Could Your Boat Pass A Vessel Safety Check?

April 4, 2013


You’re out enjoying a great day on the water when all of the sudden you get approached by the local boating law enforcement. Whether it’s a DNR agent, a sheriff marine patrol or the U.S. Coast Guard, they will know exactly what to look for to see if you pass a basic vessel safety check. Do you know, without a doubt, that you’ve got everything covered? If not, the time to make sure is now, before you ever leave your driveway or marina.

Here are some of the basic items that are sure to be checked. But remember that your local laws may vary, so when you make sure these are taken care of, it’s a good idea to check out and click on the “Regulations” tab.


• Are your boat's registration numbers permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat? They must be plain, vertical, block characters, not less than three inches high, and in a color that contrasts with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers. Follow your state’s policies regarding placement of tax sticker.

• Do you have your state registration papers on board and easily accessible?

Life Jackets

• Do you have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for every passenger on board, and are they in good condition and of an appropriate size? Children must have life jackets that are designed for their age and weight and they must be worn any time you’re underway. Do you know the life jacket age requirements for children in your state? Are your adult life jackets "readily accessible." Do you know that life jackets can’t be stored in unopened plastic packaging? If your boat is more than 16 feet, do you have at least one Type 1V (throwable) personal flotation device? Is it “immediately available?”

Signaling Devices

• If your boat is over 16 feet and used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes, do you have EITHER a minimum of three day and three night pyrotechnic signaling devices, one day non-pyrotechnic device (such as a flag) and one night non-pyrotechnic device (such as an auto SOS light) OR an acceptable combination of those devices? If your boat is less than 16 feet on coastal waters or the Great Lakes, do you have night visual distress signals when operating from sunset to sunrise?

• Are you carrying a sound-producing device, such as a whistle, horn or siren, capable of a four-second blast audible for at least a half mile? If your boat is longer than 39.4 feet, do you also have a bell?

Fire Extinguishers

• Do you have permanently mounted, properly serviced and accessible fire extinguishers if you have any of the following: Inboard engine; Closed compartments that store portable fuel tanks; Double-bottom hulls not completely sealed or not completely filled with flotation materials; Closed living space; Closed storage compartments that contain flammable materials; or permanently installed fuel tanks?

Navigation Lights

• Are you able to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and in conditions of reduced visibility? 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.