It’s the season of boating, so it’s time to lift off the anchors and sail away! But there are a few documents you should always have aboard your boat before you push off shore.

Below, we take a deep dive into the clear blue sea of items, credentials, and information you should always have on hand in case of an accident.

What Could Happen?

Before we look at what you need, let’s first take a look at the kinds of incidents that could happen out on the water. Below is a list of common problems that you might run into, each with their own insurance and protection needs.

  • Ship collisions (two boats crash)
  • Ship groundings (boat goes up on shore)
  • Intoxication-related accidents
  • Accidents in shipyards and ports
  • Man overboard (which can lead to injury and death)
  • Medical emergencies
  • Slips and trips on deck
  • Malfunctioning equipment
  • Stranded or wrecked
  • Pirates (they still exist, and they influence your safety and insurance)

“Seawater cures all wounds” is unfortunately not always the case. Accidents happen, and you need to be prepared for them.

What Should You Have?

So what should you carry with you in case something happens?

1. Identification and Boating License

Just like when driving a car, you need to always have your license on you when operating a boat. The Coast Guard asks for identification of the driver and owner of the boat if there is a serious accident or injury. They may also ask for the identification of passengers at the time of the incident, so it’s a good practice to ask your guests to also carry some form of ID while on the boat.

Some states and waters require boating licenses for any and all drivers of the vessel. Boating licenses are obtained in a similar way as driver’s licenses: the individual has to be of a given age, attend a boat safety course, and pass certain tests.

Only a few states require boating licenses, but almost all U.S. states have mandatory boater safety certifications. In this case, you will also want to carry your boat safety certificate on board in case you are “pulled over” or an incident occurs.

Even if it is not required, we always recommend attending a boat safety course and obtaining safety certifications. Boating is not intuitive, and safety is a learned skill. Additionally, attending boat safety courses may help lower your marine insurance rates.

2. Boat Registration

“License and registration” applies on the sea too. Like identification, some states require boat registration for certain types of vessels. Generally, these vessels include:

  • Sailboats longer than 8 feet
  • Powerboats and motor boats
  • Commercial vessels

Smaller boats may not need registration. However, it may also depend on the body of water in which the boat is being used. Always check your local DMV or Department of Parks and Wildlife to see if you are required to obtain boat registration and titles.

3. Insurance Coverage

If you’ve read our Ultimate Guide For Insuring Your Boat, you may have already purchased the appropriate policy coverage for your vessel. It’s important to carry this policy information on you at all times, because it will help you determine quickly what your insurance will and will not cover based on the policy you have.

For example, towing a boat after a wreck can cost up to $400 per hour. If you look at your insurance policy and see that you have salvage insurance, you’ll know that this towing assistance may be covered by your insurance company.

Another example could be if you have expensive navigation equipment that suddenly starts to malfunction due to a storm. If you have specialized insurance, you can later make a claim with your insurance company to get that navigation repaired.

4. Camera

In today’s day and age, cameras are part of a multitude of tech devices, so it shouldn’t be too hard to make room for some sort of camera on your boat. Despite getting great shots of your fun out on the water, it can also be a crucial way to document and photograph anything that happens while offshore. Pictures are the best way to show your insurance company exactly what happened and how if there is an incident. The more you document, the better off you’ll be.

5. Trip Plan

Whether you’re going on a quick ride on the lake or sailing around the world, you should always write out a trip plan. This gives you a general sense of where you will be going, and it will help you gather the proper supplies onboard to take you the distance you need to go.

You should also give your trip plan to someone who will be on land, so they can ensure your safe return home. It’s always a good idea to let someone know your approximate whereabouts in the vast expanse of water. This is important both for safety as well as for insurance claims with regards to injury or death.

Your trip plan should include:

  • Departure location
  • Departure date and time
  • Destination location
  • Arrival date and time
  • List of everyone on board, their ages, and their medical conditions
  • License number, boat registration, make and model of boat, and boat name (if it has a name)
  • Note: If boat is not returned or heard from by date/time, call Coast Guard or local authority

6. Emergency Items

To keep your passengers and your boat protected, there are also certain items you should always carry on board with you. Despite good safety practices, this can also help prove to the Coast Guard and your insurance company that a given accident or incident was not caused by negligence.

Some items to keep onboard include:

  • PFD (Personal flotation device): one live vest per person onboard
  • Visual distress signals
  • Auditory distress signals (whistle, horn)
  • Flashlights
  • Nautical charts/GPS
  • Tool kit
  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Marine sanitation devices
  • Safety placards
  • Extra rope and line
  • Pantyhose (a sailor’s trick to fix holes, rips, and blown belts)
  • Water bottles (for hydration and also to use as a hole cover in a pinch)
  • Food stores
  • Anchors, paddles, raft/dinghy (if on a larger boat)

Please note that these are not all of the items that are recommended in every state to keep your boat safe. Different types and uses of vessels have different requirements.

The Bottom Line

Accidents happen on the water. Be prepared with the necessary documents and emergency items to keep you, your passengers, and your boat safe—while also protecting your wallet! Learn more about boat insurance with our Ultimate Guide To Insuring Your Boat.