Store gallons of fresh water belowdecks and refresh them often; about a half-gallon per person should be enough to last until help arrives. Long shelf life snacks and extra food will keep everyone comfortable during repair delays or unplanned anchorages. Having something to do — board games, a deck of cards or books to read — seems trivial but may make the difference between a calm passenger and an agitated and impatient one.
The most often overlooked safety item left ashore is medicine. Medical conditions may be a private matter, but when you go to sea you leave advanced medical care behind. Captains should insist on knowing as much as possible about the passengers on their boat. Prescription medications that are deemed critical at home (heart medicines, insulin, seizure medication, etc.) go along for the ride or the people who need them don't go at all.
Every year, the U.S. Coast Guard performs an enormous number of medical evacuations. Sometimes they simply can't be helped. A broken arm from a slip and fall or a case of previously undiagnosed appendicitis can happen from time to time, but in most cases the medical emergencies aren't real surprises. You need to know if your friend's wife has a history of seizures or your new business partner had bypass surgery last year. It may not be your business on land, but it is crucial information when making preparations for your trip and vital to know in an emergency.
As part of trip preparation, ensure everyone aboard knows the vital basics. Using the radio to call for help, manually starting bilge pumps and even deploying emergency equipment may all seem like old hat to you, but what if you are the emergency? Practicing a man-overboard drill with the captain being the man overboard is the smartest thing I've ever seen a mariner do. From the greenest youngster to your saltiest old friend, all hands should know how to use the GPS to make position reports and be unafraid to push the red distress button on the radio. But they have to know where that red button is and what it will do.
You don't have to be sinking to find your life raft useful. Contents vary depending upon manufacturer and type of raft, but many life raft kits contain water and food rations; signaling devices including flares, signal mirrors and whistles; and first-aid kits. Some packs may even include their own EPIRB. Rafts can be tricky to open without inflating and dangerous if inflated in a confined space. It's probably safest to inflate on deck or overboard and then lash the raft securely. Contact your raft manufacturer or servicing facility for a list of what you have been carrying all along but didn't know about and how to access it.
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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.