistance from authorities or insurance companies.

Insurance Information

If you have boat insurance, it’s essential to have a copy of your insurance information easily accessible in your emergency kit. This document contains contact details and policy information that may be necessary in case of an incident or emergency.

Identification Documents

Include copies of identification documents for everyone onboard, such as driver’s licenses or passports. These documents may be required for identification and verification purposes.

Copy of Emergency Plan

Consider including a copy of your boat’s emergency plan in your kit. This plan should outline specific procedures to follow in various emergency scenarios, including contact information, rally points, and designated responsibilities for crew members.

Additional Items

In addition to the above essentials, here are some extra items that can come in handy in various emergency situations:

Duct Tape

Duct tape is known for its versatility and strength. It can be used for temporary repairs, securing belongings, or even crafting makeshift tools or equipment.

Extra Batteries

Having spare batteries for your electronic devices, such as flashlights or GPS devices, is crucial to ensure their continued functionality during emergencies. Make sure to include batteries specific to the devices you have on board.

Spare Engine Parts

If you have any specialized or critical engine parts that are prone to failure, consider including spares in your emergency kit. This can help you address minor mechanical issues and potentially avoid being stranded.


Always include some cash in your emergency kit. In case of unforeseen circumstances, having cash on hand can be invaluable, especially if you need to purchase supplies, services, or transportation in emergency situations where card payments may not be accepted or accessible.

By assembling a comprehensive boat emergency kit that includes the items mentioned above, you’ll be well-prepared to handle various emergencies and increase your chances of staying safe and receiving timely assistance while enjoying your time on the water. Remember, being prepared is crucial, and your kit should be regularly checked, maintained, and customized to fit the specific needs of your boating adventures. Stay safe and enjoy your time on the water with peace of mind!

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Written by saltyboatingADM

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