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In our last blog we chatted about boat safety while in wind and lightning – how to avoid getting stuck in either – and tips on what to do when you are stuck in either or worse-both.

We thought it only appropriate to talk about what boat equipment is considered the minimum U.S. Coast Guard required boat safety equipment today.

Every boat has its bells and whistles, the newer the boat the better the stereo, but will that come in handy in an emergency?  Probably not.

Let’s start with the required boating safety equipment by the USCG. Keeping in mind each state has their own set of required boat safety equipment, so check with your locals, too. Common sense stuff, really.  What you may not realize is that depending on the size of the boat, depends on the number and types of items.

Life Jackets and personal floatation devices – We have gone over this once or twice. The USCG requires one approved – Type I, II, III, or V, life jacket or life vest per person on board (and don’t forget Fido in that count) and one throwable floatation device – Type IV – like a ring.  And all must be easily accessible.  That means take those life jackets OUT of the plastic and put them on and keep the ring close by as well.  Each state has their own regulations regarding children’s life jackets.

Fire Extinguishers – Now, here is where the size of the vessel comes in to play.  For boats 26 feet and less, you should have at least one B-1 type Coast Guard-approved hand portable fire extinguisher.  Again, that is the minimum.  For boats 26 to 40 feet you are looking to have at least two B-1 type or one of the B-2 type USCG approved extinguishers.  Boats that are 40 to 65 feet in length should have three B-1 extinguishers or one B-1 and one B-2 USCG approved fire extinguisher. For boats over 65 feet you are looking at (depending on the weight) one to eight  B-2 along with a fixed system in the machinery  space.  Of course you can choose to have a fixed system in any size boat and the handheld portable extinguishers requirements for boating safety would be less.

Bells and Whistles – I am not talking about the fun, extras we all like this time.  We are referring to the bells and whistles that will get other boaters and rescuers attention should you need to get anyone else’s attention.  With that being said, any boat under 40 feet should have an efficient sound producing device such as a horn or whistle,  as of 2010 any boat over 40 feet to 65 is no longer required to have a bell, but boats over 65 feet should have one bell and either a whistle or a horn.

Visual Distress Signals – In this case, if you have a sailboat less than 26 feet with no propulsion, or a boat under 16 feet, you are only required to carry three night signals.  For boats over 16 feet you must have on board three day and three night signals.  If you have the kind that goes night/day, three of them will work.  Make sure whatever you choose are in good working condition.

Ventilation – For boats that were built from 1940 to 1980, you will need to have at least two ventilator ducts to properly and efficiently ventilate the bilges of every closed engine and fuel tank compartment.  For those boats built after 1980, along with the two ventilator ducts, you are required for to have a ventilation duct for engine compartments containing a gasoline engine with a cranking motor.  This must contain power-operated exhaust blowers controllable from the instrument panel.

Backfire Flame Arrestor – Obviously this is not required for outboard motors, but for all others, you will need one approved device on each carburetor of all gas engines.  It should be marked to show it is within compliance with SAE J-1928 or UL 1111 Standards.

Navigation Rules – It goes without saying that boaters should know the “Rules of the Road” when it comes to crossing, overtaking, and meeting other boats head on.  For boats under 40 feet, just learn them and live them, it is not actually required.  For boats over 40 feet it is required for you to have a current copy of the ISDOT ISCG International – Inland Navigational Rules aboard.

But the truth is, if you are going to be out there, be courteous and know the rules.

There are other items which are not REQUIRED by the USCG, and again, each state has their own set of regulations regarding boating safety and boating safety equipment on top and beyond that of the USCG.  The following is yet more common sense stuff to keep you, your family and friends, and your investment safe.


First aid kit

VHF radio

Extra fuel & water Tool kit

Sun protection

A bucket to use as a bailer – worst case scenario

Oars or paddles – again, worst case scenario

And an anchor with enough chain – depending on where you are boating usually 5 x depth

Knowing and complying with these requirements will help you remain on the good side of the U.S. Coast Guard and your boat insurance company, as you will have a step up for a fun, safe, and uneventful boating experience.



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2 Responses to Required Boat Safety Equipment

  1. paul says:

    Im a marine surveyor, safety is always first. You never know what could happen. Be Prepared! Like your blog!

    • Erin says:

      New water toys? I am a boat owner and you can never have enough tubes to take other pelope out on. I also water ski, wake board, and knee board.

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