Required safety equipment onboard

Required safety equipment onboard to satisfy regulations. We discuss required safety equipment, PFD’s, sound signals, visual distress signals VDS, Fire extinguishers, ventilation, back fire flame arrestor, owners ships documents, navigation lights.

Its not just carrying the right equipment it’s also handling your boat and navigating the waters safely.

Following are the USCG requirements for safety gear you need to have onboard. The USCG may board your vessel to check your equipment so check to see you have the correct gear and that fire extinguishers are not out of date.

1, Personal flotation devices

Boats over 16 feet; One approved Type I, II or III PFD for each person on board or being towed on water skis, etc.; and one throwable Type IV device. ( A type V PFD may be used in lieu of any wearable PFD, if approved for the activity in which it is being used. A TYPE V HYBRID MUST be worn to be legal.) A type IV lifejacket is required for all boats over 16ft. This is a Throwable flotation device (see newsletter on throwable devices)

Boats under 16 feet; One approved Type I, II, III or V (must be worn) PFD for each person on board or being towed on water skis, tubes, etc.

Types of lifejackets features and benefits will help you understand the types on the market.

2, Sound signals

eco blast
eco blast

Boats 40 feet and above Every vessel 39.4 ft (12 meters) or larger in length must carry a whistle or horn and a bell. The whistle must be audible for 1/2 nautical mile. The mouth of the bell must be at least 7.87 inches (200mm) in diameter.

Boats Under 40 feet Every vessel less than 39.4 ft (12 meters) in length must carry an efficient sound producing device.

However you do not need to carry a bell if you are operating on international waters.

3, Visual distress signals,

Pains Wessex Para Red MK8A
Pains Wessex Para Red MK8A

All boats over 16 ft, Must carry approved visual distress signals for both daytime and night-time use.

All boats under 16 ft, Required to carry approved visual distress signals for night-time use. Coats Guard require 3 day and 3 night signals.

This Boat safe diagram will provide you with a full description of all the available types of visual distress signals (VDS) for inland waterways and international waters.

Shelf life of flares; Note it is important to check dates for flares and rockets and smoke signals as these will be checked by the coast guard, plus its for your safety, Pyrotechnics have a shelf life of 42 months.

4, Fire extinguisher

Boats less than 16ft: One B-I type approved hand portable fire extinguisher. (Not required on outboard motorboats less than 26 ft in length if the construction of the motorboat is such that it does not permit the entrapment of explosive or flammable gases or vapors and if fuel tanks are not permanently installed.)

Boats 26ft to 40ft: Two B-I type OR one B-II type approved portable fire extinguishers.

Boats 40 ft to 65ft: Three B-I type OR one B-I type PLUS one B-II type approved portable fire extinguishers

If a fixed fire extinguishing system is installed in engine and machinery rooms, it will replace one B-I portable fire extinguisher.

5, Ventilation

(For Boats built after 8/1/80) They must have at least two ventilation ducts capable of efficiently ventilating every closed compartment that contain gasoline machinery and fuel tanks, except those having installed tanks which vent outside of the boat and do not contain electrical equipment. Engine compartments containing a gasoline engine with a cranking motor are additionally required to contain power operated exhaust blowers which can be controlled from the instrument panel.

(For Boats built before 8/1/80) They must have at least two ventilation ducts fitted with cowls for the purpose of efficiently and properly ventilating the bilges of every closed engine and fuel tank compartment using gasoline as fuel or other fuels having a flashpoint of 110 degrees or less.

6, Back-Fire flame arrestor

Back-fire Flame Arrestor. One approved device on each carburetor of all gasoline engines installed after April 25, 1940, except outboard motors. Note: Some states have requirements in addition to the federal requirements. Check your state’s boating laws.

7, Owners/ships documents

Carry either State registration or documentation papers. Since 9-11, the U.S. Coast Guard can ask you to produce a pictured identification card, such as a drivers license.

8, Navigation Lights

If you are going to be afloat after sundown then you will need Navigation lights.

For a full article on Navigation Lights click here

Vessels 12 metres to 20 metres

  • Masthead light – 3 miles.
  • Sidelight and stern light – 2 miles.
  • All round lights – 2 miles.
  • Vessels under 12 metres

USCG rules for navigation lights for all vessels

UK regulations powerboattraining

These are the regulations for the UK and USA as provided by Power Boat Training and the USCG.

Skipper responsibility

The skipper of the boat is responsible for all onboard; therefore you should not rest on what the USCG says you need for safety. there are many more items we could add.

When boarded safety inspection, failure to produce any of the above equipment could result in fine and/or termination of your voyage. Make sure your safety equipment is in good working condition. Some states require more than this list so check for your states requirements.

Chapmans says “There are no federal requirements that a boat (if used exclusively for recreation) be equipped with a bailing device, but all boats should be equipped with some form of bailer…


On the water you need be able to navigate your way safely around the waterways in which you are operating, which involves keeping clear of other vessels that are around you. It also includes keeping clear of shoal waters rocks and basically staying safe in navigable water.

USCG RULES OF ROAD The rules of the road shows you the rules for approaching vessels, handling your boat in navigable waters and collision avoidance:

Boat safe has a set of cards that are very useful in navigating, understanding aids to navigation and rules of the road, how to read day shapes, signal flags chart symbols and much more. The cards are laminated plastic and are very useful quick reference and also include radio procedure is you get in trouble.

Another very important part of boating is being able to read a chart, I have seen boats aground because they did not understand shoal poles. Sea Tow loves these people.

How to read a Nautical Chart

How many of us can read a chart or even bother. If your power goes out or you get water intrusion or you have software issues you may have to. Well know author Nigel Calder imparts his knowledge to help you understand some basic and more complicated issues.

Other safety devices

Distress signals for locating MOB.

Used Boat Equipment resource