While rowing to shore on a calm winter morning, the DNR (marine police) came planing up to me, creating a huge wake in a no wake zone, to check on a row boat. Rowboats do not have motors, so we don't need to be registered or carry any papers on board to prove ownership; but we do need to carry the basics for safety.
Mandatory items to carry are:
1 lifejacket per person on board
Whistle or air horn (Sound device)
Handheld flashlight for night time navigation
Optional items to carry are:
Spare set of oars
Docklines and a long spare line
Chain and Lock
Painter and Bridle
Life jackets save lives! Each person on board should have a life jacket available to them. They may wear the life jacket if they wish, but I find that it is unnecessary to wear when rowing in calm and protected waters. If it were rough conditions, I would be wearing my life jacket before even getting off the yacht.
A whistle or air horn is also needed to alert other vessels of your position. I prefer a whistle because they never run out of compressed air. I also like to have the whistle tied to my life jacket or around my neck, this way it is attached to me if I were to fall off. If I got swamped, I wouldn't want to then need to find the air horn in the floating debris, rather grab the whistle that's tied to me and begin blowing!
Rowboats can display red, green, white navigation lights. The problem is rowboats don't usually have a battery to power these lights. If the rowboat is under 7m (22.9 feet), it can use a handheld flashlight to alert other craft of your position to avoid collisions.
Optional items to carry in a rowboat are simply "nice to haves" not "need to haves".
I like to carry a spare set of oars, just in case I lose an oar or an oar breaks on me. It is very unlikely to happen, but if it were to occur, I wouldn't want to be caught without a paddle!
Dedicated dinghy dock lines are nice to have. They fit the dinghy cleats well and allow you to tie up anywhere you go. I also carry a rather long line in the boat that can act as a tow line. Should the need arise where you need to be towed, it is much more convenient to simply toss someone a line and they pull you, than to ask them to give you a tow and then ask them to give you a tow line (and hope it fits your cleats).
A fender on hand is very useful and well appreciated. When you tie up to a friends boat, the last thing you want to do is bang up their topsides as your dinghy bounces off their paint or gelcoat. I also use a fender when the sheer strake would rub against pilings or sea walls.
Security measures are also important to carry on board the dinghy. Be sure to carry chain and padlocks as well as cable locks to encourage all your valuables to stay on board with you. I run the chain around a bench to keep it attached to a very integral part of the hull. I carry 20 feet of chain, allowing me to run about 8 feet from the boat to make a continuous loop of security.
Another important item to have on board is a bailer jug. I use a jug of Arizona Ice Tea with the top cut open. The large opening, handle, and high volume allows for quick and easy removal of water that could end up in the dinghy. I prefer a square jug to a round jug (such as a clorox bottle) because it makes it easy to get into the corners of the hull.
Lastly, I like to keep a bridle rigged to the hull. A bridle transfers the force of towing to the hull in a more even manner as compared to the point loading that would occur when pulling the craft by the bow cleat. The bridle is tied to the forward bench, through the bow cleats, and then to a loop. When I want to tow the dinghy, I simply tie the towline to this loop and away we go; no rigging or adjusting involved and I know the dinghy will tow well because it towed fine last time.
While the DNR wanted to make sure that I had the necessary basics on board the row boat, I feel that they are the bear minimum of items that should be on board. A rowboat is a craft that should have it's own equipment to make its use on the water all the easier and more enjoyable .