USCG Required Safety Equipment for Boats


The United States Coast Guard has implemented a series of national regulations that apply to boaters. The requirements include rules on registration and documentation, equipment, and operating procedures.

Floatation Devices

  • All recreational boats must have one life jacket on board per passenger on the boat. These life jackets should be the proper sizes to match the size of each passenger. The life preservers also need to be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, which will be stated on the tag. Children under the age of 13 must wear life jackets at all times unless they are beneath the deck or in a closed cabin. For boats that exceed 16 feet in length, a throwable flotation device must also be carried on board.

Signaling Devices

  • All boats and vessels need to have a whistle on board for sound signaling purposes. Boats over 65.6 feet in length should also carry a bell, and boats over 328.1 feet must have a gong as well. Visual distress signals, such as pyrotechnic red flares or orange smoke, orange distress flags, and electric distress signals, are required on boats traveling through the ocean, great lakes or any body of water that is more than 2 nautical miles wide.

Fire Extinguisher

  • Boats with engines or fuel systems must carry a portable fire extinguisher. Boats with closed living quarters or that are carrying flammable liquid or materials should also carry a fire extinguisher. The fire extinguisher should be classified as B-I or B-II. Boats between 26 feet to 40 feet in length should carry two fire extinguishers of B-I classification, or one of B-II classification. Boats over 40 feet long should carry three B-I fire extinguishers or a single B-I along with a B-II.

Other Requirements

  • Boats with gasoline engines or fuel systems need to have ventilation systems and backfire flame arrestors. All boats also need to be equipped with lights for navigation purposes in the event of visibility-restricting weather conditions such as fog or rain. Any boat with a toilet must have a marine sanitation device, which may be a holding tank or a device that treats sewage and passes it through to the water.

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