If you are a boat owner, it is your responsibility to insure that your boat has the required safety equipment (called carriage equipment by the United State Coast Guard). It is also your responsibility to make sure your boat complies with state and federal regulations for things such as numbering and safe boat operations.
Today we pass along some boat safety tips from the United States Coast Guard to make your boating time fun, safe and in compliance with rules and regulations.
Display of Registration Number
You must permanently attach or paint the boat’s registration number to each side of the forward half of your boat.
The lettering is required to be at least 3 inches high, vertical, block characters that color contrasts with that of the hull. The numbers should be separated from the letters with a hyphen or space.
Keep your registration documents on your boat so they are available for inspection. If you own a boat 5 net tons or greater, it needs documentation, too. Permanently affix documentation numbers to the interior of your boat. Display the boat’s home port and name on the hull in letters at least 4 inches high.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFD)
Drowning is the number one cause of death for those involved in boating incidents. Accordingly, the Coast Guard is very strict about compliance with PFD requirements. This starts with Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs).
For a personal flotation device (Life Jacket) to be approved by the United States Coast Guard, it must in good condition and of a suitable size for each person on the boat. PFD requirements for children mandate they be especially designed for kids.
Make sure life jackets are readily available for wear. In practice, this means they are not stowed in unopened packaging, but are accessible in a wearable condition at any time. Boats that are more than 16 feet in length need at least one Type IV PDF aboard.
You wouldn’t normally think about fire hazards on the open water, but a boat fire can damage or destroy a boat exceedingly fast. The Coast Guard requires that serviceable and accessible fire extinguishers be on board boats if the boat meets or contains any of the following conditions:
- Double hulls either not filled with flotation material or not completely sealed
- Permanently installed fuel tanks
- Closed compartments for storing portable fuel tanks
- Inboard engine
- Closed stowage space used to store flammable items
- Closed living spaces
But, even if your boat is only a 12-foot dinghy with a small engine, it is a great idea to keep a fire extinguisher handy. Fuel leaks and gathering fumes can happen on any size boat.
Speaking of fuel, if you cannot find pure gas for your boat and use an ethanol blend, make sure that you add fuel stabilizer to your tank. It is almost impossible to buy gas without ethanol in some areas and ethanol causes damage to your boat’s fuel system and engine. If you do not want to have your engine quit, use a fuel stabilizer that controls water without using alcohol. Otherwise, you may have to call for a tow.
Boats greater than 16 feet that run in coastal waters or the Great Lakes must carry a Visual Distress Signal (VDS). These signals must meet the following requirements:
- Three days and nights of pyrotechnic devices
- One-day non-pyrotechnic device (a flag)
- One-night non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light)
- Or a combination of items 1 and 2.
If your boat is under 16 feet and you plan to run in coastal waters or the Great Lakes between dusk and dawn, you must also carry VDS.
Boats that run on inland waters are not required to carry VDS, but the United States Coast Guard strongly urges you to do so.
Other Tips for Your Safety
- Carry a bell, whistle, siren, or other sound-producing distress signal that is audible up to ¼-mile away.
- All boats running at night or in poor visibility must have running lights.
- All gas-powered boats must have a working backfire flame control.
These regulations and boat safety tips from the Coast Guard will make your boating safer and safer boating is more pleasurable.
This post was published on May 2, 2014 and was updated on October 17, 2014.