Must-have boating accessories

Adventure 4 min read

As a new boat owner, I felt overwhelmed every time I made a trip to the boating supply store. There were aisles upon aisles filled with shiny new boating products. How on earth was I supposed to figure out what we actually needed? It took a little time and a lot of research, but these days, I have my shopping list down to a science.

Set yourself (and your boat!) up for success by outfitting your vessel with all the accessories you and your guests will need while boating.

“Must-have” boating accessories: 

Air horns 

These are a great way to get another boater’s attention. Whether you’re signaling for help or letting them know that you need a little space, this compact accessory will surely come in handy.


You’ll probably find yourself using your magnified vision to take in the beautiful wildlife and scenery, but they can also be helpful when keeping an eye out for other vessels or spotting navigational landmarks.

Boat hooks

These can cover a multitude of uses — from retrieving hats blown overboard to pushing off the dock in tight quarters.


There’s simply no replacement for a classic compass. While a digital GPS may be your preferred navigational tool, if the battery dies or you lose reception, you’ll be happy to have a compass onboard. It wouldn’t hurt to travel with a paper map either — just in case.

Fire extinguishers 

An absolute must-have. Depending on the size of your boat, you’ll probably want to have more than one fire extinguisher onboard. Flames can spread rapidly in seconds, so the sooner you can reach an extinguisher, the better. Also, be sure to check the expiration date on the bottom, as they expire (and can lose their functionality) after a few years. If you find an outdated extinguisher onboard, you’ll want to replace it right away.

First-aid kits 

These are kind of a no-brainer for any outdoor activity. You can pick up a pre-assembled kit at most boating stores or simply build your own. Just be sure to include basics like Band-Aids, gauze, and rubbing alcohol in addition to more boating-specific items like anti-nausea medication and aloe vera for sunburn relief.


When used to signal for help or mark your location, these can be literal lifesavers. If you ever find yourself in need of rescue or assistance, you’ll be eternally grateful to have a few onboard (at least three, depending on the size of your boat). Keep in mind that these can expire, so be sure to keep your stash current.

Garbage bags

While these aren’t the most glamorous boating accessory, you don’t want to be a watery litterbug! Be sure to let your guests know where they can toss their trash and keep a few extra bags onboard to ensure that you don’t run out while you’re underway.

Life jackets 

Another boating non-negotiable. Be sure to keep at least one life jacket per person on board at all times. If you don’t require your guests to wear them when you’re cruising, be sure everyone knows where they’re stowed.

Digital maps/GPS 

These days, it’s much easier to rely on a digital map or GPS for your navigational needs — and that’s because they work so well! Whether you use your phone or a built-in system, try to make a habit of downloading a map of your route before you leave the dock in case you lose service.

Searchlight or flashlight 

Even if you don’t plan to do any after-dark cruising, it’s a good idea to have one onboard to light the way — just in case. Plus, a flashlight can come in handy during engine inspections or when you’re searching for an extra lifejacket in a dark hull. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries too!  

Throwable life ring 

If someone falls overboard, having a throwable life ring handy could be a life-saver (pun intended!). Keep one (or more) in an easy-to-reach spot so that anyone can easily grab and toss it overboard.

VHF radios 

These are the best way to communicate with other boaters, get updates on the conditions, or signal for help. You can keep a handheld version onboard or have one installed.


A more low-key way of getting another boater’s attention — or getting the attention of your guests. They’re also a great backup if your air horn isn’t working.

Want to make your boating experience even more comfortable? Think about adding these “nice-to-haves” to your boating accessory arsenal.


It can get chilly out on the water — especially around sunset. A few cozy blankets onboard for the cooler days will help to keep you and your guests nice and toasty.

Bug spray 

On those humid summer days when the bugs are buzzing their way out onto the lake, you’ll be happy to have some repellant onboard.

A cooler

Stocked with ice and plenty of water, a cooler is a must-have. Adding fun snacks and refreshments makes it a crowd-pleasing “nice-to-have.”


It’s always wise to advise your guests to lather up with sunscreen before they come aboard, but it wouldn’t hurt to have some extra SPF laying around just in case.


Always “nice-to-have” onboard — especially if your guests like to swim or you like to cruise through splashy wakes.

Snacks and refreshments

Depending on how long you plan to be out on the water, you may want to pack a cooler with sandwiches, chips, and plenty of drinks! You can also ask your guests to bring their own lunches if you don’t have enough space for a larger cooler.

Every boat (and boat owner) is little different, so your “must-have” and “nice-to-have” list may vary. Personally, I consider great music and a sea-loving dog to be an absolute must for any day on the water! Whatever your boating style, this list should serve as a great start.

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