Recreational vessels are required to carry specified safety equipment which may vary according to type of propulsion, type of construction, area and time of use, and number of people aboard. Unless otherwise noted, all required equipment that is Coast Guard approved must be kept in good, serviceable condition, be readily accessible, and be of the proper type and/or size. Recreational vessels may carry extra equipment that is not Coast Guard approved-provided that the minimum requirements for approved equipment are satisfied. For equipment purposes, sailboats, canoes, rowboats, and inflatable rafts equipped with motors are considered to be "motorboats". Requirements vary considerably for commercial vessels and vessels engaged in racing.
Sailboats and Manually Propelled Vessels
Personal Flotation Devices: Requirements for federally navigable waterways- Vessels less than 16 feet in length, and all canoes and kayaks, regardless of length, must carry one Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard- approved personal flotation device for each person on board. They must be readily accessible and of a suitable size for the intended wearer. For state requirements see "Personal Flotation Devices (PFDS) ".
Vessels 16 feet and over, except canoes and kayaks, must have one Type I, II, III, or V Coast Guard-approved wearable device for each person aboard, plus at least one Type IV throwable device. The throwable device must be kept where it is immediately available. Wearable devices must be of a suitable size for the intended wearer.
Navigation Lights: All vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during times of restricted visibility. In inland and international waters, sailing vessels under sail alone shall exhibit navigation lights. The tricolored lantern and the all-round green and red lights should never be used together.
A sailing vessel of less than 23 feet (7 meters) in length shall, if practicable, exhibit those lights prescribed, or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision. A vessel under oars may display those lights prescribed for sailing vessels or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.
Sound Signaling Devices: A vessel of less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) is not required to carry a whistle or bell, but must be able to provide some other means of making an efficient sound signal.
Visual Distress Signals (Coastal Waters Only): Boats less than 16 feet, manually propelled craft of any size, sailboats under 26 feet--of completely open construction and not equipped with propulsion machinery, and boats competing in an organized marine parade, regatta, race, or similar event are only required between sunset and sunrise to carry aboard devices that are suitable for night use.
Federal Laws Require that you must have this aboard
Equipment Less than 16' Less than 26' Life Jackets (PFDs) One Type I, II, III, IV or Hybrid Type V for each person. Hybrid Type V must be worn at all times to meet Coast Guard Requirements. One Type I, II, III, IV or Hybrid Type V for each person. Hybrid Type V must be worn at all times to meet Coast Guard Requirements. Fire Extinguishers At least one B-1 Coast Guard approved type of hand portable fire extinguisher. Not required on outboard motorboats less than 26 feet in length if the construction of such motorboats will not permit the entrapment of flammable gases or vapors. Ventilation At least 2 ventilator ducts fitted with cowls for the purpose of properly and efficiently ventilating the bilges of every inboard engine and fuel tank compartment of boats constructed or decked over April 25, 1940, using gasoline or other fuel having a flashpoint of less than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Boats built after July 1980 must have operable power blowers. Whistle, Bell or Horn Any Device capable of making an "efficient sound signal" audible for 1/2 mile. Backfire Flame Arrester One Coast Guard approved device on each carburetor of all gasoline engines installed after April 25, 1940, except outboard motors Visual distress Signals, for Coastal Waters, Great Lakes or High Seas. Required only when operating at night. Same night equipment choices as for larger boats. Orange flag with black square-and-disc and an S-O-S electric light or 3 orange smoke signals, hand held or floating , or 3 red flares of handheld, meteor, or parachute type.
Other Federal Laws
A vessel underway, when hailed by a Coast Guard vessel is required to heave to, or maneuver in such a manner that permits a boarding officer to come aboard. The Coast Guard may impose a civil penalty up to $1,000 for failure to: comply with equipment requirements; report a boating accident; or comply with other federal regulations. Failure to comply with the Inland Navigation Rules of 1980 can result in a civil penalty up to $5,000.
Negligent or grossly negligent operation of a vessel, which endangers lives and/or property is prohibited by law. Grossly negligent operation is a criminal offense and an operator may be fined up to $5,000, imprisoned for one year, or both. Some examples of actions that may constitute negligent or grossly negligent operation are:
- Operating a boat in a swimming area.
- Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Excessive speed in the vicinity of other boats or in dangerous waters.
- Hazardous water-skiing practices.
- Bowriding, also riding on seatback, gunwale or transom.
Termination of Use
A Coast Guard boarding officer who observes a boat being operated in an unsafe condition, specifically defined by law or regulation, and who determines than an especially hazardous condition exists, may direct the operator to take immediate steps to correct the condition, including returning to port. Termination for unsafe use may be imposed for:
- Insufficient number of CG Approved Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs).
- Insufficient fire extinguishers.
- Overloading beyond manufacturer's recommended safe loading capacity.
- Improper navigation light display.
- Ventilation requirement for tank and engine spaces not met.
- Fuel leakage.
- Fuel in bilges.
- Improper backfire flame control.
- Manifestly unsafe voyage.
Reporting Boat Accidents
All boating accidents must be reported by the operator or the owner of the vessel to the proper marine law enforcement authority for the state in which the accident occurred. Immediate notification is required for fatal accidents. If a person dies, or there are injuries requiring more than first aid, a formal report must be filed within 48 hours. A formal report must be made within 10 days for accidents involving more than $500.00 damage or complete loss of a vessel. If you need more information about accident reporting, call the Boating Safety Hotline at (800) 368-5647.