Safety Warnings And Alerts

From BoatUS Marine Insurance


Buying a used VHF radio or an automatic identification system, or AIS, unit? Beware. If you buy used equipment with a maritime mobile service identity (MMSI) number already logged into it, you may not be able to track down the previous owner in charge of the MMSI to get it reassigned to you. The MMSI goes with the boat. In an emergency, your equipment may be sending out a distress call with someone else's information. Rescuers will be looking for a different boat and will be calling the previous owner of the equipment to verify an emergency.

The process of clearing the old MMSI and having it reassigned to your control may even require shipping the equipment to the manufacturer to be reset. Before you buy a flea market VHF, make sure you can contact the previous owner. Visit for more on MMSI and resetting.

Extension-Cord Danger

You might scoff at the notion of an instruction manual for an extension cord. There aren't a lot of moving parts, and most people usually don't get injured from using one. But around the water, there are some important safeguards that, if not followed, can cause a fire or even electrocution. Here's what you need to know:

  • Don't use a cord outside if it's marked "For indoor use only."
  • Inspect your extension cords regularly, and don't use one if it's damaged.
  • Don't overload a cord. Determine the total number of watts the cord will be subject to (watts can be found listed on the equipment being used). A cord will specify its maximum watt load on a label. If you exceed that, the cord can melt or catch fire.
  • Turn off the load before plugging in or unplugging the cord; otherwise, the prongs can be damaged over time and overheat.
  • Don't remove the grounding prong. If the outlet can't accept three prongs, it's not grounded and could be dangerous to use, especially outside or near water.
  • Avoid multiple extension cords. Never plug a two-prong cord into a three-prong cord; it will defeat the ground.
  • Don't get the cord wet or allow it to dangle in water. If you're working around water, use a cord with a built-in ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI.
  • If the extension cord gets hot, stop using it immediately. It's either overloaded or damaged.
  • Don't coil or cover a cord while in use. It can overheat under heavy loads.

Winter Blocking

If you haul your boat every winter, make sure it's well supported. Using cinder blocks is never recommended for two reasons: The blocks aren't designed for supporting heavy weight and can be crushed, and as the photo above shows, it doesn't take much to knock a boat off its blocks. This boat toppled over after a moderate winter storm.

Boats should be supported by jackstands and need at least two per side and three or more if the boat is longer than 26 feet. (For sailboats, jackstands should be spaced no farther than 10 feet apart.) Long overhangs may require extra stands.

When you visit your boat this winter, check to make sure the jackstands haven't shifted or sunk into the ground. If you see something that needs adjusting, don't do it yourself; have the yard take care of it. Some powerboats, such as some sportfishermen, have cored keels that require special attention.

Can You See Me Now?

Marine surveyor David Kacprowitz sent us the photo at right of a bow navigation light that's been rendered useless with the installation of a trolling motor. The U.S. Coast Guard has specific requirements for how navigation lights must be shown, necessitating "a green light on the starboard side and a red light on the port side each showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 112.5 degrees and so fixed as to show the light from right ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam on its respective side."

A fast-moving bass boat with a blocked navigation light might not be visible at all at night, let alone show which direction it's moving. The bass boat could be held responsible for an accident.

How Strong Are Your Cleats?

Winter storms can generate a lot of wind. While docklines keep your boat in place at the dock, if the cleats aren't up to snuff, the lines are pretty useless. The cleat on the boat in the photo below was fastened through the deck with only small washers backing it. During a blow, the cleat was pulled out, and the boat suffered serious boat rash against the dock. Boat cleats should have solid backing plates under the deck. Upgrading yours is an easy do-it-yourself project. Visit for step-by-step instructions.

The other half of the cleat equation is at the dock. A cleat that gives up during a winter storm, just when it is needed most, allows the boat to bang against the dock. Marinas often have hundreds of cleats, and it's a fair bet a few of them are loose or have rusted fasteners. If you spot a loose cleat, one that's obviously damaged or rusted, or one that's fastened to a rotting or weak section of the dock, let marina management know. 

— Published: December 2016

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