Sailing 101: Boating Safety Equipment Check Before Offseason Ends

Ahoy Sailors, hopefully by now, you’ve made your New Year resolutions that will help boost your boating experiences throughout 2023. Before you get on the water, please go through this checklist to ensure that your boat and equipment are in pristine condition, keeping you safe and prepared as we enter a more active boating season. Then, stay tuned for your next lesson, when we discuss the basics of boat warranties and what you should know as an owner.  

January is a period of downtime for many boaters, making it the perfect month to inspect and update boating safety equipment — especially if you have pulled it out of storage. Unfortunately, when equipment and devices sit for a while, they expire and fail. So here is a checklist to go through before you get back on the water. 


1. Inspect Flares

These require replacement every three years. First, check the expiration dates on your handheld and meteor flares. If they are set to expire mid-season, add a reminder to your calendar. If they expire within a month or two, it might be easier to get it done now. For U.S. Coast Guard requirements for flares,


2. Check Fire Extinguishers

Check the pressure gauges on your boat’s fire extinguishers to confirm they read in the green “full” zone. If any of them appear to have been partially discharged, replace them with Coast Guard-approved fire extinguishers. Next, give your extinguishers a shake to loosen the fire-retardant powder that might have fallen to the bottom. Lastly, make sure the bracket still holds the extinguisher securely. Visit for more information on fire extinguishers.


3. Test EPIRBs and PLBs

These require re-registration every two years, as mandated by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which sends a reminder. If your address or email has changed, you might not have received it, so check your EPIRB and PLBs for the re-registration date. If it is overdue, go to to update the information. Additionally, check when you need to replace the batteries in your EPIRBs and PLBs. Most of these devices offer a test procedure— now is the time to run that test. 


4. Inspect Life Jackets

Ensure fabric, straps, buckles, and flotation materials remain in good condition. If you have any doubts, toss, and replace them with new life jackets. If you have inflatable life jackets, remove and inspect the CO2 cartridges. If any are damaged or used, replace them with new ones.


5. Test Your Horn

Make sure you have a functional Coast Guard-approved sound-producing instrument on board.


6. Replace Batteries

It is important to replace all the batteries in your flashlights and have new extras on board. If any flashlights have rechargeable batteries, fully charge them. It’s also helpful to enter reminders on your calendar to recharge them again in the future.


7. Test Your Bilge Pump

You might have to wait until spring commissioning for this, but as soon as the boat is ready, stick your head in the bilge compartment while someone presses the bilge pump switch to ensure it runs. While there, lift the float on the automatic bilge pump switch to ensure it turns on the pump. In addition, check all the wiring and connectors to verify that they are corrosion-free.


8. Review Ground Tackle

Inspect all of your anchor’s rode and ground tackle. Replace components such as the line, chain, or shackles showing excessive corrosion or wear and tear.


9. Switch on the Navigation Lights

Make sure they work; if they don’t, you know what to do— replace them.


10. Schedule a VSC

If you want the Coast Auxiliary or Power Squadrons to help make your boat as safe as possible, schedule a Vessel Safety Check. Volunteer members of either group will come to your marina or your house (for trailered boats) to conduct a VSC. If you pass, you receive a VSC decal for the year. To schedule a VSC, visit


Accomplish everything on this list, and you and your boat are set for boating season. 

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