Create a Boat Survival Kit: 13 Items to Include, How To

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By Bryan Lynch •  9 min read

From fishing, hunting, watersports, or just taking a relaxing afternoon on the water, boating is an activity that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world.

Boats can take us down a lazy river, to the middle of a big lake, or into the vastness of an ocean.

It may seem like that there is nowhere we can go where help is not just around the corner but consider the largest ocean on Earth, The Pacific Ocean. It is roughly 63 million square miles. Experiencing boat problems or becoming lost in an area that large is going to be more than challenging.

Mechanical issues, bad weather, and a host of other reasons can turn a pleasant day on the water into a potentially dangerous situation.

No matter what type of boat you will be on or how little time you plan on being on the water, the boat needs to have a survival kit.

Survival Kit Items

Some of the following items may not be required depending on the type of boat, the country you are in, and the waters you are traversing. It should also be noted that some regions have strict requirements for the items that can or cannot be on watercraft.

Before putting your kit together, it is always a good idea to check the rules and regulations of the region you will be traveling in.

Fire Extinguisher

People tend not to think about a fire occurring on a boat, but it happens more than you might realize. Whenever you have combustibles around, such as fuel and oil, fire is always a potential threat.

Be sure you have the proper type of extinguisher and that its gauge/expiration date is checked often.

Life Jackets and Floatation Devices

It is generally good practice to wear a life jacket whenever you are on the water. If you do not, then they should be placed in a location that can be easily and quickly accessed.

A floatation device, such as the doughnut-shaped ones, should also be aboard and easily accessed. This device can quickly be thrown overboard to a person in the water, allowing them aid until the boat can pick them up.

Tool Kit

No vehicle is complete without a proper tool kit. Every boat is different and therefore the tools required are different from one to another.

Get to know your boat and the best tools needed for repairing mechanical issues or physical damage. Also, plugs or quick patching material will help to temporarily fix possible leaks.

Signaling Devices

These can take the form of brightly colored flags, such as an SOS flag, emergency whistles, horns, signal mirrors, buoys, emergency beacons, and flares.

Special caution should be taken when using signal flares especially if you are in a life raft. These devices burn extremely hot and can sometimes drip hot material. Handheld flares should always be held overboard to reduce the risk of starting a secondary fire on board or potentially melting a life raft.


These can be purchased as a kit or a similarly shaped container can be used for the same purpose. If a boat starts taking on water, a bailer is used to remove water from the boat to help keep it afloat and to make repairs if possible.

Larger boats usually have bilge pumps that are more effective and efficient but those can become damaged or inoperable. When you find yourself far away from help, a manual backup to any system should be planned for.


A desalinator is a piece of equipment that can turn salt water into fresh drinking water. This is a must-have for anyone venturing out onto bodies of saltwater.

Larger boats may have built-in desalinators, but again, a manual backup pump and materials for making a rudimentary desalinator one should be available.

When traveling on freshwater, this can be swapped out for a regular water filter.

First Aid Kit

A basic first aid kit is always a must but depending on how far you are away from shore, a more comprehensive kit and the knowledge to use it is vital.

Other than the normal items found in most first aid kits, it is also recommended to include:


A VHF radio will allow you to communicate with other boats, people on shore, and sometimes aircraft. Having a way of speaking directly to others in a rescue situation is critical. You should not skimp on this piece of equipment and it is important to be well versed in its operation. 


Paddles or oars will provide a secondary means of propulsion in the event an engine cannot be fixed. This may not be of much help on larger boats, but small boats should most definitely have these on board.

Since these may be the only additional way of effectively moving a boat, it is a good idea to tie a length of cordage or a lanyard to them. This will help prevent them from becoming lost overboard.   

Boat Hook

A boat hook is nothing more than a long pole with a hook on the end of it. However, it is a versatile tool that helps to keep a boat away from certain obstacles, to keep dangerous wildlife at bay, and a rescue tool for both people and items that have fallen overboard. 

Emergency Raft

Abandoning a ship is always a person’s last choice but if the boat cannot be salvaged and it is going under, having a secondary watercraft can give you a huge advantage in staying alive.

Larger boats may have the ability to carry or tow an additional smaller motorized boat that can provide security and a method of travel.

Another option is an emergency raft that can be thrown into the water and is sometimes self-inflating. These are nothing more than a floating craft but they can provide shelter and will keep you above the water rather than in it.

Fishing Kit

This kit does not have to be extensive as all you need to catch a fish is a fishing line and hooks. However, the more diverse your tackle is the more options you will have.

While you can catch a fish anywhere with a simple fishing line and hook, fishing in certain regions and freshwater versus saltwater fishing present their challenges.

It is a good idea to research the region and to be aware of obstacles, aquatic species, water fishing depths, and align the contents of your fishing kit accordingly. 

General Survival Kit

Along with the above items, a general-purpose survival kit should be packed as well. Some of the following items may be helpful while on a boat, emergency raft, or if you find yourself stranded on a piece of land.

Stowing It

Many of the above items such as extra paddles, the VHF radio, or the emergency raft will most likely have a specific spot that they are secured to on the boat.

However, all other emergency and survival-related items must be secured in a watertight container that also floats.

A survival situation is difficult enough to be in and finding out that your supplies have become waterlogged and ruined will only make the situation worse.  

Preventive Measures

Preventive measures to any outing tend to get thrown to the wayside but they can be a crucial step in maintaining your safety. Here are a few things to do before ever setting foot (so to speak) on the water.

Keep your boat and all equipment, i.e. engine, pumps, etc. on a maintenance schedule so that everything stays in good working order.

Create a checklist for all emergency and survival gear. Before checking an item off, visually inspect the gear to ensure it has not become damaged, deteriorated, or has expired.

Leave a detailed plan of your travels with someone you trust. Include where you intend to be, the time of your departure and expected return, supplies you have which also indicate the supplies you do not have, a description of the boat as well as those who will be on the boat, and other emergency contact information.

Always check the weather forecast and extended forecast before heading out onto the water.

Check for any other hazards that could be present or may develop in the area you tend to visit.

Wrap Up

For some, boating is a means of relaxation and recreation, for others, it is their job and for others yet, it can be a source of exploration and adventure.

No matter what part of the world you are in if you plan to be on the water, do yourself a favor and take the time to put together an emergency and survival kit. Hopefully, you will never have to experience a survival situation but if you do, at least you will be better prepared for it.

Thanks for reading and stay prepared.

Do you have a boat survival kit? If so, sound off in the comment section below and let us know about it!

Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021.