End Of The Season

It is with tears in my eyes I begin cleaning out the sailboat for the end of the season.  We live in Illinois, I know I am sorry too.  Things need to be prepared for winter. Although,  we store our boat in a covered hanger, it is not heated.

There are a few things to consider when you are getting your boat ready for winter in a northern state.

Electronic equipment does not like being left alone in the boat all winter.  You risk damage from battery leakage.  I bring in the handheld VHF radio, wind meter, hand held GPS, flashlights, and everything with batteries.  I take out all the batteries and put them in a plastic bag.  We can then use them in toys for the grandkids and items around the house.  I want fresh batteries in all my toys come spring.  Storing all my electronics in the house keeps it from somehow taking a walk and finding a new home.

We also bring in our boat batteries and keep them charged up. This helps them last longer.  Considering these marine batteries cost over a hundred dollars each, we want them to last for years.


Condensation and moisture in your boat are  really bad things.  You don’t want mold.  Once you have it you will forever fight it.  You will also have stains.  Mold stains are impossible to get out.  It is much easier to keep it away than it is to get rid of it.

We remove all the seat cushions and mattresses.  Some people place them on end and move them around from time to time.  Our kids are all grown and we have an extra bedroom, so we store our cushions in the house.  You will want to remove all fabric.  The fabric will hold moisture and grow mold.  With that said we remove the following items and store them in plastic tubs with cedar balls until spring.

  • towels
  • clothes
  • sails
  • paper products (mice love paper towels and toilet paper)
  • sheets
  • blankets
  • pillows
  • cushions
  • our LifeSling (because it is vinyl)
  • life jackets

This is also the time when I take the 1st aid kit and ditch bags in and go through them.  I look at all the expiration dates.  If something is going to expire before the end of the next sailing season it goes in the trash or gets put in the house medicine cabinet. I take all the food and water out of the ditch bag.  Yes, I get to eat the M&Ms.   If you take the time to make a list of everything you remove , you will have an easy time shopping and restocking come spring.

Once the boat is completely cleaned out, I wash down everything with vinegar to prevent mold.  Putting moisture absorbers  all over inside the boat will control the moisture and keep the mold at bay.  I only have to replace them once toward the end of the winter. Someone told me you can also get them at Dollar Tree.  If you attend the boat show in Chicago this January, they hand them out at the door.

Opening up all the cabinets and  storage doors will help the moisture get out and the air to circulate.


If you leave food or paper products in the boat you will come back in the spring to an extended family. I don’t know about you, but I like my family members to have only 2 legs and not 8-10 babies at a time.  So all this comes in the house.

You will want to take all the food in and use it up.  Making a list of the things you removed will help you replace it next season.  Remember the goal is to keep the mice out not feed them and to be able to get you back in the boat quickly come spring.


Putting peppermint tea bags in the corners will keep the mice and insects out. They hate peppermint. Putting peppermint tea bags near the companionway door makes the mice think twice before trying to get in.  Again, the mice do not care about the brand, cheap works just as good as premium brands.  You will  need to remove them from their sleeves. You want just the tea bag.

I also take small pine calls called doll heads and soak them in peppermint essential oil.  You do not need to buy the expensive essential oils.  Get the cheap stuff at Wal-mart.  The mice do not know the difference.  You can get the balls in the craft section of Wal-mart. They are called doll heads because they have a hole in the center.  This hole is important because it helps them become saturated with oil.  Just place the ball in a Ziploc bag and put enough oil in to coat them.  It usually take about 15-20 drops.  Then simply shake the bag to coat and let sit.  Once they are dry you just need to place them around the boat and in the cubbyholes.   

Freezing and Bursting

The last thing you want to do in the spring is replace pipes or water containers because yours froze and burst.  We take the water tanks out and empty them.  Do not forget to drain the pipes and empty out the toilet.  I run vinegar through the water lines and the toilet to keep mold and other unwanted stuff from growing.

Come spring all I need to do is throw out all the tea bags and pick up the doll heads. I actually coat them with oil again and put them back. It really seems to help keep the spiders out.  This is a good thing as far as I am concerned.

You will also want to dispose of all the moisture absorbing bags once you start taking her out again.

Spring is a good time to  wash the inside of the boat to get the winter grime out before taking  all the totes out and restocking  the boat.



Ditch Bags 101

What Is A  Ditch Bag?

Once again you are preparing for something you hope never happens. We do a lot of this in the sailing community.   This is where your ditch bag comes in.

You will want to keep this bag somewhere you can access it quickly.  We keep ours next to our hand-held VHF radio, life jackets and SPOT.  In the event that we need to abandon the ship, we can grab all these at once.

What Kind of Bag?

You want your ditch bag to be a bright color.  The brighter the items you have with you, the better the chance you will be seen by another vessel or a plane.  I added reflective tape to ours.   I have found that red and orange work best.    Your ditch bag should also be waterproof and float.  A fully loaded ditch bag should not sink.  A swimming pool is a great place to test your bags floatation.

This is the one we purchased.  Just make sure the one you get fits all the specifications above.

So What Do I Need In It?

A good rule of thumb is to prepare for a few days and get rescued in a few hours.  So, with that said, you will want food and water. We have granola bars, protein bars, nuts, trail mix, dried fruit and a couple EMR’s (Emergency meal replacements).  You can get these at most outdoor stores.  In our bag I also pack vitamin M.  Yes, I do mean M&M’s.  They last a long time when hot, and they are great for energy. Besides, they melt in your mouth not in your hands.    I am a princess at heart and chocolate is my comfort food.  If I have to wait to be rescued it might as well be with chocolate.  You can seal all your food items up with a food saver system.

Remember to replace these items every sailing season.  Every fall I take these items out of our bag and we eat them.  And no, it is not just an excuse to eat the M&M’s, as if I needed one.  You don’t want to give these items a chance to mold or spoil.  Yes, even water has an expiration date.  I haven’t figured that one out yet.  There is no expiration date stamped on my well out back.     Our bag has  a couple bottles of water, as well as a  water purifying straw.  You can buy special emergency water in foil bags, but to me that seems really expensive and laughable.  You can call it emergency H2O but it is still water.

Other Items In Our Bag

You will already have a strobe light and whistle on your life jacket so you won’t need those in your bag.

  • marine flares
  • waterproof flash light
  • small emergency 1st aid kit.
  • sunscreen- Remember we are preparing for days hoping for hours.
  • lip balm
  • hat (keeping your head cool is half the battle)
  • cooling rags ( I have just added these to our bags.  These are the ones you soak in water and snap to activate)
  • Bonine ( Someone suggested taking this as you leave the ship.  Floating in waves can cause a loss of stomach contents)
  • fishing line and a hook (we have ours in a small Altoids mint container)
  • knife
  • space blanket
  • long sleeved shirt to protect you from the sun
  • waterproof matches
  • light sticks
  • A waterproof container with a  copy of your birth certificate, passport and drivers license in it.  ( I sealed ours up in a food saver bag)
  • If you have a spare pair of glasses this would be a good place to store them
  • a small amount of cash

Remember, the ditch bag will be stored next to your handheld VHF radio, SPOT or other beacon, life jacket (with strobe and whistle attached) and your cell phone in a water proof case.  I use a Life Proof IPhone case as my case.  It DOES NOT float but it is waterproof. All of this is stored near our emergency air horn so we can also grab that.

Think of it this way.  If you have to abandon ship… you are prepared for the worst.  If you don’t you get to eat M&M’s guilt free every fall.

First-Aid First: Emergency Medical Kits

First-aid kits fall into the “hope-we-never-have-to-use-it” category.  If you never have to use your  kit, great,  smile and just replace the items as they expire.

The first aid kits that you buy for your home or vehicle are for minor issues.  On a sailboat you are going to need more advanced first aid training and equipment.  Toes get broken, fish hook accidents, and illnesses happen.  You can’t call 911 and have an ambulance on site in minutes.  It is important that you know how to deal with emergencies on your own.

Expiration Check-Up

Next to having a kit, the most important thing is to check your kit for expired items.  I check ours every fall when I take things out of the sailboat for the winter.  If an item will expire before the end of the next sailing season, I place it in our home medical cabinet to be used.  This gives me the winter to restock our boat kit.   I go through our car and hiking kits at the same time.  A good rule of thumb is that most items will last 2-3 years.

One thing I feel is important to stress is that you do not want cardboard or paper packages on your boat.  Cockroaches, spiders and all sorts of multi-legged creatures including mice, love paper products as homes.  I take everything including my first aid supplies out of the packaging and seal them in plastic.  I use the food saver system and put them in small bags.

Other Things to Have Onboard

You want to be sure your VHF radio is in good working order so you can call for help.  Do not rely on your cell phone.  Murphy lives on all sailboats.   You  can count on your cell phone not working when an emergency happens. Unless you are planning a crossing you probably won’t need a satellite phone.

Our Cobra radio has a GPS built in.  It sends our location when we call out for help.  In case it is not working  or for when we are out kayaking, I have a SPOT (emergency beacon) onboard.  This SPOT will also come in handy if you have to abandon the boat.  It pinpoints exactly where you are so the coast guide can rescue you. You need only push one button and help comes.  Remember it has to be a real emergency.  The coast guard frowns upon being summoned because you are out of toilet paper.  Don’t laugh, it has happened.

A spot can put your loved ones at ease.  Let your loved ones know that you will send them an e-mail message nightly.  This device will send them your location and the message you specify.  Ours is set to send , “We are fine and all is good. ” 

First-Aid Instructions

You should have a comprehensive first-aid book onboard. Here are a few we have found helpful.  If you only get one this is my favorite.


Most important is that you learn First Aid and CPR training.  There is a feeling of peace knowing that if someone I love suffers a heart attack, I know what to do until help arrives.  Help can take a long time to reach you when you are in the middle of the Great Lakes or down in the Keyes.  Keep in mind you are not just training for emergencies on the boat,  you may be off the boat hiking when someone needs help.

You will notice I did not say take a class.  Although it is helpful to take a class, it can be costly.  Last year Dave and I had to recertify with the Red Cross.  I was shocked that they charge $70.00 a person to recertify and it can  cost $110.00 to take the classes for the first time.   It should never cost that much to learn how to save a life. When I first became certified it cost $20.00. If you do not want to take a class you can order the class manual and self study.

Buying  First-Aid Kits

You can buy a basic first-aid kit in the camping section or pharmacy section at  Wal-mart.  We carry a basic kit in our backpack and in our car. A basic kit goes with us when we leave the boat to hike.  Although, those kits are good they will not be sufficient for life on a sailboat.  Remember, it is easy to get paramedics to a park, but not so easy to get them to a sailboat.

In our basic kits we also put a bottle of New Skin, a package of Quik Clot and a CPR barrier. These items do not come in a normal first-aid kit.  New Skin will create a barrier so dirt and bacteria can’t enter a wound and stop the bleeding. 

  The CPR barrier protects you.  You many not know the background of the person you are giving mouth to mouth.  I like this one because it comes in a crush proof box to keep it clean.  

In case,  you do not want to build your own, you can order a  kit that is pretty extensive. Although , this one is pretty expensive it is my favorite since it is military grade.   

Here is a basic waterproof kit you can add too.

Putting Together Your Own Kit

If you decide to put together your own kit, they sell empty waterproof cases.

Items that should definitely be in your case.

You are on a sailboat and most likely someone will be fishing. Make sure you carry a small wire cutter and a pair of needle nose pliers in your kit.

  • alcohol (it stings but it works)
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • wound wash
  • Quik Clot bleeding arrest 
  • hydration powder-pedialyte
  • gloves
  • instant ice packs
  • 10 of different sizes waterproof  bandages
  • 20-butterfly closures
  • 5-non-stick dressing
  • gauze sponges ( have feminine pads in case you need to stop a large bleed. You can put them on top the sterile bandage.)
  • 20 large square gauze pads
  • 20 small square gauze pads
  • creape bandage 3″
  • creape bandage 4″
  • roll medical tape
  • 3M Vetbond tissue adhesive  (yes this is sold for animals but it is the same thing ERs use for larger wounds)
  • New skin (for small cuts)
  • elastic bandages for ankles and wrists
  • arm sling
  • motor-sickness pills
  • cold medications
  • 20 antiacids
  • 12 immodium tablets
  • bentadine or iodine swabs
  • triple antibiotic cream
  • lidocaine cream ( especially good when getting out fish hooks)
  • You will also want a compact pair of wire cutters for cutting the barbs off fish hooks.
  • antifungal cream
  • Benadryl lotion for insect bites and poison weeds
  • Benadryl pills
  • Excedrin for headaches (I prefer this to Tylenol or Ibuprofen)
  • Ibuprofen for swelling
  • Bio-Freeze for muscle pain
  • aspirin for sunburn ( it helps lower the body temp and stop the burn)
  • vinegar ( I keep a small bottle for sunburn and jelly fish stings. Dave has experience with this one.  It is best not to play with a sea creature you can’t identify.  If you don’t know what it is,  leave it alone.)
  • Antibiotics- If you are going off shore talk to your doctor about getting a script.  Most doctors are quite helpful with this.  I know people who have gone to farm stores and purchased antibiotics in the livestock section.  This is not my first choice.  I would rather get a physicians order for the right dosages
  • Goldenseal- I use this when I feel something coming on (natural antibiotic)
  • Sen-o-kot for constipation
  • aloe for sunburn
  • burn creams
  • thermometer
  • blood pressure cuff (if you are trained to use one)
  • triangular bandage
  • tweezers
  • bent scissors
  • finger splints
  • Oral gel and crown/filling temporary repair kit, in case of a dental emergency.
  • oil of cloves is also helpful for tooth aches
  • I prefer a natural antibiotic cream 
  • A natural first aid lotion 
  • If I go to the dentist and need a prescription for a pain killer. I keep the extras to take onboard.

You May Want

I am all about natural and herbal. I carry Goldenseal. It is a natural antibiotic.  I take it at the first signs of a urinary tract infection or an illness and it works great for me.  Disclaimer, if I take this and am not feeling better after a few days it is time to seek medical attention.  

Remember you are building a kit you don’t want to ever use.  You are training for emergencies you hope to never witness.  Of course,  that does not mean you should not be prepared for that worst case scenario.  What is that boy scout motto again?


Navigation Lessons

Why Learn Navigation?

If you are just sailing on a small lakes such as Clinton Lake, you really don’t have to worry about learning navigation and chart reading.  I can promise you that you will get bored with that pretty quickly. You will find yourself wanting to sailing on larger bodies of water.  If you don’t, your partner will.

As sea kayakers we needed navigational skills to do open water crossings.  By we, I mean David.  I had no interest in learning navigation. Remember,  I am directionally challenged.  My idea of directions consists of when you see the pasture of cows, then  turn left at the cemetery.  My primary job is to just follow David.  I have been doing this quite well since I was 16.

It is always wise to plan your trip in advance, know where the dangers are.  To be able to avoid them you are going to need tools.  Electronics as well as paper charts.

How to Learn to Find Your Way

You can find a club and take classes in navigation.  Our club partners with the Mid Illini Sail & Power Squadron.   You can take all sort of weather, safety, navigation, and sailing classes.   Some of the courses you can do as a self study.  Which means you study the course on your own and just show up the night of the exam.   This works best for us.  We are 2 hours from our club and Dave’s work schedule doesn’t allow a weekly commitment.

I know I have said it before but,  it warrants repeating.  JOIN A SAILING CLUB!  Run don’t walk to a club.  Within that club you will find all these classes and plenty of people that are willing to teach you all things sailing.  You will meet people who love the same thing you do….sailing.

GPS vs Charts

There are so many resources available that can help you learn navigation.  I will only touch the surface of this topic.  Your first goal is to learn how to read charts and use your GPS.  Why do you need charts when you have a GPS and a computer?  A GPS is great and we would not sail without it. However, you are in a sailboat that is not as maneuverable as a power boat.  You will want enough notice that there is a shoal ahead so you can avoid it.  A GPS does not show enough area to give you sufficient notice of a shoal or rocky area. Charts give you the big picture.

Have you ever tried to use your cell phone to access the internet while out on a large body of water?  We have Verizon.  Even out on Lake Clinton we can’t get our internet to work.  It is great to pull up charts and information on your phone or laptop.  You can get your most accurate information online.  You just don’t want to depend on that connection for your safety.  A Chart can’t be affected by lightning, it doesn’t take batteries, or require an internet connection.  We have all three on our boat.


Here are a few a books Dave found helpful in learning how to navigate large bodies of water.

Basic Coastal Navigation–  This clear and accessible introduction to coastal navigation outlines most of the techniques of piloting that are still fundamental to safe navigation even with modern electronic aids. Step-by-step, the reader is guided from simple to more complex piloting solutions. In addition to dead-reckoning techniques, the author covers tides and currents and explains how to use LORAN C and GPS. There are numerous illustrations throughout the text and practice problems at the end of each chapter.

Boat Navigation for the Rest of Us–Want a full course in navigation? A whole toolbox of little-known tips and shortcuts to deal with real-life navigation situations without resorting to a slide rule? You get both in Boat Navigation for the Rest of Us, second edition, a guide to pleasure boat navigation that shows you how to combine electronic aids like radar and GPS with visual observations, simple chart work  and common-sense piloting. In plain, simple language, it explains how to find where you are and get where you want to go with a minimum of fuss. You’ll find many little-known, low-tech methods specifically designed for use aboard small powerboats and sailboats. This edition brings you up to speed on the many changes to navigation systems and equipment that have occurred over the past six years, including dramatic improvement in GPS accuracy, the proliferation of electronic charts and plotting systems, and the growing importance of the Internet as a navigation tool.

The Complete Sailing Manual by Sleight— An international bestseller, now in it’s fourth edition.  This is the ultimate illustrated guide for all sailors, whether a novice or an experienced skipper.  Learn the basics of sailing, master navigation, and maintain your boat with The Complete Sailing Manual, written by instructor and former British national champion Steve Sleight. This authoritative text has clear, annotated diagrams and photographs that answer questions about any sailing situation with thorough coverage of all aspects of sailing and boat ownership.

Coastal Navigation Using GPS for Sail and Power by Frank Larkin–    Helps boaters get the most out of this newest must-have boating gadget.

Waterway Guide –We purchased the Great Lakes 2017 because we are planning to sail the Great Lakes next year.   They produce guides for other areas as well.  These guides will tell you where to anchor out, great places to eat, things to see, dangers to avoid and what services each marina offers.                                                              

Map and Compass by Jacobson—How to choose and use the right type of compass.  Using maps and compass with a GPS.  This is more for camping and kayaking but much of it applies to sailing.
Seamanship Secrets 185 Tips and Techniques by Jamieson—  185 techniques that work without fail in the pilothouse or the exposed cockpit of a shorthanded sail- or powerboat.  Even in the age of electronics navigation you need to know how to eyeball your boat through any situation.

How to Read a Nautical Chart by Calder–  The classic How to Read a Nautical Chart explains every aspect of electronic and paper nautical charts: how a chart is assembled, how to gauge the accuracy of chart data, how to read charts created by other governments, how to use information such as scale, projection technique and datum that every chart contains; how not to get fooled or run aground by over zooming. Nigel Calder teaches you how to squeeze every ounce of information out of a nautical chart (on your GPS, chartplotter, or nav station) and understand the limits of accuracy for all charts, paper and electronic, raster and vector.


Why do you need Charts when you can get a GPS?  Many feel this way.  However, you are in a sailboat.  You cannot maneuver as easily as a power boat.  A chart gives you the big picture of the area.  You can see shoals and rock formations far enough in advance to maneuver away from them.  Both charts, Internet and GPS are valuable tools.  We have all three on our boat.  The GPS  we purchased is the Garmin maps78SC  chartplotter. This is a hand held model.  We felt with the size of our boat we were better off with a small one we can have in the cockpit with us.  

We also purchased the mount for the cockpit. 

When you study the books or take classes on navigation  you will learn how to use the following tools.

Parallel Ruler by Ferocious Viking — This tool is used for Navigation on sea charts with ruler and protractor scales for accurate chart plotting.

We purchased our tools separately before we found this kit.  You can get all the tools for one low price.


Of course you will need the charts.   Amazon carries all the laminated and standard charts.  Laminate charts will last for years for only a few dollars more.  Click on this link to go to NOAA charts.   Here you can print out notebook size charts and laminate them.  These are great for getting a feel for where you will be going.  We do use these to plan out our trips.  They are just too small to use for actual on water navigation.  You can use this link to find the chart number for the exact location you are traveling.  Once you have the chart number, you can go to Amazon and type in, for example, NOAA chart 14910.  This will bring up the chart for the lower Green Bay area.

Storage of the Charts

We store our charts in a 2″ PVC drain pipe with screw on caps.  This keeps them rolled up, out of the way, and dry.  



Or you can buy a case 


ADC Summit Atmospheric Data Center– You will need to monitor the barometric pressure and know when a storm is coming. This little device will help you track it all.  I would recommend you keep a journal for a few months.  Record the readings and the type of weather that followed.  This will show you what to expect at any given time.

The other instrument you will need to have is a compass.  We mounted one in the cockpit next to the lev-o-meter.   It is important you do not mount it near any electronics or metal.  I can imagine us going in circles out on the Great Lakes because the compass is not reading correctly.  Although, in my head this is funny.  It wouldn’t be in real life. We installed the Ritchie below. 

Even if you have all the tools and know how to use them, accidents can happen.  Be sure you have a VHF radio onboard to be able to call for help.  You can never be too prepared.   As I have said before, you never want to use the emergency tools you have onboard. But there is comfort knowing they are there.


Emergency Equipment You Don’t Want to Use

Okay,  you should practice with this equipment in order to be knowledgeable in the event of an emergency.  On the other hand, you don’t ever want to need this stuff. Some of this equipment is required by law, some of it is just smart to have.

Man Overboard

When we planned our first trip to the Great Lakes we wanted to make sure that we were prepared for rough water.  As sea kayakers we knew how important being prepared for the worst was.  Our kayaking group holds numerous rescue practices before our yearly Great Lakes trip.  Our rule is, if you can’t get back into your kayak or rescue someone else, you have no business on Lake Superior.  Remember the Edmund Fitzgerald?  I am not saying they shouldn’t have been out there but, if they can sink…………..  Just give that a little thought. They were in a large steel freighter and they all perished.  I am in a kayak or a 26ft fiberglass sailboat.

Life Jackets vs Inflatable Life Vests

Remember life jackets are mandated by law.  You can be fined on even the smallest body of water for not having properly fitting life jackets.  Meaning if you are 250 lbs. you can’t hand the Coast Guard a size small and expect him to believe it is yours.

We have kayaking life jackets, but they are bulky and hot.  It is miserable to wear them all day on a sailboat, in 90 degree sun.  Not to mention, they are really too bulky for getting around on deck. After reading reviews and watching “You Tube” videos, we decided to look into the inflatable life vests.

After checking out the different inflatable life vests we found that some of them had safety harnesses built in.  Which got us thinking about man overboard.  After reading all the reviews, we chose the Mustang Inflatable Life Vest with built in harness.  They will deploy when you hit the water, pull the string or manual blow them up.  No matter what the circumstances, you can inflate it. You will also want to pick a color that can be easily seen.  The brighter the better.  We are not worried about making a fashion statement.  We want to be rescued fast.

When Picking Your Vest… How Much Is Your Life Worth?

You can buy a cheaper model, however,  you will have to pull the cord to inflate.  I was not willing to do that.  I want to know I don’t have to think about pulling a cord or finding it when I am panicking.  Trust me, I will be in a full blown panic.  What if you are hurt or unconscious?  I will pay the extra to know this baby is going to inflate without me!!!!

You will probably at some point have to rearm your vest.  They have an expiration date and gauge.  It looks like they will last about 2 years from the date of purchase.   When it is time to rearm my vest I plan to jump in my swimming pool before I rearming it.   That will at least give me an idea of what it feels and sounds like when it goes off. I don’t want to do it out on a lake.  Someone may think I really need help.

We can reach our life vests from the cockpit door.

Attach Yourself and Loved Ones

One of the things Mustang recommends is a double tether with a quick release. If you have to take down the sails in  rough weather you will want this. We have been up in Wisconsin in 25 mile winds.  It was nice to know I was attached to the boat.   We purchased ours from West Marine because they had all the features we were looking for. The quick release is important incase the boat does go over or sink.  You will want to be able to release the cord with one pull.

West Marine Life Vest Tether

One end attaches to your life vest with a quick release lever. The other end attaches to an eye strap on your boat. You are never disconnected.  You have one extra strap to connect to a second eye strap before you disconnect the first one.   We placed the eye straps along both sides of the boat so we can stay attached all the way to the front stay.

They are placed a little less than 6 feet apart.

You do not want to attach this tether to your life lines or the upright stays.  If you are not sure why watch the movie “All Is Lost”. 

On a side note these also work great to secure kids.  I have very active grandchildren.  It is hard to keep an eye on all of them at one time.  This is especially true with the younger ones.  If the boat is heeling it is nice to clip them to an eye strap in the cockpit.  They can still move all over the cockpit. They just can’t go overboard.

Signal Horn

The law states you must have a fire extinguisher and a safety horn on board.  You can actually pick these up at Wal-Mart.  Just make sure you have them.  Do not test your horn out on the water.  You may get help when you don’t need it. Hint:  Grandchildren love to play with these.  From experience, it is best not to show them how this horn works.  It is a game you can’t win. 

We have attached safety strobe lights and rescue whistles to our inflatable life vests. These strobe lights are visible for up to a mile.  Do not purchase one rated for less than a mile.   Remember the goal is to be seen and rescued fast.

Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers are Coast Guard mandated equipment on any boat not just sailboats.  Depending on the size of your boat , you may want to have one located by your engine and one in your kitchen. Make sure you have the right type for each area.  You may want to consider a marine extinguisher that is rated for salt water.  You don’t want to find it covered in rust and unusable when your boat is on fire.


Flares are also required by law.  You need to check the expiration date on your kit.   I check these every fall when I clean out the boat.  When the US Coast Guard boards your boat you better have these.  We store ours in the bathroom on the wall.  You can get a kit at Wal-Mart. Just make sure they are marine and not roadside flares.

Your Ditch Bag

If you ever have to abandon your boat, you will want a ditch bag. You will store granola and energy bars, emergency blanket, signal flares and bottles of water….   We will do a future blog on abandoning ship otherwise referred to as sinking.  It needs to all be stored in a waterproof dry sack that can float. 

Rescue Rings

Originally we purchased a life preserver ring.  We thought the warm water of Lake Clinton would be perfect for rescue practice.  Boy, am I glad we did.  There is a reason you only see LifeSlings on the sailboats anchored in the Great Lakes.  The preserver ring was very difficult to use.  If Dave fell overboard and was hurt, there would be no way I was going to be able to  haul him in using a preserver.  Dave weighs 175lbs and I weight 102 lbs.  You do the math.  With the LifeSling it goes around the victim, not over the head. They don’t need to be able to hold on to it.  It makes it so easy to attach the line to your winch and pull them in.   It attaches to the back ladder or railing for easy storage. 

We purchased ours on West Marine for $160.00.  They are usually more expensive than Amazon but they had them on sale. So check both places before ordering.

Emergency Radios

Our boat has a wired Cobra Marine Radio. 

This is great as long as you have electric, are still in your boat, and are not swamped with water.  I am not trying to be dooms day here but, these things can happen.  So we also carry a Waterproof  Handheld VHF radio we can take with us if we need to leave the boat.  It is also a backup in case you don’t have electricity or your mounted radio quits.

When you are sailing in the Great Lakes you may have to contact a freighter in the shipping lanes.  Many harbors and marinas require you radio in for directions before entering. There are also channels you can use to talk boat to boat. You know for making dinner plans.

OH NO!  We Are Stuck In Mud!

Don’t laugh, this happens almost every weekend at Lake Clinton.  People go out boating without depth finders.  Lake Clinton can go from 21 feet deep to 3 feet without warning.  We have a fish finder with a depth alarm, mounted so we can see it from the cockpit.  You want to set it to go off when the water level goes below 8-10 feet. Our boat has a very small draft of 1 ft.  With that said,  I am not going into 2 feet of water to test it.   It is fun to laugh when others get stuck. I just want to remain the one that is laughing.

In a future blog we will talk about navigation and charts.