Recreational Boating Safety – 12 Boating Days of Christmas

Bob CurrieBy Bob Currie, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
“The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” is a song parody written and sung by Allan Sherman in 1963. It is based on the classic Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and I always substituted Sherman’s gifts when singing the original classic, but under my breath, of course. For this column I will substitute some safe boating gifts, but I will also include Allan Sherman’s gifts for comparison. Sing along as you read the words.

From Bob Currie: “I send this out every year about this time so that people will have some good safe boating gift choices.”

First Day of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a Japanese Transistor Radio. Not a bad gift in 1963, but for 2023 I recommend a radio of a different sort: a Marine VHF/FM radio with Digital Selective Calling (DSC). Be sure to obtain an MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number and program it into the radio. A good, waterproof, floating handheld radio can be had for around $150-250. If your true love already has a mounted VHF/FM marine radio, then get them a handheld radio for their ditch bag. If your true love goes offshore, then they need a satellite communication device such as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) for the boat or a Personal Locator Beacon they can wear on their life preserver.

Second Day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … green polka-dot pajamas. While practical on land, I recommend a U.S. Coast Guard approved automatic self-inflating Type V personal flotation device (PFD). The other types are good, too.

Third Day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a calendar book with the name of my insurance man. Quite a “timely” gift, but I recommend you give your true love a copy of “A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats.” A hard copy is always nice to have aboard, but it can also be downloaded to your smart phone electronically. If you were thinking about giving your true love a smart phone for Christmas, you can download the U.S. Navigation Rules and have the regulations available at hand, Nav Rules Handbook_27OCT2022_85 FR 58268.pdf (

Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a simulated alligator wallet. This might work as a gift to your true love since you must have certain documents with you while onboard (Boater Education Certificate, State Boating Certificate for your boat), but I have a better recommendation: how about a dry box to keep your true love’s wallet, cell phone, car keys, and required certificates dry? I keep my dry box in a storage locker. They have many different sizes. I have a separate small dry box for my wallet, cell phone, keys and required certificates, and another one for my first aid kit and visual distress signals.

Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a statue of a naked lady with a clock where her stomach ought to be. I can’t think of any use for such on a boat, but I can recommend that you buy your true love a marine compass. You can’t take a heading without a compass. A good marine compass is a good backup to your GPS. A compass does not need electricity to work like a GPS does, and GPS units can fail at any time. You can either get a marine compass that is designed to be mounted on the console or you can get a handheld unit. I have used both, and found the handheld unit below quite useful in determining the boat’s heading. The pistol grip on the handheld unit made it quite easy to use.

Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a hammered aluminum nutcracker. A nice gift, indeed, but who wants pecan shells all over their deck? How about a nice aluminum anchor instead (hammered or not)? Your true love already has one? Well, it is nice to have a backup anchor. I have lost more than one anchor when it became so entangled in rocks on the bottom that no amount of maneuvering could affect a release. We are actually required to have two anchors on our patrol boats. If your true love has a certain type of anchor, I recommend getting a different type. Different types are for different means of anchoring.

Seventh Day of Christmas

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a pink satin pillow that says “San Diego”, with fringe all around it. Don’t be so quick to dismiss this gift! Just make sure that “pillow” says “U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type IV” on it. Your true love may already have the U.S. Coast Guard required throw cushion, but we recommend that you have two cushions, with the extra one equipped with a line so that the cushion can be tossed to someone in the water and the line can be used to pull them to your boat. Ring buoys with 60-90 foot lines can be quite helpful in rescuing someone who falls overboard also.

Eighth Day of Christmas

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … an indoor plastic birdbath. I wracked my brain to find a use for such a gift, and I found one! Most boats have automatic bilge pumps. When we forget to put our plugs in before launching our boats, some automatically come on and begin pumping out water. The Coast Guard recommends that you have a backup dewatering system, and that can simply be a bucket. That bucket can serve more than one purpose. It can be used for garbage, or it can be used to store items such as your first aid kit and visual distress signals (rockets, flares, and flag). You can find some fancy survival/safety packs at marine stores, or you can go to a paint store and get an unused paint bucket with a lid for almost nothing and create your own.

You can give your true love the empty bucket on the eighth day of Christmas, and then give the contents on another day. You can put a lot of important items into a bucket. Be sure your true love has a first aid kit for their boat in their bucket.

Ninth Day of Christmas

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a pair of teakwood shower clogs. I have seen many a boater out there on the water in teakwood shower clogs, or flipflops anyway. I recommend a good pair of boat shoes instead for several reasons. First, you want something that doesn’t slip on the deck. Second, you need the extra foot support and grip that a good pair of boat shoes provides. Third, with that sun beating down on the boat, unless you liberally apply sunscreen to the tops of your feet, you will end up with fried feet. Been there; done that. I have several different pairs of shoes that I wear on the boat, depending on the type of trip I am going to make. My latest boat shoes are self-draining. If I get in the water while wearing them, they drain the water quickly and dry quickly. All my boat shoes have non-marking soles. If you want to never get invited out on your old classmate’s yacht again, wear some shoes with soles that leave marks on the deck. I use all three of the types of shoes shown below.

Tenth Day of Christmas

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a chromium combination manicure, scissors, and cigarette lighter. Hey! No need to recommend something different here! Your true love needs such a gadget on the boat. You may have to buy the cigarette lighter separately, but you can’t go wrong with just about any combination tool for your true love’s boat.

Eleventh Day of Christmas

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … an automatic vegetable slicer that works when you see it on television, but not when you get it home. Well, we don’t want to give a gift that doesn’t work on the boat. My recommendation for the eleventh day is a GPS/Sonar combo. There are many different models out there, and they all let you know where you are in the water, how deep it is, if there are any fish below the boat, etc. There is nothing like having a GPS on board when the fog rolls in and you are way out there in the middle of the bay with no visual references.

Twelfth Day of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, although it may seem strange; on the twelfth day of Christmas, I am going to exchange … all that stuff listed above. I am going out on a limb here, but I bet you don’t have any plans to buy your true love twelve days’ worth of gifts. I have given you several options, ranging in price from $ to $$$. You know what your budget is. I would like to make one final recommendation. Check out your true love’s boat and see when their fire extinguisher expires. No boater should be out on the water without a U.S. Coast Guard Approved, non-expired, gauge in the green, fire extinguisher. Although fire extinguishers are generally good for 12 years after manufacture, they should be replaced if the charge needle is not in the green or the body of the extinguisher shows signs of rust (especially on the bottom of the extinguisher).

If you are looking for a boating gift for your true love, you can’t go wrong buying a safety item for their boat. The most important safety item to have is a life jacket appropriate for the type of use (inshore, near shore, or offshore). The second most important safety item is a sure means of communication in case of an emergency (VHF/FM radio, EPIRB, PLB, or satellite phone, depending on how far out your true love goes on the water). Have a good and safe boating Christmas!

[RC: Nov-28-2023]

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