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Coast Guard Auxiliary & Power Squadron Boat Inspections

Yearly Boat Inspections:

The Coast Guard Auxiliary & the US Power Squadron will inspect your boat for free.   To find a flotilla near you  CLICK HERE.

This can be a very good thing in that if you were ever later stopped by the actual Coast Guard & did not know what you may have needed to be compliant with their rules, you could be fined up to $1100.  If you did not have life jackets, fire extinguishers  & or current flares you WILL be escorted back to the dock.  if just your flares are outdated, you most likely would be turned around & directed to return to the dock until you purchased new flares that were currently dated, & proved to the USCG that you had done so, or had other required equipment on board.  Under certain circumstances, there could be hefty fines involved as indicated above.

This is a voluntary inspection, & is not a true Coast Guard inspection, but if you passed this one, you will pass a true inspection.  Many times if the Coast Guard is randomly inspecting boats, they may bypass one with a current decal in place.  Something that we boaters need to be aware of is the increased Coast Guard activity since they now are the US's eyes & ears under the Homeland Security system for coastal waters.  When they pull alongside with the 25' aluminum rigid zodiak type "Safe Boat" with LARGE twin Honda outboards & a 50 caliber machine gun on the bow, you should know that the answer they expect is "YES SIR."

There are different requirements on different size boats, & where the boat is being used.   The decal colors are changed each year, & are the same color each year matching the vessel registration tab & your vehicle license tabs.   In this picture, you can see remnants of the red 2004 decal.  They are supposed to be placed on the PORT, or left hand side, to you land-lubbers.  And they are usually placed low & forward on the side window.  There is only one decal issued, so the Starboard side has none.

Listed below is a reprint of what will be the list that they work off, when inspecting a vessel.   Some, (the LH ones) are required, while (the RH ones) are strongly recommended.   The N/A means Not Applicable.





Yes No N/A


Yes No
  1.    Display of Numbers . . .   I.      Marine Radio . .
  2.    Registration/Documentation . . .   II.     Dewatering Device & backup . .
  3.    Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) . . .   III.   Mounted Fire Extinguisher . .
  4.    Visual Distress Signals (VDS) . . .   IV.   Anchor & Line for Area . .
  5.    Fire Extinguishers . . .   V.    First Aid and PIW Kits (**over) . .
  6.    Ventilation . . .   VI.   Inland Visual distress Signals . .
  7.    Backfire Flame Control . . .   VII.  Capacity/Certificate of Compliance . .
  8.    Sound Producing Devices/Bell . . .   VIII. Discussion Items: as applies . .
  9.    Navigation Lights . . .           a.  Accident Reporting - Owner Responsibility
 10.   Pollution Placard . . .           b.  Offshore Operations
 11.   MARPOL Trash Placard . . .           c.  Nautical Charts / Navigation aids
 12.   Marine Sanitation Devices . . .           d.  Survival Tips / First Aid 
 13.   Navigation Rules . . .           e.  Fueling / Fuel Management
 14.   State and/or Local Requirements . . .           f.  Float Plan / Weather & Sea Conditions
 15.   Overall Vessel Condition: as applies . . .           g.  Insurance Considerations
         a.  Deck Free of Hazards / Clean Bilge . . .           h.  Boating Check List
         b.  Electrical - Fuel Systems . . . .           i.  Safe Boating Classes
         c.  Gallery - Heating Systems . . . . .

Any check in the LH,  No column will result in failure to pass inspection.  Listed below are explanations of the above questions.

(1.)    NUMBERING;  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 state validation stickers according to State policy (e.g. FL 1234 AB or FL-4234-AB)

(2.)    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's name and hailing Port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than 4 inches in height.

(3.)    PERSONAL FLOATATION DEVICES (PFDs);  Acceptable PFDs (also known as life jackets) must be 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."  Boats 16 feet or longer, must also have one Type IV (throwable) device, which shall be "immediately available."  PFDs shall NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging.  For watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn.  An impact rating is recommended, but not required.

(4.)   VISUAL DISTRESS SIGNALS;  Recreational boats 16 feet and over used on coast waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either 1)three day and three night pyrotechnic devices. 2)one minimum 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 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 is best judged by considering conditions under which the boat will be operating.

 (5.)    FIRE EXTINGUISHERS;  Fire extinguishers are required if one of the following exists: 1)Inboard engine(s); 2)Double bottom hulls not completely sealed or not completely filled with floatation materials; 3) Closed living space; 4) Closed stowage compartments that contain flammable materials; or 5) Permanently installed fuel tanks.  Recreational boats less than 26 feet, and propelled by outboard motors are NOT required to have fire extinguishers unless one or more of the conditions (2-5) listed above applies.  NOTE:  Fire extinguishers must be accessible and verified as serviceable.

Minimum number of extinguishers required

Boat Length No Fixed System With Fixed System
Less than 26'
26' to less than 40'
40' to 65'


one B-1
two B-1 or one B-2
three B-1 or one B-1 & one B-2


one  B-1
two B-1 or one B-2


(6.)    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 either have natural or powered ventilation in the fuel tank compartment.

(7.)    BACKFIRE FLAME ARRESTER;  All gasoline powered inboard/outboard or inboard powered motor boats must be euipped with an approved backfire control device.

(8.)    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 4 second blast audible for 1/2 mile.  Boats larger than 39.4 ft are also required to have a bell (see Navigation Rules.)

(9.)    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.

(10.)    POLLUTION PLACARD;   Boats 26 feet and over with a machinery compartment must display an oily waste "pollution" placard.

(11.)    MARPOL TRASH PLACARD;   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.

(12.)    MARINE SANITATION DEVICE;   Any installed toilet must be a Coast Guard approved device.  Overboard discharge outlets must be capable of being sealed.

(13.)    NAVIGATION RULES;   Boats 39.4 feet and over must have on board a current copy of the Navigation Rules.

(14.)    STATE AND LOCAL REQUIREMENTS;  These requirements must be met before the "VESSEL: SAFETY CHECK" decal can be awarded.  A boat must meet the requirements of the state in which it is being examined.

(15.)    OVERALL BOAT CONDITION;   As it applies to this Vessel.  Including, but not limited to:

a.           Deck free of hazards and a clean bilge - The boat must be free from 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.         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 and 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, self circling or kill switch mechanism must be in proper working order.  All PWCs require an operating self circling or kill switch mechanism.

Fuel Systems - Portable fuel tanks (normally 7 gallon capacity or less) must be constructed of a non-breakable material and free from 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 vented.

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

(I.)     Marine Radio;  This refers to a VHF radio.  Even a handheld can be used here, or at least as a backup to the main radio. In a distress situation the Coast Guard can use your VHF transmit signal to locate you.  If you use a cell phone, to make a distress call they can not use it to locate you. 

(II.)     Dewatering Device & backup;  This refers to a bilge pump either electric or hand operated.  And the backup or auxiliary dewatering device can even be that 5 quart bucket with a rope attached, that you use to get water with.   Or even your P!SS can will qualify.

(IV.)  Anchor & Line for AreaThis is one that most inspectors think should really be an required item.  And as far as most boaters go it may be the one thing that is standard equipment on their boat.

I-VII. RECOMMENDED AND DISCUSSION ITEMS; Not required for the award of the Vessel Safety Check" decal.  For the very best boaters, we recommend these additional items.  Meeting these requirements reflects your concern for Boating Safety.

** Person in the Water kit consists of one extra wearable PFD and a throwable type IV PFD w/line.

For more information: ask your Vessel Examiner, or Visit http://www.safetySeal.net or call the Boating Safety Hotline 1-800-368-5647


Explanations  & tips to some of the above items.

         Not shown here, but on the upper part of the inspection paper is a place for the inspector to mark whether you have ever taken a Boater Safety Class.  This is something that every boater should consider.  It also usually gets you a 10% boat insurance discount.

(#2)   The registration numbers & HIN (Hull Identification Numbers) on your state registration MUST mach the boat's, otherwise it may appear to be a stolen boat.

(#3)   The inflatable PFD DO NOT COUNT if they are NOT being worn.  The PFDs have to be in good condition.  If they are the older Kapok type, the examiner may hug it against their chest.  What they are doing is trying to hear if the inner plastic liner is punctured & leaking air our.  The newer foam ones, of course are different.

(#4)   The expiration dates on the flares need to be current.  It is also advisable that if the date was just barely enough to pass the inspection, but you intend on boating beyond that date you will need to get new flares.  For instance if you get your boat inspected in March, & the flares are good until April, but you plan on boating the rest of the summer, you had better get new flares.  As the flares were good when the boat was inspected, but not good when the Coast Guard actually inspected you in August.  Do not throw the outdated ones away, but keep them with your signaling kit & fire (or try to) first.  Also as for a visual distress signaling device, there is an official orange flag with a black ball & square on it for $9.00.  However you can find ski distress flags very similar except no ball/square for around $3.00.

(#4)    The fire extinguishers need to occasionally be removed from their mounting & shook enough to be sure the dry powder inside does not become compacted from the pounding taken on most boats.  If it is not loose enough to be forced out when you need it, the extinguisher is of no value.  If the chemical is compacted, all you will get out when you activate the lever will be the compressed dry nitrogen & no flame retardant

(#5)    Ventilation is of little concern to an outboarder, but to a I/O or inboard user, there should be a placard near the ignition switch, reminding you to run the engine compartment blowers prior to attempting to start the motor.  Gasoline fumes are heavier than air & can lie in the bilge, when you hit the starter a spark may ignite the gasoline vapor.  Stories of boats exploding & burning to the waterline while still at the dock are not unheard of.

(#8)    Sound producing devices & their use is something you need to understand.  If you are in a waterway where a tug or large vessel is approaching you & they blow their horn, you need to understand what they intend to do & you are required to return an acknowledgment. 

     Copyright 2004-2006 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

Last updated 01-06-2006
to contact the author click here

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