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Part Six Boating Safety

Make an Appointment for Your Boats Free Checkup

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) maintains a public safe boating outreach program called "Boat Responsibly" to promote safety among recreational boaters. One core component of the program is the offer of a FREE vessel safety check (VSC) for your boat. All you have to do is take your boat to a local Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit or U.S. Power Squadron facility, and they will inspect your boat for free and without any risk to you.

A VSC is a courtesy examination of your boat to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and federal regulations. The vessel examiner is a trained specialist and a member of the United States Power Squadron or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. In addition to checking the required equipment, they will also check recommended equipment and discuss specific issues that will help make you a better boater.

This is not boarding or a law enforcement issue. Vessel examiners issue no citations, so there are no penalties for not successfully completing a VSC. Also, vessel examiners provide you with a copy of the vessel safety check form, allowing you to make the recommended safety improvements at your own discretion. If you pass, you'll receive a distinctive VSC decal for your boat, and while this decal won't necessarily preclude boarding by law enforcement authorities, it will offer the confidence that any encounters will be as positive as possible. Another good reason for a VSC is that most major insurance providers offer discounts for boats that successfully pass!

How It Works

You can either make an appointment or watch for a VSC event at your marina. A vessel examiner will be on hand to check the presence and condition of approximately 15 items required by state and federal regulations. They will also discuss recommended, but not required, items and answer any questions or concerns you have regarding boating safety. It takes approximately 20 minutes. When it's all said and done, you'll receive a copy of the VSC form and a decal if you pass all the requirements.

The VSC Checklist

VSCs are customized for various size powerboats, personal watercraft (PWCs), sailboats and even kayaks, canoes or rowboats. Use this quick checklist to see if you are ready for your free VSC. For a printer-friendly PDF checklist, click here.

Vessel Safety Checklist: Discussion Items:

    • Display of numbers - The boat's registration number must be 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 contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers. Place your
      state tax sticker according to state policy.

    • Registration/documentation - 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 name and hailing port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than four inches in height. To
      be documented, a boat must be five net tons or greater.

    • Life jackets (PFDs) - Acceptable personal flotation devices (PFDs) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in good working condition and of suitable size for each
      person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs need to be "readily accessible." Throwable devices need to be
      "immediately available." PFDs should NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For personal watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn and indicate an impact
      rating. Boats 16 feet or longer must also have one Type IV PFD.

    • Visual distress signals (VDS) - Recreational boats 16 feet and over and 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). 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. (It is recommended, but not required, that boats operating on inland waters should have some means of making a suitable day and night distress signal.
      The number and type of signals are best judged by considering conditions under which the boat will be operating. Alternatives to pyrotechnic devices, or flares,
      include: night/day strobe light, signal mirror, flashlight, red or orange flags, and/or lantern hand signals.)

    • Fire extinguishers - Fire extinguishers are required if one of the following conditions exists: 1) An inboard engine(s); 2) closed compartments that store portable fuel
      tanks; 3) double bottom hulls not completely sealed or not completely filled with flotation materials; 4) closed living space; 5) closed stowage compartments that
      contain flammable materials; or 6) permanently installed fuel tanks. NOTE: Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and verified as being in working condition.

Minimum number of extinguishers required
Boat Length No Fixed Systems Fixed Systems
Less than 26' one B-1 none
26' to less than 40' two B-1 or one B-2 one B-1
40' to 65' three B-1 or one B-1 & one B-2 two B-1 or one B-2

      (NOTE: See Part 4: Keep Cool When Things Get Hot for complete details on types of fire extinguishers.)

    • Ventilation - Boats with gasoline engines in closed compartments, built after August 1, 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 August 1, 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 control - All gasoline-powered inboard or outboard motor boats must be equipped with an approved backfire flame-control device.

    • Sound-producing devices - 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 four-second blast audible for a half mile. Boats larger than 39.4 ft. are also required to have a bell.

    • Navigation lights - All boats must be 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

    • Plilution placard - Boats 26 feet and over with a machinery compartment must display an oily waste "plilution" placard.

    • MARPli garbage placard - Boats 26 feet and over in length must display a "MARPli" trash placard. Boats 40 feet and over must also display a written trash
      disposal plan.

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

    • Presence of Navigation Rules - Boats 39.4 feet and over must have on board a current copy of the Navigation Rules.

    • Unique state and/or local requirements - These requirements must be met before the VSC decal can be awarded. A boat must meet the requirements of the state in
      which it is being examined. Contact your local marine law enforcement agency.

    • Overall vessel condition - As it applies to your vessel, including, but not limited to:

       a. The 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.

       b. Safe Electrical and Fuel Systems:

         i. 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. 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, a self-circling or kill switch mechanism must be in proper working order. All PWCs require an operating self-circling or kill
            switch mechanism.

         ii. Fuel Systems - Portable fuel tanks (normally seven-gallon capacity or less) must be constructed of non-breakable material and free of corrosion and leaks. All
            vents must be capable of being closed. The tank must be secured and have a vapor-tight, leak-proof cap. Each permanent fuel tank must be properly ventilated.

       c. Safe Galley and Heating Systems: System and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby.

Vessel Safety Checklist: Discussion Items:

    • Marine VHF radio

    • Dewatering device and backup

    • Mounting of fire extinguishers

    • Anchor and line for area

    • First Aid and PIW kits

    • Inland visual distress signals

    • Capacity certificate of compliance

    • Owner responsibility for accident reporting

    • Offshore operations

    • Nautical charts and navigation aids

    • Survival and first aid tips

    • Fueling and fuel management

    • Float plan filing and weather and sea conditions

    • Insurance considerations

    • Boating checklist

    • Safe boating classes

How Do You Request a Free Vessel Safety Check?

After you have completed the self-examination of your boat, you can request that one of the examiners perform an actual Vessel Safety Check by going to the "I Want a VSC" page and entering your ZIP Code. You can also call 1-800-368-5647. For more information or to sign up for a free Vessel Safety Check.


    • All Volunteer Yacht Club (AVYC)

    • National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA)

    • United States Coast Guard (USCG)

    • United States Power Squadron (USPS)

Sea Ray is proud to offer this safety information to increase your boating safety and enjoyment. These documents are provided for your personal information only, and you hereby acknowledge that any reliance upon any of these materials shall be at your sole risk. Sea Ray reserves the right, in its sole discretion and without any obligation, to make improvements to, or correct any error or omissions, in any portion of the information. Sea Ray hereby disclaims all liability to the maximum extent permitted by law in relation to this information and does not give any warranties, express or implied, or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any of the information provided.

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