Safety Equipment and Regulations Every Dinghy Owner Should Know

Even if you’ve been sailing for years, there might be some rules and regulations you didn’t know about. Accidents and dangerous situations can happen to the most experienced sailors, so it’s vital that you have all the kit equipment you need to hand as well as an awareness of what to do in an emergency.


Legal equipment requirements:

There are different rules between local regions and countries, so check what applies where you’re headed for specific requirements. Below is a general guide of what’s usually a legal requirement:

  • Lifejacket/Personal flotation device for every person aboard
  • Sound device
  • Registration details
  • A fire extinguisher (if motorised)
  • Lights (if sailing after dark)
  • Bailing device
  • Flares or other signalling devices


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General safety equipment:

In addition to the legal gear, there are other items that you should always have with you in case of emergency. You never know when you might get into trouble, whether it’s a sudden turn in the weather or change in tide, and this kit may well save your life.   

  • Engine kill lanyard (and make sure you wear it! If you find it gets in the way on your wrist, attach it to your ankle instead)
  • Oars/paddles
  • Anchor and rode
  • Handheld VHF/mobile phone in waterproof casing
  • Duct tape (for quick patches or for an emergency bandage)


Rules of the water:

Set out by the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, the main aim of the rules is to avoid collisions. Generally, they’re based on common sense and good practice. Here’s a brief summary of the main rules, however you should have a read of the full regulations.

  • Port tack gives way to starboard tack
  • Windward boat keeps clear of leeward boat.
  • An overtaking boat must always keep clear.
  • A dinghy, yacht or boat under power gives way to a dinghy, yacht or boat under sail; unless fishing or not under command and unable to manoeuvre.
  • All sailing dinghies (and vessels of less than 20m) should not impede vessels through a traffic separation scheme or confined to a narrow channel.


What to do if you capsize:

  • Always stay with the boat. Even if you can’t right it, don’t swim back to shore but wait with the dinghy until rescue comes, as you’ll be easier to spot. Grab onto the toe straps or mainsheet as it capsizes.
  • Be careful of highly buoyant dinghies that float high, as it can be difficult to get onto the centreboard from the water.
  • Don’t panic if your dinghy turtle-turns and you are underneath; there’s plenty of air in the cockpit for you to pause and catch your breath before ducking beneath the side.
  • Try to avoid repetitive capsizes as they can be physically draining.  


Man overboard procedure:

  • Heave to.
  • Alert the emergency services with what has happened.
  • Always keep your eyes on the person in the water.
  • Start your recovery manoeuvre.


How to call for help:

  • Blow a whistle, sound a canister horn or wave a dayglo flag to attract attention.
  • Use the official distress signal: stretch your arms out either side and steadily raise them up and down.
  • Fire a handheld smoke flare if you are alone.
  • As a back-up, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.


Arguably, the most important aspect of staying safe while out on your dinghy is knowing what to do if something goes wrong as well as good preparation and planning.


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