There are a few essentials that you should not go on the water without, on this page we review what you should take as a minimum.

For any boat whatever the size the minimum that should be on board are Lifejackets 1 per person, VHF Radio or a charged mobile phone as a minimum, Flares a small pack of orange smokes, Suncream & Lip Balm plus a supply of  Water.

RNLI Equipment Essentials

Lifejackets, harnesses and secure attachment points for lifelines are essential for any pleasure vessel heading out to sea. Here, David Parker reports on what to look for when choosing and using these vital items of safety equipment.


The most important thing with any piece of safety equipment is that you know how to use it. A yacht or motor cruiser should carry sufficient lifejackets for all those on board, but it’s no good waiting until it is dark and conditions are deteriorating before you decide to start wearing them. Trying to don a tangled lifejacket at night and adjust it with umb, cold hands turns what should be a straightforward exercise into a needlessly complicated task.

Before leaving on any passage the skipper should ensure that all crew members have well fitting lifejackets and they know how to activate them. When fastened, they should be a tight but comfortable fit. They should be stowed conveniently and it is good practice to always wear them when on deck. They should always be worn at night and in poor conditions.

There are two types of lifejacket – air and foam, and air only. The latter is less bulky and more common for adults on leisure vessels. Air only lifejackets are available which will inflate automatically on contact with the water. They either contain a hydrostatic valve operated by water pressure or a capsule which dissolves quickly in water allowing firing of the inflation cylinder.

If the jacket is manually inflated, make sure crew members know which side the pull lanyard is located, because they won’t be able to see it once they’re in the water. Lifejackets can also be orally inflated. You should know where this oral inflation tube is, not only if you need to top up the jacket, but also if you need to deflate the lifejacket. Partial deflation may be required for reducing bulk when climbing over the tubes into a liferaft.

Lifejackets should all carry the CE Mark of approval and are designed to support the head and airways clear of the water. They should also turn an unconscious person from being face down in the water to on their back; however the performance of lifejackets in this respect can vary, particularly if heavy foul weather clothing is being worn.

Buoyancy aids have a rating of 50 newtons and are only suitable for competent swimmers in sheltered waters. But a lifejacket should have a minimum rating of 150 newtons to self-right an unconscious wearer. For extreme conditions, larger 275 newton jackets are available. The newton rating is a guide to the buoyancy of the garment with 10 newtons equalling 1 kg of flotation

Always wear crotch straps which should be run between the legs and not around the hips. Without crotch straps, people have been tragically lost because the lifejacket has come off them once they are in the water or when being rescued.

Lifejacket hoods and lifejacket lights are also important. Even when wearing a lifejacket people can drown if they have no protection over their face from the waves. A fluorescent hood also makes a man overboard much easier to identify. A night light or strobe, like a hood, weighs little but can make a huge difference when trying to locate a casualty, particularly in a swell or poor visibility.

Regularly check lifejacket   inflation cylinders, which can corrode when left in lockers in a salt water environment. Periodically inflate the jacket orally to check for leaks. Also check the condition of the stole, straps and buckles and have the lifejacket serviced annually.


Many lifejackets have a built-in harness, so you have a secure point to attach a safety line to the body. A lifejacket/harness combination reduces bulk and does two jobs in one. Separate harnesses are available and should be CE approved to EN 1095. Harnesses, like lifejackets, should be properly stowed because if there’s an opportunity for webbing to twist and tangle, it will. Harnesses with a back patch attached keep the straps in a much neater position.

Make sure there’s a harness for everyone and that it is easy to adjust, particularly if you want to put on an extra layer of clothing. (Ideally you should be able to make these adjustments on your own without asking for someone’s assistance; thin webbing can twist so easily you sometimes need an extra pair of hands to help sort it out.)

There are two main types of harness design. One has shoulder straps running parallel down the chest to join the waist strap. The other has the straps meeting at a central point to form a Y-shape. Women often find the second type more comfortable. For children look for the type of harness that dons like a waistcoat as often they don’t like having things put over their head.

The location of the D-ring is also a consideration; when it is higher up the body at the front it makes for a more comfortable lifting point. As with a lifejacket, good harnesses have toggles so you can keep them attached to your oilskin jacket. They should also have reflective strips sewn on to them. Waterproof jackets are available which have an integral harness.


Safety lines

Safety lines usually have safety hooks at either end, but some designs have a single end hook and a loop attachment to the body. Lines are available as two hook or three hook combinations; the latter allows the wearer to remain attached to the boat with always one hook clipped on. Elasticated webbing safety lines are designed so that there is less trailing line to get snagged up. Select a safety hook which needs a deliberate action to release it.

You don’t need rough conditions to become a MOB and, ironically, some eminent sailors have been lost in calm conditions. A man overboard situation immediately becomes an emergency, not least because the body loses heat 26 times quicker in water than in air. Hooking your safety line on to secure attachment points as you move around the boat should become a habit.

Attachment points and jackstays

Harness attachment points need to be placed so you can clip on as you step up from the companionway into the cockpit. These cockpit attachment points are usually fixed to the companionway bulkhead. They should be positioned so that, when hanging on a line, a MOB can’t be dragged into the propellers at the back of the boat. Cockpit safety eyes are available which fold float when not in use giving a flush profile.

A jackstay is a length of wire, or preferably webbing, which is stretched along the deck so you can clip your lifeline to it. Be aware that guardrails are not built to take loads. Ideally, boat designers should allow jackstays to be recessed into the deck. Jackstays need to be positioned where they can be accessed easily when undertaking common tasks such as sail handling, reefing or working forward.

On a yacht, the sheeting arrangements should be looked at so you can move up to the bow without unclipping your lifeline. Before fitting a jackstay, position the anchoring D-bolts and check safety lines can run freely. Remember to fit backing pads under the deck to strengthen the anchor points.