Boating Safety Checklist: Pre-Departure Captain’s Bag Items

Captains Bag For Boat Above: Every boat captain should have a few emergency essentials onboard before they set sail. Photo by Pexels.

Every time I hop on my boat for the day I bring along a durable, waterproof dry sack designed for water travel packed with everything I think we might need and perhaps some things I hope we won’t need (flares, battery jumper pack, etc). I call it a “captain’s bag” and I figure everyone should have one onboard. Of course, if you’re on a big luxury motor yacht, you probably have this covered in one of your cabin closets, storage compartments or deck lockers. In that case, maybe you could call it a captain’s “stow” bag. Nonetheless, whatever type of boat you’re on, and no matter the style of boating you’re doing, there are a few essentials everyone should make sure they have onboard. Plus, it helps to have them all in one place too.

Below we’ve put together a summary of some basic items to carry with you on your boat. Not all boaters will need these items for every outing (and some may need more depending on the trip distance, duration and body of water), but it’s a good starting point to reference when considering your own boating adventures.

Captain’s Bag Inventory Checklist

  • Handheld VHF radio (charged and ready w/extra battery)
  • Boat registration & required boat documentation (requirements vary by state)
  • Sharp hunting knife in a sheath (for cutting lines, etc)
  • Portable marine jump starter / power pack (like the Allstart 556  or the Napa Blue Fuel 1000PA)
  • A charged, 2,000-lumens flashlight
  • Rugged Marine Binoculars
  • Dramamine (remember, if you get sick onboard you risk dehydration which can quickly lead to becoming incapacitated)
  • Suntan lotion (we recommend SPF 50+)
  • Bug spray (we recommend Sawyer’s Picaridin insect repellent)
  • Warm waterproof blanket
  • Extra rain gear
  • Emergency flares
  • A solar charger
  • First aid kit
  • Mini tool kit (with screw drivers and wrenches for your vessel’s needs)
  • Ziploc bags and/or waterproof case for phones, electronics
  • Granola bars and/or sealed trail mix
  • Portable weather radio

With the above list you should be fairly well-equipped for most days on the water, and able to deal with being stranded for longer than you may have anticipated due to any unforeseen circumstances and unexpected mechanical issues.

One thing we didn’t include above but that I always bring onboard in case we get stranded out there longer than planned is a gallon of fresh water per passenger (I usually stow some under the seats or in a compartment out of the way and regularly swap them out). Another cool idea is to keep an emergency portable desalination device like the Katadyn Survivor 35 that weighs only 7 lbs. and can produce enough drinkable water for up to 20 people in emergency situations. (Again, if you’re on a larger yacht you may have an onboard water maker already – if not, check out YachtWorld’s great roundup of some of the best watermakers for boats.)

Now you’ll need to find the right dry sack big enough to put all of this in and keep it safe onboard the vessel!

For a list or required boating safety equipment and more information about recommended boating gear read our Boating Basics Guide next.

Written by: Ryan McVinney

C. Ryan McVinney is a film director, producer, writer, actor, boat captain, outdoor enthusiast and conservationist. He's currently the host and director of Boat Trader's Stomping Grounds TV show that explores boating culture across America. McVinney produces the Cult Classics video series for YachtWorld and the Factory Fridays show for boats.com and is a regular contributor to leading marine industry publications.

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