When Boating Equipment Takes Flight

By: Zuzana Prochazka

QuestionI’m flying down to the Caribbean to help a friend bring his boat up from there, and I need to carry some safety equipment. What can I take on an airplane without major security issues? 

AnswerOver the past decade, air travel has been significantly restricted, and the rules governing bringing technical gear aboard have been baffling. But the good news these days is you can travel with just about everything you’ll need on a boat — within ­reason.

Certain equipment, such as a handheld GPS, can be brought into the cabin as a carry-on. You can even turn it on, since a GPS is only a receiver. I’ve also taken personal locator beacons, strobe lights and dive regulators. If you suspect a browbeating due to items in your carry-on bag, check them so they go into the hold. EPIRBs and CO2-activated inflatable life jackets are fine in checked bags, as are two extra inflation cartridges. You can even check a durable fishing knife, navigation dividers, a spear gun and a VHF radio.

Sealed batteries are usually OK, although at one airport in Mexico, I was forced to take AA batteries out of my flashlight, which was less than handy arriving at the docks at night. Once you travel internationally, especially to smaller countries with airports off the beaten path, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will raise a flag.

Items you can never bring onto an airplane include various flammable chemicals and any kind of flares. Load up on signal flares before the boat leaves home, and refresh them at various ports along the way. It also stands to reason that flammable liquids such as acetone, varnishes and the like are prohibited, but why would you want to carry those anyway?

Finally, if in doubt, ask. You can search the TSA website for restricted items or contact the airline directly if you have questions about specific equipment. But remember, you still have to deal with humans who might not be well-versed in their own company’s rules and who have little more than a layman’s understanding of most boating equipment.

Furthermore, even if the rules permit it, you’re at the mercy of a TSA representative, a gate agent or a flight attendant, all of whom have various views on security. If you’re traveling with something you suspect may raise eyebrows, at least give yourself more time at the airport.


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