Assembling Safety and Survival Gear For Mariners

Where to begin?

Safety and survival gear for mariners is a huge subject. The only way to narrow your research is to clearly define your cruising plan.

The first consideration is how long it would take to get help. If your cruise is close to shore response times will generally be within a few hours.

If, on the other hand, your cruise takes you farther from civilization and response times extend beyond 12 to 24 hours then safety and survival gear needs increase dramatically.

The same is true for the environment you’re cruising in. Cold water or warm water. Cold, unsettled weather or warm mild weather. Each environment presents different challenges and has different equipment requirements.

Another primary consideration is health and fitness of passengers and crew. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

Basic Survival Gear

Rather than list a bunch of stuff here I thought it would be better to give you a copy of the USCG Boaters Guide. It is packed with a ton of information. Including check lists for just about everything you would need to know.

Just as important as the stuff you bring along is what you know when things go wrong. This USCG guide is an easy read and really gets you thinking.

A successful boating experience ultimately boils down to good decision making. Good decisions come from good training and experience.

According to USCG stats about 70% of all boating fatalities occur on boats captained by operators with no training. So, the best investment you can make in survival gear is yourself.

Basic Safety Gear

There are thousands of websites that sell safety gear. One of my favorites is “Marine Safety Equipment & Supplies“. Be careful at this site! It will overwhelm you with all the categories of stuff and before you know it hours will have passed.

There are a few things we ran into on our coastal cruise last year that were annoying and made us re-think our gear.

Inflatable Life Vests

We were wearing our inflatable life vests while taking the dinghy to shore. Just as we reached the beach we were flipped by a wave and our vests inflated just as the wave receded and we were left sitting on the beach wearing our fully inflated vests.

Besides feeling embarrassed we had to find a marine supply store to replace the spent arming devices. Which are not always that easy to find at the local store. It would be a good idea to have a re-arming kit onboard at all times.

There are inflatable vests that have the option to select manual or auto modes. In mild conditions use the manual mode. In severe conditions use the auto mode. That way you may save yourself some embarrassment.

Back-up Anchor Gear

Have a back-up anchor and line. In some anchorages you’ll want a stern anchor. Or, in sever conditions, having a second bow anchor is not a bad idea.

If you use a stern anchor we found that floating line is advisable. It is possible that a submerged stern line can get fouled in your props.

Other anchoring gear we would not be without is an anchor bridle. It’s a bit more work but will probably save your anchor roller hardware from getting hammered. Believe me, your anchor roller gear and windlass will take a beating at some point in your adventures.


We started our cruise with a 10′ fiberglass dinghy. We ended with an inflatable. During a particularly nasty couple days on Santa Cruz Island I watched our fiberglass dinghy get picked up and then smashed under water in the blink of an eye.

Mother nature can be brutal.

There is nothing better than a good inflatable dinghy to have for  cruising. It doesn’t take the place of a life raft but it is far better than the dinghy from yore.


In addition to your stationary VHF radio with DSC I really liked having my trusty waterproof, floating handheld radio. Whether you’re on the boat, on shore or somewhere in between these are great.

I haven’t purchased one yet but, most of my cruising buddies have SAT phones. I’ve received calls from them while they’re sitting in some remote location in Baja or from behind an island in the Channel Islands.

By all reports, the cost is coming down. Immarsat has a package that includes the phone (for free) and 150 minutes of service for $108 per month. There are lots of plans. It’s about as confusing as cellphone plans. But, it’s becoming affordable even for coastal cruising.

Last but not least, the first communication you make is before you leave the dock. File a float plan with family and/or friends. Once underway check in with them to let them know everything is going according to plan or you are revising your plan.

Signaling Devices

Signaling devices are a form of communication. Technology has improved since I started boating but the goal of signaling in an emergency is the same. Get some ones attention.

All the old standbys are good to have. Such as whistles, mirror and flares. We carry all of these. But, there is a new high tech option available now that is also USCG approved.

A couple that caught my eye are the high intensity strobe “flares” and the laser flares. These style signaling devices are designed to replace the old style flare gun that has an expiration limit.

There are a bunch of manufacturers of these new high tech flares now but I did find a pretty good article that shows what specifications to look for.

Wrapping Up

Years ago my flight instructor used to say . . .

You can have 1,000 hours of experience, or, you can have one hour of experience a thousand times.

If you’re not pushing to learn more you’re not advancing. If you want to go cruising you will be challenging yourself and your equipment. The more knowledge you possess the better master and commander you will be.

NOTE: We receive no compensation from any of the vendors we may mention in our posts.