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Coast Guard Boat Requirements (All Boat Sizes Included)

If you’ve ever been pulled over by the coast guard, you know that there are many different requirements that they have because you were probably missing one. In this article, not only will I go over all of these safety requirements by the U.S. Coast Guard, but also more safety equipment that I recommend having at all times.

So below is the required safety checklist that every boater needs from the U.S. Coast Guard boat inspection checklist (link goes to a PDF of the official checklist). Click on the range of sizes your boat falls under and all the requirements are there.

Use the table of contacts to navigate to your boat size requirements.

Boats less than 16′, canoes, and kayaks

Correctly displayed numbers: Most states don’t require this for non-motorized vessels such as kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. The ones that do are Alaska, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. If your boat is motorized follow these instructions: The boat’s registration number must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat characters must be plain, vertical, block style, not less than three (3) inches high, and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers, Place the State validation sticker according to State policy. (e.g. FL 1234 AB or FL4234-AB) 

Registration and document papers: Again if you have a non-motorized boat, you won’t need to get these papers unless you are in the states Alaska, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, or Pennsylvania. However, if you do, follow these rules: Registration or Documentation papers must be on board and available. Documentation numbers must be permanently marked on a visible part of the interior structure. The documented boat’s name and hailing Port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than 4 inches in height.

At least one life jacket (PFD) per person: Acceptable PFDs (also known as Life Jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and in good, serviceable condition. A wearable PFD of a suitable size is required for each person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs shall be “readily accessible.” PFDs shall NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For Personal Watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn. An impact rating is recommended, but not required.

Visual distress signals: Recreational boats less than 16 feet on coastal waters or the Great Lakes need only carry night visual distress signals when operating from sunset to sunrise.

Fire extinguishers: One B-1 fire extinguisher is only required for boats of this size that meet one or more of these conditions: 1) Inboard engine(s) 2) Double bottom hulls not completely scaled or not completely filled with flotation materials 3) Closed living space 4) Closed stowage compartments that contain flammable materials or 5) Permanently installed fuel tanks. NOTE: Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and verified as serviceable.

Ventilation: Boats with gasoline engines in closed compartments, built after 1 August 1980 must have a powered ventilation system. Those built prior to that date must have natural or powered ventilation. Boats with closed fuel tank compartments built after 1 August 1978 must meet requirements by displaying a “certificate of compliance.” Boats built before that date must have either natural or powered ventilation in the fuel tank compartment.

Backfire flame arrest: All gasoline-powered inboard/outboard or inboard motorboats must be equipped with an approved backfire flame control device.

Sound producing device: To comply with Navigation Rules and for distress signaling purposes all boats must carry a sound-producing device (whistle, horn, siren, etc.) capable of a 4-second blast audible for a mile.

Navigational lights: All boats of this size must be able to display navigational lights during the night between sunset and sunrise and also during times of low visibility.

Marine sanitation device: Any installed toilet must be a Coast Guard-approved device. Overboard discharge outlets must be capable of being sealed.

State and local requirements: There may be additional rules depending on your state or area, so make sure to check the local laws. (Ex: no gas engines in specific lakes)

Good overall boat condition: As it applies to this Vessel. Including, but not limited to: Deck free of hazards and clean bilge – The boat must be free from fire hazards, in good overall condition, with bilges reasonably clean and visible hull structure generally sound. The use of automobile parts on boat engines is not acceptable. The engine horsepower must not exceed that shown on the capacity plate. Electrical and Fuel Systems – The electrical system must be protected by fuses or manual reset circuit breakers. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or water spray. The wiring must be in good condition, properly installed, and with no exposed areas or deteriorated insulation. Batteries must be secured and terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing. If installed, self-circling or kill switch mechanism must be in proper working order. All PWCs require an operating self-circling or kill switch mechanism. Galley and heating systems – systems and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby

Boats 16′ to less than 26′

Correctly displayed numbers: Most states don’t require this for non-motorized vessels such as kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. The ones that do are Alaska, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. If your boat is motorized follow these instructions: The boat’s registration number must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat characters must be plain, vertical, block style, not less than three (3) inches high, and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers, Place the State validation sticker according to State policy. (e.g. FL 1234 AB or FL4234-AB) 

Registration and document papers: Again if you have a non-motorized boat, you won’t need to get these papers unless you are in the states Alaska, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, or Pennsylvania. However, if you do, follow these rules: Registration or Documentation papers must be on board and available. Documentation numbers must be permanently marked on a visible part of the interior structure. The documented boat’s name and hailing Port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than 4 inches in height.

At least one life jacket (PFD) per person: Acceptable PFDs (also known as Life Jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and in good, serviceable condition. A wearable PFD of a suitable size is required for each person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs shall be “readily accessible.” PFDs shall NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For Personal Watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn. Boats 16 Feet or longer, must also have one Type IV (throwable) device, which shall be “immediately available.” An impact rating is recommended, but not required.

Visual distress signals: Recreational boats 16 feet and over used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either 1) three day and three-night pyrotechnic devices, 2) one-day non-pyrotechnic device (flag), and one-night non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light) or 3) a combination of 1) and 2).

Fire extinguishers: One B-1 fire extinguisher is only required for boats of this size that meet one or more of these conditions: 1) Inboard engine(s) 2) Double bottom hulls not completely scaled or not completely filled with flotation materials 3) Closed living space 4) Closed stowage compartments that contain flammable materials or 5) Permanently installed fuel tanks. NOTE: Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and verified as serviceable. 

Ventilation: Boats with gasoline engines in closed compartments, built after 1 August 1980 must have a powered ventilation system. Those built prior to that date must have natural or powered ventilation. Boats with closed fuel tank compartments built after 1 August 1978 must meet requirements by displaying a “certificate of compliance.” Boats built before that date must have either natural or powered ventilation in the fuel tank compartment.

Backfire flame arrest: All gasoline-powered inboard/outboard or inboard motorboats must be equipped with an approved backfire flame control device.

Sound producing device: To comply with Navigation Rules and for distress signaling purposes all boats must carry a sound-producing device (whistle, horn, siren, etc.) capable of a 4-second blast audible for a mile.

Navigational lights: Boats 16 feet or more in length must have properly installed, working navigation lights and an all-around anchor light capable of being lit independently from the red/green/white “running” lights.

Marine sanitation device: Any installed toilet must be a Coast Guard-approved device. Overboard discharge outlets must be capable of being sealed.

State and local requirements: There may be additional rules depending on your state or area, so make sure to check the local laws. (Ex: no gas engines in specific lakes)

Good overall boat condition: As it applies to this Vessel. Including, but not limited to: Deck free of hazards and clean bilge – The boat must be free from fire hazards, in good overall condition, with bilges reasonably clean and visible hull structure generally sound. The use of automobile parts on boat engines is not acceptable. The engine horsepower must not exceed that shown on the capacity plate. Electrical and Fuel Systems – The electrical system must be protected by fuses or manual reset circuit breakers. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or water spray. The wiring must be in good condition, properly installed, and with no exposed areas or deteriorated insulation. Batteries must be secured and terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing. If installed, self-circling or kill switch mechanism must be in proper working order. All PWCs require an operating self-circling or kill switch mechanism. Galley and heating systems – systems and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby

Boats 26′ to less than 39.4′

Correctly displayed numbers: The boat’s registration number must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat characters must be plain, vertical, block style, not less than three (3) inches high, and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers, Place the State validation sticker according to State policy. (e.g. FL 1234 AB or FL4234-AB) 

Registration and document papers: Registration or Documentation papers must be on board and available. Documentation numbers must be permanently marked on a visible part of the interior structure. The documented boat’s name and hailing Port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than 4 inches in height.

At least one life jacket (PFD) per person: Acceptable PFDs (also known as Life Jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and in good, serviceable condition. A wearable PFD of a suitable size is required for each person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs shall be “readily accessible.” PFDs shall NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For Personal Watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn. Boats 16 Feet or longer, must also have one Type IV (throwable) device, which shall be “immediately available.” An impact rating is recommended, but not required.

Visual distress signals: Recreational boats 16 feet and over used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either 1) three day and three-night pyrotechnic devices, 2) one-day non-pyrotechnic device (flag), and one-night non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light) or 3) a combination of 1) and 2).

Fire extinguishers: All boats of this size require two B-1 or one B-2 fire extinguisher if there is no fixed marine fire extinguisher system. If there is a fixed system, only one B-1 fire extinguisher is required. NOTE: Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and verified as serviceable.

Ventilation: Boats with gasoline engines in closed compartments, built after 1 August 1980 must have a powered ventilation system. Those built prior to that date must have natural or powered ventilation. Boats with closed fuel tank compartments built after 1 August 1978 must meet requirements by displaying a “certificate of compliance.” Boats built before that date must have either natural or powered ventilation in the fuel tank compartment.

Backfire flame arrest: All gasoline-powered inboard/outboard or inboard motorboats must be equipped with an approved backfire flame control device.

Sound producing device: To comply with Navigation Rules and for distress signaling purposes all boats must carry a sound-producing device (whistle, horn, siren, etc.) capable of a 4-second blast audible for a mile.

Navigational lights: Boats 16 feet or more in length must have properly installed, working navigation lights and an all-around anchor light capable of being lit independently from the red/green/white “running” lights.

Pollutant placecard: Boats 26 feet and over with a machinery compartment must display an oily waste “pollution” placard.

Morpal trash placecard: Boats 26 feet and over in length, operating in U.S. navigable waters, must display a “MARPOL” trash placard.

Marine sanitation device: Any installed toilet must be a Coast Guard-approved device. Overboard discharge outlets must be capable of being sealed.

State and local requirements: There may be additional rules depending on your state or area, so make sure to check the local laws. (Ex: no gas engines in specific lakes)

Good overall boat condition: As it applies to this Vessel. Including, but not limited to: Deck free of hazards and clean bilge – The boat must be free from fire hazards, in good overall condition, with bilges reasonably clean and visible hull structure generally sound. The use of automobile parts on boat engines is not acceptable. The engine horsepower must not exceed that shown on the capacity plate. Electrical and Fuel Systems – The electrical system must be protected by fuses or manual reset circuit breakers. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or water spray. The wiring must be in good condition, properly installed, and with no exposed areas or deteriorated insulation. Batteries must be secured and terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing. If installed, self-circling or kill switch mechanism must be in proper working order. All PWCs require an operating self-circling or kill switch mechanism. Galley and heating systems – systems and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby

Boats 40′ to less than 65′

Correctly displayed numbers: The boat’s registration number must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat characters must be plain, vertical, block style, not less than three (3) inches high, and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers, Place the State validation sticker according to State policy. (e.g. FL 1234 AB or FL4234-AB) 

Registration and document papers: Registration or Documentation papers must be on board and available. Documentation numbers must be permanently marked on a visible part of the interior structure. The documented boat’s name and hailing Port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than 4 inches in height.

At least one life jacket (PFD) per person: Acceptable PFDs (also known as Life Jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and in good, serviceable condition. A wearable PFD of a suitable size is required for each person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs shall be “readily accessible.” PFDs shall NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For Personal Watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn. Boats 16 Feet or longer, must also have one Type IV (throwable) device, which shall be “immediately available.” An impact rating is recommended, but not required.

Visual distress signals: Recreational boats 16 feet and over used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either 1) three day and three-night pyrotechnic devices, 2) one-day non-pyrotechnic device (flag), and one-night non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light) or 3) a combination of 1) and 2).

Fire extinguishers: All boats of this size require three B-1 or one B-1 and one B-2 fire extinguisher if there is no fixed marine fire extinguisher system. If there is a fixed system, only two B-1 or one B-2 fire extinguisher is required. NOTE: Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and verified as serviceable.

Ventilation: Boats with gasoline engines in closed compartments, built after 1 August 1980 must have a powered ventilation system. Those built prior to that date must have natural or powered ventilation. Boats with closed fuel tank compartments built after 1 August 1978 must meet requirements by displaying a “certificate of compliance.” Boats built before that date must have either natural or powered ventilation in the fuel tank compartment.

Backfire flame arrest: All gasoline-powered inboard/outboard or inboard motorboats must be equipped with an approved backfire flame control device.

Sound producing device: To comply with Navigation Rules and for distress signaling purposes all boats must carry a sound-producing device (whistle, horn, siren, etc.) capable of a 4-second blast audible for a mile. Boats larger than 39.4 ft. are also required to have a bell (see Navigation Rules.)

Navigational lights: Boats 16 feet or more in length must have properly installed, working navigation lights and an all-around anchor light capable of being lit independently from the red/green/white “running” lights.

Pollutant placecard: Boats 26 feet and over with a machinery compartment must display an oily waste “pollution” placard. 

Morpal trash placecard: Boats 26 feet and over in length, operating in U.S. navigable waters, must display a “MARPOL” trash placard. Oceangoing boats 40 feet and over must also have a written trash disposal plan available onboard.

Marine sanitation device: Any installed toilet must be a Coast Guard-approved device. Overboard discharge outlets must be capable of being sealed.

Navigational rules: Boats 39.4 feet and over must have on board a current copy of the Navigation Rules.

State and local requirements: There may be additional rules depending on your state or area, so make sure to check the local laws. (Ex: no gas engines in specific lakes)
Good overall boat condition: As it applies to this Vessel. Including, but not limited to: Deck free of hazards and clean bilge – The boat must be free from fire hazards, in good overall condition, with bilges reasonably clean and visible hull structure generally sound. The use of automobile parts on boat engines is not acceptable. The engine horsepower must not exceed that shown on the capacity plate. Electrical and Fuel Systems – The electrical system must be protected by fuses or manual reset circuit breakers. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or water spray. The wiring must be in good condition, properly installed, and with no exposed areas or deteriorated insulation. Batteries must be secured and terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing. If installed, self-circling or kill switch mechanism must be in proper working order. All PWCs require an operating self-circling or kill switch mechanism. Galley and heating systems – systems and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby

Boats 65′ to less than 165′

Correctly displayed numbers: The boat’s registration number must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat characters must be plain, vertical, block style, not less than three (3) inches high, and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers, Place the State validation sticker according to State policy. (e.g. FL 1234 AB or FL4234-AB) 

Registration and document papers: Registration or Documentation papers must be on board and available. Documentation numbers must be permanently marked on a visible part of the interior structure. The documented boat’s name and hailing Port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than 4 inches in height.

At least one life jacket (PFD) per person: Acceptable PFDs (also known as Life Jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and in good, serviceable condition. A wearable PFD of a suitable size is required for each person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs shall be “readily accessible.” PFDs shall NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For Personal Watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn. Boats 16 Feet or longer, must also have one Type IV (throwable) device, which shall be “immediately available.” An impact rating is recommended, but not required.

Visual distress signals: Recreational boats 16 feet and over used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either 1) three day and three-night pyrotechnic devices, 2) one-day non-pyrotechnic device (flag), and one-night non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light) or 3) a combination of 1) and 2).

Fire extinguishers: All boats of this size require 1-8 B-2 fire extinguishers depending on weight and additional requirements for machinery on board. NOTE: Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and verified as serviceable.

Ventilation: Boats with gasoline engines in closed compartments, built after 1 August 1980 must have a powered ventilation system. Those built prior to that date must have natural or powered ventilation. Boats with closed fuel tank compartments built after 1 August 1978 must meet requirements by displaying a “certificate of compliance.” Boats built before that date must have either natural or powered ventilation in the fuel tank compartment.

Backfire flame arrest: All gasoline-powered inboard/outboard or inboard motorboats must be equipped with an approved backfire flame control device.

Sound producing device: To comply with Navigation Rules and for distress signaling purposes all boats must carry a sound-producing device (whistle, horn, siren, etc.) capable of a 4-second blast audible for a mile. Boats larger than 39.4 ft. are also required to have a bell (see Navigation Rules.)

Navigational lights: Boats 16 feet or more in length must have properly installed, working navigation lights and an all-around anchor light capable of being lit independently from the red/green/white “running” lights.

Pollutant placecard: Boats 26 feet and over with a machinery compartment must display an oily waste “pollution” placard. 

Morpal trash placecard: Boats 26 feet and over in length, operating in U.S. navigable waters, must display a “MARPOL” trash placard. Oceangoing boats 40 feet and over must also have a written trash disposal plan available onboard.

Marine sanitation device: Any installed toilet must be a Coast Guard-approved device. Overboard discharge outlets must be capable of being sealed.

State and local requirements: There may be additional rules depending on your state or area, so make sure to check the local laws. (Ex: no gas engines in specific lakes)

Good overall boat condition: As it applies to this Vessel. Including, but not limited to: Deck free of hazards and clean bilge – The boat must be free from fire hazards, in good overall condition, with bilges reasonably clean and visible hull structure generally sound. The use of automobile parts on boat engines is not acceptable. The engine horsepower must not exceed that shown on the capacity plate. Electrical and Fuel Systems – The electrical system must be protected by fuses or manual reset circuit breakers. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or water spray. The wiring must be in good condition, properly installed, and with no exposed areas or deteriorated insulation. Batteries must be secured and terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing. If installed, self-circling or kill switch mechanism must be in proper working order. All PWCs require an operating self-circling or kill switch mechanism. Galley and heating systems – systems and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby

Boating safetey items that are not required but reccomended

Along with all of these requirements, the Coast Guard also has a list of items they recommend boaters to have. Many of these items could really help and maybe even save your life if a bad situation were to arise on the water. Here are the recommended items:

Marine radio

Although VHF marine radios aren’t always required, they are still a very important thing that all boaters should have (especially Great lakes or ocean boaters). VHF radios provide an easy way to communicate with other boats, marinas, bridges, and the Coast Guard.

Many boats come with a fixed mount VHF radio already installed, but you can also get a handheld one. Check out this link to purchase a VHF marine radio. Having a handheld one even if you already have a fixed mounted system can come in handy in case your mounted system breaks.

Dewatering device and backup

A dewatering device includes both manual (bucket, scooper, etc.) and automatic systems (electrical bilge pump). Having a strong dewatering device can literally be a lifesaver in case of an emergency where water needs to be pumped out fast.

The quicker your pump, the more time you will have before rescue is absolutely needed in the case of a sinking boat. Many times boats will have bilge pumps already installed, but if you need one, check out this link here.

Mounted fire extinguishers

Having mounted fire extinguishers helps ensure you don’t move or lose them. Knowing exactly where to get your extinguisher is important because fires happen fast.

Anchor and line for area

Anchors can be used in many situations and can help you avoid drifting out to see in an emergency situation. Check out this article here to make sure you have the right anchor and line.

First Aid and PIW kits

First aid and PIW (person in the water) kits are extremely important and all boaters should have them. You can get a waterproof marine first aid kit here on amazon.

A PIW kit includes objects that can help someone who’s fallen in the water. This could be a ladder to get back on, a throwable floatable device, etc.

Inland visual distress signals

If you ever get stuck on land in the middle of nowhere after something went wrong with your boat, you will still need to use visual distress signals to be saved. Along with flairs and all other visual distress signals, having a lighter to start a fire or smooth glass to make reflections may be useful if you’re on land.

Capacity/certificate of compliance

Having a maximum person and weight capacity may help you avoid accidentally carrying too much weight on board and causing problems associated with that. Especially in big waves, having too much weight on board can be very dangerous.

Discussion/information items

Having these items could help in case of an engine failure, accident on the water, survival situation, etc.

  • Accident reporting – owner responsibility
  • Offshore operations
  • Nautical charts/navigational aids
  • Survival tips/first aid
  • Fueling/fuel management
  • Float plan/weather and sea conditions
  • Insurance considerations
  • Boating checklist
  • Safe boating classes
Sam

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