Tools of the Trade

By: Capt. Billy Norris

Whether you are already a seasoned boater or you are just getting started, there are certain items that can make your life a lot easier.  If you’re fishing, diving or just pleasure cruising, these items can save the day.  The following are some things that I now carry with me on the boat, learned through countless hours and experiences on the water.

First, your safety gear.  As required by the State of Florida, you must have the basics; one life jacket for every person onboard, fire extinguisher, visual distress signal, a sound-producing device, first aid kit, and a throwable.  In addition, your navigation lights, anchor light, and registration must be squared away.  With regards to the safety gear, there are additional things you can do to each of these items that will bring your game up a level.  If you are not a commercial vessel (i.e., charter boat, for hire passenger vessel) then you can use whatever coast guard approved jackets you want.  For commercial, you are required to use type-1 jackets.  These are the giant, bulky overkill jackets that take up a ton of storage space.  There is, however, a smaller version of the same jacket that takes up about half of the space.  If it is Coast Guard approved and is a Type 1 jacket, it will pass the inspection.  Another life jacket tip I’ve learned through trial and error is that the jackets cannot be stored in any sort of bag.  Nautical stores usually sell ‘life jacket bags’ to keep them dry and in good shape, but per coast guard regulations, the jackets cannot be stored while underway in these bags.  They must be loose and separate.

Flares are the biggest pain in the ass when it comes to safety gear.  They expire and are extremely prone to getting wet and ruined.  Usually, you discover that they are ruined during an inspection by the Coast Guard or FWC.  But there is an alternative to flares!  The Coast Guard has approved LED signal flares as an alternative to traditional flares.  It is essentially an LED strobe, that is waterproof, and doesn’t expire.  Sirius, ACR, Orion and all sorts of companies make these Coast Guard approved signals.  I highly recommend swapping out your old flares for one of these.

A first aid kit is probably the only thing that you will use out of your safety gear on a regular basis.  Keeping it stocked per Coast Guard requirements can be a pain, especially if you’re using it regularly.  I mitigate this problem by keeping two separate first aid kits on board.  I have one in the center console that is Coast Guard approved, fully stocked and still in the shrink wrap.  If I get safety checked, I always have this brand new first aid kit to present.  In addition, I have a real first aid kit below deck as well.  This is the big, beefed up first aid that we use.  You can customize it to your needs, adding or subtracting what you use or don’t.  My real first aid kit has items in it that the generic USCG approved ones don’t.  Plenty of bandages, gauze, tourniquets, suture kit, and other lifesaving gear have been added to the one we use.

Some other helpful tips that I’ve learned over the years with regards to safety gear are; you must have a throwable cushion within arm’s reach of the driver, the noise making device (whistle) must be within arm’s reach of the driver (attaching one to your boat keys hits the wicket), any passenger under 60 pounds is required to wear a life jacket while underway, life jacket strobe lights must have lithium batteries, and fire extinguishers even if full can fail inspection if there is any spot of rust on them.

Hopefully some of these tips have helped you out and made your life a little easier.  If you have any questions, you can always call FWC and ask.  In addition, the Coast Guard Auxiliary usually puts on classes free of charge to the public.  If you are new to boating taking one of these courses is highly recommended.

The water is cooling down and the fishing is great right now!  Kingfish, gag grouper, tripletail and cobia have been the stars of the show lately.  If you are ready to get out on the water and do some fishing, give Pale Horse Fishing Charters a call!