It’s a universally applicable saying that “better safe than sorry” and safety around moving vehicles is something you can never take enough care of. Especially when that particular vehicle is on a body of water in which you can fall and drown. As such, there are multiple safety regulations, imposed both at a national level and by the regional authorities, which apply every single time you go pontooning.
You must remember that, as the owner or, at any rate, the captain of your pontoon, you and you alone are responsible for the safety of everyone on board. It’s a well-known fact that pontoon boats are among the safest boats there are, with an extremely low rate of accidents. However, you really don’t want to be that one guy who fell overboard and drowned in a freak ski rope tangle accident, not to mention being the parent of that guy.
To be completely honest, an emergency may simply never happen. Then again, one single time is more than enough to completely ruin your life. As such, you have to make safety a habit so ingrained in your every cell that you always have all the preparation in place so nothing can happen. And in the off-chance that something does happen, you have to be prepared for that eventuality as well. We compiled a list of things you need to have on board, both everyday use and just-in-case items, classified by how necessary they are.
There are a couple of items without which any boat trip can turn pretty dangerous. Here they are:
Flotation Devices for every passenger
You need to have a PFD properly sized for every passenger you expect on board. As an added precaution in case somebody brings their 5th child as well, throw in two or three extras as well. Falling off a pontoon boat is extremely unlikely, but it can happen and, according to Murphy’s Law, it will happen to the one person on board who can’t swim.
Particularly necessary if you’re planning a barbecue, you may need to employ a fire extinguisher in other cases as well, such as an engine catching on fire or even the sound system going crazy. In case you have an onboard fire pit or planning to launch fireworks, you need to be extra careful with those as well. Anyway, the fire extinguisher is required by law for basically every vehicle around, and this includes pontoons as well.
Audio and visual distress signals
In case something happens that can’t be dealt with on your boat, or your boat doesn’t move anymore, you need to signal for help. In the noise making category, you have horns, bells, and whistles. In the visual category, you have spotlights and emergency flares. At any rate, make sure you have one of each, just in case.
There are a million things that can happen on a boat the same way they can happen at home or while driving a banana on wheels. A basic first-aid kit can help a great deal, both when dealing with minor accidents and when delaying the effects of major accidents until professionals can take care of the matter.
These are a couple of things you won’t die without, but they’re really useful in a pinch and could very well save the day.
Basic tool box and spare parts
A few screwdrivers and wrenches suited to the screws and bolts on your boat, a pair of pliers, a hammer, a box cutter, and so on. You should also get a solid piece of rope as well, just in case your ‘toon ever needs to be towed to the docks. You don’t need some specialized tools or anything, just make sure that you have all the basics covered in case a bolt comes loose, the propeller gets stuck in seaweed, your fishing line gets tangled, things like that. Also bring spare parts for whatever can break, including nuts and bolts, fishing line, spare propeller, spark plugs, and so on.
Portable external battery
At one point or another, your smartphone will definitely die while you’re on a cruise. It may also happen to your GPS, as well as other electronics, and even your engine. If you need to give all these things a nice charge or a jump-start, you’ll need a powerful spare battery.
As stated above, there’s always a possibility that your engine simply dies, leaving you stranded in the middle of the lake. In order to get by when there’s nobody around to help, you’ll need another thing to propel you. You can, to begin with, purchase and install a trolling motor, in particular, if you’re into fishing. If you don’t want to spend upwards of $1000 for something like that, simply mount a crutch on the engine side and make sure you have enough elbow grease for using an oar. That’s a paddlin’.
There are also a couple of things you only have to get if certain specific activities are on that day’s list. Otherwise, you won’t feel their absence. Here are some of them:
Downed skier flag
An item often left aside, but in all respects very important, the downed skier flag can actually save a life in case somebody decides to follow your boat without realizing there’s a skier fallen in the water. Apparently, there have actually been cases of people who died because of their boat captain not signaling to the other boats. As such, make sure that, when you go water skiing, you have the flag with you.
Anchor and line
If you go fishing and you want your pontoon not to move, or you simply want some extra safety when docking, a solid anchor with a correspondingly solid line is in order. Nothing too fancy, but could be really useful when you need it.
These are actually something the law makes you have anyway, in many cases. They may be useful after nightfall, in order to prevent a crash with another boat, but they can be quite successfully replaced by a spotlight – which also has the advantage of allowing you to see something besides your own boat.
This is pretty much what we had in mind for the “safety devices” category. Feel free to add whatever you want, after carefully considering your own specific circumstances. Also, consider the laws and regulations in place and remember that no matter the situation, passenger safety is the first and foremost concern of a captain.