A top pick electronic item for boating safety is a VHF marine radio equipped with DSC or Digital Selective Calling. It can be your lifeline to the Coast Guard, or another boater nearby that can help in the event of distress. You can outfit your boat with a traditional fixed VHF radio, or purchase a handheld transmitter. Either way, having a VHF radio on board is extra insurance if the unforeseen happens.
After a VHF marine radio, equip your boat with a GPS. The DSC feature on a marine VHF radio will not send your position to the Coast Guard without it. Not only that, if you have one, you will always be able to use a GPS along with the next optional, but highly recommended, boating accessory.
If you carry nautical charts on board, and reference them regularly, you can ward off a host of dangerous situations – chief of which is running aground. Nautical charts help you navigate using lights and buoys to denote safe channels, but they also provide a way to locate your position using dividers and the latitude and longitude scale along the edges of the chart. First learn to read a nautical chart, and then learn to navigate using a compass, charts, GPS, and RADAR and you will greatly increase your odds of safe boating.
Short for Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon, an EPIRB is the last line of defense in the event of a capsizing or sinking. An automatic digital 406 MHz EPIRB begins transmitting a signal to the Coast Guard when it is submerged in water. Manual models require a switch to be turned on to begin transmitting. The signal can be picked up in as little as 15 minutes, prompting the Coast Guard to respond by sending rescue vessels to the location pinpointed by the beacon.
A re-entry ladder may seem minor, but can come in very handy if you fall overboard – or if you are helping someone larger or heavier than you to get back into a boat. A re-entry ladder is an especially good idea when boating alone, just remember to position the ladder outside of the boat before getting underway.