The Boat Gear Basics Visual Guide that EVERY Boater Should Review

The Boat Gear Basics Visual Guide that EVERY Boater Should Review

January 26, 2022

"I sure wish I remembered to bring that!"  We've all said it at some point after we've left the shoreline, but when that forgotten item can range from an inconvenience to a major safety concern, good habits and smart organization are crucial. So let's resolve to have more fun and less trouble this season, especially as we train up new boaters. All it might take is our Boat Gear Basics Visual Guide and a few minutes thinking through what you need to get ready to go.

Rules, Applicable Boating Laws, and Our Boat Gear Basics Visual Guide

Your nautical mileage may vary, but this post and the included list are all about preventing inconveniences, losses, and situations where you may even get costly fines. Standards, bodies of water, authorities, circumstances, and boats may vary, so be sure to check the rules and laws applicable to your lake and vessel, but this list should help you avoid the most common instances where boaters run into trouble.

You can also feel free to use these jump links to get right to a specific area:

Boat Safety Gear for Every Type of Boater

Emergency Boat Maintenance and Repair Tools

Just-In-Case Gear for Forces of Nature

Easily Stowable Fishing Gear to Keep on Hand

Boat Trailer Repair

Shop for What you Need

T-H Marine's Boat Gear Basics Checklist

Boat Safety Gear for Every Type of Boater

We admit that it's way more fun to look at new water toys and fishing gear than it is to look at safety equipment, but we absolutely need this gear to help us when we face physical harm, imminent damage to our property, and risk of losing contact with the people we need when something doesn't go as planned. It's only then that we can safely go out on the water and return home to fish and boat another day.

The safest approach is to start every season by checking to make sure you have what you need and to make sure it's in good condition. Upgrades here and there are usually a good idea, too, so you have the best gear when it's most important.

With that in mind, here's our list of boat safety gear for every type of boater:

PFD / Life Jackets

Check to see if yours are compromised and less effective. Manufacturers will have more specific information about their products, but look for an expiration of 3-5 years on the CO2 cartridges in inflatable vests and for signs of wear and tear on foam PFDs.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Throwable Flotation Devices

Similar to life jackets, it's a good idea (and legally required for many types of boats) to have a throwable flotation device and to make sure it's in good shape and ready to use if you need it.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Fire Extinguisher(s)

Also a common legal requirement for many boats, fire extinguishers need to be checked regularly. For more information, BoatUs has some great resources to help with understanding the different types of fire extinguishers and related regulations.

Applicable boats: Most motorized boats, especially those in USCG-regulated waters.

First Aid Supplies

This can range from bandages and wraps to complete First Aid Kits, but it's much easier to deal with scrapes, cuts, and worse when you have the proper supplies.

Applicable boats: All boats.

Bilging or Bailing Equipment

Simply put, it's good to have equipment to keep water from sinking your boat. For a way to do that with a simple pump action, which can make real easy work for a kayak or jon boat, consider a manual bilge pump.

Applicable boats: Most small boats, from manual power boats to small motorized boats.

Spare Drain Plugs

The thing about plugs is that they are notoriously easy to overlook, easy to misplace, and easy to straight-up lose. You can use your bilge pump all you want, but it won't be a fun day on the water when you forget or lose your plugs.

Applicable boats: Most boats, though plug style and placement will vary.

Air Horn

One of many ways you can signal others for distress, air horns come in many sizes and easily fit in a hatch.

Applicable boats: All boats.

USCG Compliant Whistle

They may take more effort to use than an air horn, but the lanyard means you can easily keep one on you. Even a kid can use one if they need to and that can be a great option for making sure young boaters can call for help if they are out on the water kayaking, paddle-boating, or tooling around in a jon boat.

Applicable boats: All boats.

S.O.S. Distress Flag

Compliant with Coast Guard safety standards, S.O.S. Distress Flags provide a passive way to signal for help during the day.

Applicable boats: See specific USCG requirements, but USCG-regulated waters require boaters to carry both day and night distress signals.

Spare Paddle

There are more than a few types of spare paddles that you can keep in your boat. Depending on the size of your boat and where you are, they can help at least a little bit with getting you somewhere safe if you have engine failure.

Applicable boats: Most motorized boats, especially small and mid-size motor boats.

Handheld LED Spot Light

It's important to see and be seen when things don't go right on the water. There are a variety of lights you can select to accomplish that, but T-H Marine's handheld spot light provides a number of options to help. It's complete with multiple light intensity settings, an S.O.S. distress pattern, a lock button for either keeping the light on or off, and a tripod arm with a hanging hook. With all these features, this Handheld LED Spot Light should be in everyone's boat.

Applicable boats: All boats.

Telescopic Boat Hook

If something goes overboard, it doesn't have to be out of reach. This telescopic boat hook makes it easy to regain stuff that ends up in the water.

Applicable boats: All boats, especially mid-to-large vessels.

Fishing and Boating Documents

We honestly hope these don't need to be anything more than something stowed close by, but in order to have them when you need them and comply with fishing and boating laws, you'll want to make sure you have your documentation with you. This includes items like your fishing license, boat insurance, and any registration documents you are required to keep up to date. Sometimes you can just keep a picture on your phone, but consider keeping a paper copies of some of these in a key float capsule.

Applicable boats: All boats, especially fishing boats and motorized boats.

Dock Line

Dock line helps whenever you need to tie up somewhere, when you need to throw someone a rope, and even for tying a loop to cleats or rails to make a step for someone to reboard.

Applicable boats: All boats.

Reboarding Ladder

There are various ladders that you can use to reboard your boat such as hook ladders, diver ladders, and T-H Marine's Twist-Step engine ladder. The choice is yours when it comes to the fit and ease of use, but it's a must for safely getting back in your vessel.

Applicable boats: Most boats, especially larger motorized boats, though ladder style and placement will vary.

Floating Waterproof Cell Phone Pouch

You can't call for help if your phone is soaked. Luckily though, this double-zipper waterproof cell phone pouch keeps your phone dry and allows you to use the touch screen of your phone while it's in the pouch.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Communications and Charging Options

VHF radios are a must when you might go beyond the range of cell towers, otherwise you'll want to keep your cell phone operable and charged. If your boat doesn't already come equipped with a power source for charging your device, it can be easier to add one than you might think. T-H Marine has a few options for these charging ports, along with portable power packs and cables from Scosche.

Applicable boats: All boats, though ports require battery power and power packs may be a better fit for boats without power built in.

USCG Compliant Safety Kit

In order to meet minimal safety standards and be in compliance with the United States Coast Guard, there is a list of items you need to make sure youhave on board your boat. This safety gear is especially critical on larger boats and out in larger bodies of water. Ditch Packs help you keep what you need all in one convenient place.

Applicable boats: Most boats on USCG waters, though kit requirements may vary.

Skier Down Flag

A requirement in many states, skier down flags signal caution to other boaters when you need to stop and pick up or help the skier, kneeboarder, or wakeboarder you were towing.

Applicable boats: Speedboats and any motor boat towing or trailing a skier, kneeboarder, wakeboarder, etc.

Anchor / Rope / Rode

Anchors, anchor rope, and rode help when you elect to stop somewhere, but they are vital if you break down and need to stay in the same location so you can get help. From making sure you stay in a convenient location to making sure you don't end up somewhere harmful for you and your boat, anchors help provide a safer boating experience.

Applicable boats: All boats, especially motorized boats and larger vessels.

Emergency Boat Maintenance and Repair Tools

Did you ever watch the TV series "MacGyver"? Well, we're not suggesting that you repair your boat equipment ballpoint pens and paperclips like he could, but if your boat or equipment have an issue, the short and simple list of gear below will help you get it done so you can go about your day.

Repair Tape / Duct Tape

There are a number of options out there, but you can never go wrong with having some sort of repair tape on your boat.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Spare Propeller and Prop Wrench

It's hard to get where you want to go when your prop takes on significant damage, either in one sudden incident or when it experiences too much wear and tear over time. You might be a dutiful boater who checks the prop before each outing or one of us who forgets sometimes, but a spare propeller and propeller wrench help get you back to boating with minimal delay.

Applicable boats: Most motorized boats.

Propeller Stop

This simple and inexpensive product helps you increase both the speed and safey of a prop change. It's lightweight, durable, easy to stow, and there when you need it.

Applicable boats: Most motorized boats.

Boat Multi-Tools / Tool Kits

A couple of screwdriver types, an adjustable wrench, and a knife can go a long way, but you can also get elaborate with boat multi-tools. If you want the ability to perform a wide variety of tasks without having to pack a bunch, our favorite easy solution is the Boat Gadget. It's compact, versatile, and good to keep on board just about any boat.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Boat Battery Jumper

If your battery loses power unexpectedly, you'll need to figure out a long-term solution to make sure you have enough power at the source and to make sure that power is being used efficiently, but the immediate question is usually "how do I start my motor and get going again?" Another boat can help you get a jump, but our favorite systems are easier. When you have a boat battery jumper like the Tournament Saver Pro, you can just jump your boat with the push of a button.

Applicable boats: Most motorized boats.

Spare Fuses

Blown fuses can be indicative of other electrical issues, but sometimes they just happen and all you need is a simple replacement fuse to get going again. That's why we recommend keeping some spare fuses on your boat.

Applicable boats: All boats with electronics.

Boat Patching Kit

Boat patching is something you hope you never, ever have to do, but there's not much you can do if you need it, if you are out on the water, and if you don't have a boat patching kit. On the other hand, if you keep some Gator Patch on board, you can make sure there's minimal interruption to your time on the water.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Just-In-Case Gear for Forces of Nature

These are simple items to keep on your boat, either included in the gear you pack for your outing or kept in a hatch. They may not be make or break safety items, but you'll definitely have a better time if you remember them.


It usually only takes one pricey pair of sunglasses lost in the lake before you get some that float, get a retainer strap, or some combination of backup options to prevent you from having to go without your lenses. Sometimes you just forget to grab them though, so it's not a bad idea to keep a spare set in your boat or in your tackle bag.

Applicable boats: All boats.

Lens and Screen Cleaner

Mirrors, electronics, and eyeglasses can be almost useless if they have water spots and dirt on them. It might be okay to use a little lake water and a cloth to wipe them if you have to, but streaks and spots will probably follow. You have to be careful what cleaners you use though as many will etch away at protective coatings and deteriorate them over time. The best solution is to pack a travel-size cleaning kit that is specially-formulated to cut through grime without harming your gear.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Dry Bag

Keep your important stuff dry and maybe even a change of clothes or a few supplies with dry bag. At the very least, we'd recommend keeping a dry bag on board that is packed with a towel, paper towel, trash bags, and a spare t-shirt and gym shorts (at least).

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.


Sunburns are uncomfortable and we all know what UV rays can do to your skin and body over time. If you keep a tube of sunscreen in your hatch and apply it when needed, you can go a long way to preventing that kind of harm.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Bug Repellent

From mosquitos to biting flies and aggressive gnats that you can't see before they get you, bugs can make a boat trip unbearable. That's why it pays to keep some spray on your boat.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Food, Water, and Food Storage

Granola bars, potable water packs, jerky, and trail mix are generally easy to take on a boat trip, but whatever you prefer, you should always have something to tide you over in a way that is proportionate to the trip. This is critical when going offshore and long distances, so make sure you have something packed and a good way to keep it fresh. It's also a great idea to include a bottle opener and stainless utensils.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Toilet Paper

This suggestion can easily end up the butt of a joke, but ask any tournament angler or boater who spends long hours on the water and they'll tell you that toilet paper is no laughing matter when you need it.

Applicable boats: All boats that are used for trips that take you away from bathroom facilities.

Spare Hat

This one might be on the list just because some of us have had a hat blow away before, never to be found again. Prevention is best here, but it's nice to have an extra on hand or a hat specifically for hotter, sunnier days. We'd suggest the 360 degree brim that you can find on T-H Marine River hats. They have much more protection than a trucker hat.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Neck Gaiter

Sunburn, windburn, and chapped lips can be minor annoyances, but they can also get real bad when you're on the water for long stretches and when you are zipping between waypoints. Keeping a neck gaiter on board will give you the option to put a decent little breathable barrier between you and the elements.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.


Not everyone likes wearing gloves when fishing or boating and that's okay, but it's good to have a pair stowed away just in case. We've heard plenty of stories where they've come in handy when a boater needs to protect their hands during some maintenance work, when they've needed a way to cover a hand injury, and during other unexpected situations. And for anyone open to wearing gloves when fishing or boating, you can even get the extra benefit of UV-protection.

Applicable boats: All boats, from small manual power boats to large vessels.

Easily Stowable Fishing Gear to Keep on Hand

There's not much that compares to really dialing into the bite on a lake, so why not make the most of it? These products may not be critical, but they can help you get more out of each fishing trip.

Hot Foot Replacement Spring

This is normally only needed if a Hot Foot Foot Throttle spring was installed with the hardware torqued all the way down, but tournament anglers can appreciate how much better than can do if they have a quick replacement on hand instead of the lengthy interruption that comes with a damaged spring and no part to swap out.

Applicable boats: Any boat with a HOT FOOT® Foot Throttle.

Digital Fishing Scale

Fish stories are fun and they're only made better when you can prove what you caught. With a digital fishing scale like one from T-H Marine, you can measure length and weigh your catches with ease. Then you can detail that new personal best in no time!

Applicable boats: Any boat (or tackle bag) that you use to fish.

Baitwell Treatment

Live bait is best when it’s LIVE and LIVELY. Whether an angler is using creek chubs to fish for muskie, rosy red minnows to fish for crappie, or using just about any aquatic bait for just about any kind of gamefish, that bait should move enough to elicit a predatory response. That’s why live bait anglers do better when they use a baitwell treatment like T-H Marine's Minnow Maker. This concentrated product is available in small bottles that easily fit in compartments and tackle bags.

Applicable boats: Any boat (or tackle bag) that you use with a baitwell or bait bucket.

Livewell Treatment

This is a must for tournament anglers because it helps them release healthy, living fish after a tournament. That prevents them from getting penalized in the tournament and it keeps the fisheries going so those fish can spawn more, grow bigger, and maybe even bite again for future tournaments. In that sense, G-Juice is like Minnow Maker, but it's geared toward freshwater predator fish like bass. This concentrated product is also available in small bottles that easily fit in compartments and tackle bags.

Applicable boats: Any boat with a livewell.

Boat Trailer Repair

Last, but certainly not least, you won't want your boat trailer to be the reason why you can't enjoy the water. Thankfully, most trailers are much simpler than the boats they carry, especially if your hitch, receiver, safety chains, and light harness are set up right. If you have that and heed the cautions below, you should be all set.

Spare Tire and Tire Mount

We've all seen that sad boat, missing a tire and left alone alongside the highway and you never want that to be yours. Be sure to have a spare trailer tire with you when you travel and an easy place to store it.

Applicable boats / vehicles: Trailers for any type of boat.

Trailer Jack

If you have to change a tire on your trailer, you'll need a jack. To make it easier, use the Easy Lift Trailer Jack from T-H Marine. Instead of digging out a jack and cranking it up, this lever tool simply involves putting it in position, then pulling the trailer forward a little until the jack rotates and holds the trailer up off the road.

Applicable boats / vehicles: Trailers for any type of boat, up to 4,000lbs.

Trailer Harness Wire

It may not be typical to keep an extra trailer harness wire stowed away in your vehicle or in your boat, but occasionally wire harnesses go bad and that can be particularly dangerous for you and your boat at nice. Even if the wire harness is used as a temporary solution to wire up and give you the lighting you need, it's better than an accident. With color coding and simple wire connections involved, replacing a trailer harness wire is something most DIYers can do.

Applicable boats / vehicles: Trailers for any type of boat.

Prep Your Boat with T-H Marine's Boat Gear Basics Catalog

Looked through the boat gear basics visual guide? Thought about the gear you have and the gear you need? That's all it takes to take the next step so you can fully enjoy your first day of boating season. Get ready to prep your boat and get started with the link below.

T-H Marine's Boat Gear Basics Checklist

General Guidance Below. Always consult USCG requirements, state law, and local ordinances.
Small Self-Propelled Boats (Ex. most kayaks) Small Motorized Boats (Ex. jon boats) Medium Motorized Boats (Ex. bass boats) Large Motorized Boats (Ex. bay boats Quick Link
Life Jackets
Throwable Flotation Devices
Fire Extinguisher
Manual Bilge Pump View
Spare Drain Plugs View
Air Horn View
USCG Compliant Whistle View
S.O.S. Distress Flag View
Spare Paddle View
Handheld LED Spot Light View
Telescopic Boat Hook View
Documents / Holder View
Dock Line View
Reboarding Ladder * View
Floating Waterproof Cell Phone Pouch View
USB Port / Phone Charging Cable View
USCG Compliant Safety Kit View
Boat Repair
Repair Tape / Duct Tape *
Spare Propeller / Prop Wrench View
Propeller Stop View
Boat Multi-Tools / Tool Kits * View
Boat Battery Jumper View
Spare Fuses View
Boat Patching Kit * View
Nature / Weather
Lens and Screen Cleaner View
Dry Bag View
Toilet Paper *
Spare Hat * View
Neck Gaiter View
Gloves View
Fishing Gear
Hot Foot Replacement Spring View
Livewell Treatment * * View
Digital Fishing Scale View
Boat Trailer Repair
Spare Tire Carrier and Spare Tire * * View
Trailer Jack * * View
Trailer Harness Wire * * View