Equipment You Should Have On Your Boat In an Emergency
Nautical emergencies are some of the most life threatening situations that you can experience. There is no pulling off the road, no pausing to gather your strength, danger will build swiftly and can become insurmountable. None of us plan not to make it back to harbor, but it certainly happens from time to time.
You will need to deal with your boat emergency promptly, and that can be made a lot easier if you have the proper equipment. Boat equipment that can be used in an emergency is extremely varied but can largely be grouped into two groups: prevention and survival. We will cover both of these categories in depth.
If you're going on an extended boating journey you might also find it helpful to check out our past Sailing Preparation Checklist blog.
Very high frequency radios are an installation on the vast majority of boats. They can be used for a variety of communication, some of which might help to avoid a boating emergency. You can negotiate who will give way and avoid a collision, alert someone to the fact that you're passing, and if it really comes down to it ask for help from those around you.
This is a very wide category that includes GPS, sonar, and the like. Navigation equipment will keep you out of sailing emergencies by keeping you alert of the environment. Running your ship aground can lead to losing your boat and being put into a serious survival situation, anything that you can do to avoid such a predicament is a really great idea.
No matter how many phones, matches, or other survival equipment you have on board they could be become effectively useless if they end up getting wet. Ziploc or dry bags are amazingly useful and I'd recommend distributing at least one to each person on board. There are also waterproof containers that can hold essentials like a defibrillator or first aid kits.
Fires happen from time to time, and you absolutely need a way to combat that possibility. Ignition happens in a flash, and a flame can spread extremely fast. You don't want to be forced to abandon ship. One fire extinguisher can prevent a boat emergency but more is always better. Easy access to these extinguishers can be the difference between a close call and a sunken wreck.
First Aid Kit
This is a hard one to classify. Some items inside are preventative in nature, while others are obviously used for pure survival. No matter what, you need to have a fully stocked first aid kit on board to combat sailing emergencies. The first 10 minutes can often be the difference between life and death. Even if it's just some seasickness or anti-motility pills, you'll be grateful that you brought your kit along.
Personal Flotation Device and Lifeboat
If it all goes south and your vessel is lost in a crisis, you'll need to stay afloat until rescue arrives. Arm floaties like the kids use aren't gonna cut it here. The Coast Guard actually requires you to have a life jacket for every person on board, but it still bears mentioning here. Finding a life raft that's large enough for each member is also essential. You don't want to take shifts inside the raft.
Anything that can be used to get the attention of others falls under signaling tools. There are audio signalling tools like whistles or even better a marine air horn. These can be used if visibility is poor or during the day. Visual signalling tools are fairly diverse as well. Grab some smoke signals for daytime and flares for night. Be warned, in some jurisdictions flare guns are considered a firearm. Additionally, firing a red flare if there is no actual emergency is punishable by law.
Food and Water
Whether you end up in the lifeboat or stranded somewhere, you're going to need food and water taken care of. Water can be purchased in aqua survival pouches or you can spring for the more expensive option, a water desalination system. Food is relatively easy to take care of. Military MREs and survival bars are long-lasting options that will keep your nutritional needs sated.
Source of Warmth
One of the deadliest places for the human body to be is submerged in cold water. During a boating emergency you're very likely to find yourself in just such a situation. Warming your body back up can be done either chemically with heat packets or canned chemicals, or you can do the old-fashioned route and bring along a lighter or some waterproof matches.
You're extremely lucky if your vessel hasn't gone under completely in an emergency. Getting a damaged vessel back to port can be almost impossible if you aren't prepared with some sort of emergency propulsion system. Bailing on your vessel if its still partly afloat is a tough call. You don't need to abandon ship if you've got an alternate propulsion solution. That solution can be as simple as a mini-telescoping paddle or as pricey as a spare outboard motor.
Boat Emergency Preparedness
While sailing can be a fantastic past time you definitely need to be prepared for any emergency. As I stated, water can be dangerous. There is plenty of help out there for you, including other sailors but if you can be self-sufficient then you'll be able to travel confidently as far away from harbor as you please.