Remember to pack this special gear when fishing on the Great Lakes

A Marine radio is a must on the Great Lakes. Cell phones don’t always work on the lakes and you probably don’t know the phone number of the boater nearest your position, or the Coast Guard.

If you’re fishing on one of the Great Lakes, there’s a list of safety items you need to have on board with you. Some are required by the DNR, others are Coast Guard requirements when the boat is being used on the Great Lakes. Many are required by both regulatory agencies.

The state regulations can be found at: www.boat-ed.com and the Coast Guard mandates are listed at www.uscgboating.org. Most of the required gear is warranted by plain, common sense; some are of questionable use.

There are other items that should be on every Great Lakes fishing boat – whether legally mandated or not. Here’s my top five list of “stuff” every boat should have:

1) Wire cutters. I’m not talking about the questionable, quarter-inch wire snips most needle-nose pliers have up near the hinge. I mean a good set of quality cutters, often called diagonal cutters or dikes, capable of cutting through downrigger cable like a pair of nail clippers will cut monofilament. They need to be kept in a location where they are easily available. If one of your downrigger weights snags onto the bottom or a rogue commercial net, seconds count. A friend of mine had an incident and said from the time the boat snagged up, the wind blew his bow around, the waves came in and the boat sunk out from under him was about 20 seconds.

2) Marine radio. I’m talking one hard-wired and permanently mounted on the boat (though a hand-held is better than nothing). Cell phones don’t always work on the lakes and you probably don’t know the phone number of the boater nearest your position, or the Coast Guard.

3) GPS/chart plotter. I have a compass as a backup, but when fog rolls in, I want a map showing where I am, where I need to be and the direction I need to go to get there.

4) Personal locator beacon. Get one that floats. I have mine in a cell phone holder, right next to the throttle/gear shift lever so it can “float out” if necessary.

5) Sea anchor. Most boaters make sure they have a regular anchor and some rope – good idea. But face it, the anchor may not hold the boat in position when it’s needed. If you are in water 100 feet deep, you’ll need up to 400 feet of anchor line. A sea anchor won’t stop you, but it will hold your boat bow-into-the-waves and slow your drift until someone arrives.

Why did I choose these items? Common sense played a role. Each of these have saved my butt – and boat – at least once in my Great Lakes boating career.

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