Yes, all boaters should carry certain basics. But a fair-weather bay angler has different needs than one who fishes more extreme offshore waters. Your personal fishing style also figures into determining what safety gear you need. For example, do you usually fish alone or with a buddy? Some other things to take into account when you outfit for safety include: the size of your boat, how far from shore you travel, what water temperatures you'll encounter, what time of year you fish and more. These factors determine what equipment you need to ensure your safety should, well, something bad happen.
Federal, state and local laws dictate most basic safety equipment requirements such as flares, whistles, personal flotation devices and horns. As far as the United States Coast Guard is concerned, all boats exceeding 16 feet must have these basics (and make sure your flares are not out of date).
Whistles and horns are self-explanatory, but I'd make sure to have a Storm Whistle. It works above and - believe it or not - below water and will virtually blow out your eardrums; it can be heard over hovering helicopter blades!
Your Ditch Bag
A bailout or ditch bag is a waterproof container strategically placed aboard (and that doesn't mean under a seat in a locker) that has all the essentials needed to keep you alive long enough - theoretically - for rescue. Since I spend much of my time on other people's boats, I have one that I carry when I'm going to be out of sight of land.
Here's what mine contains:
- A handheld Standard Horizon HX260X waterproof VHF
- An old handheld Magellan GPS310
- A mini-EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon), which negates having to carry the handheld GPS
- A Mustang AirForce Type V auto-inflating PFD
- A 4-inch Kershaw Amphibian dive knife
- A Storm Whistle
- A Princeton Tec TEC 40 waterproof flashlight
Any season but summer, I also carry a trilaminate drysuit (OS Systems), which, while somewhat difficult to get into quickly, is less bulky than a survival suit.
I remove all batteries from anything electronic when not in use and reload them when I take the bag out of the closet at home.