Coast Guard Auxiliary & Power Squadron Boat Inspections

Yearly Boat Inspections ;    

The Coast Guard Auxiliary and 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 and 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 operational life jackets, fire extinguishers and 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  If just your flares are outdated, you most likely would be turned around, directed to return to the dock until you purchased new flares that were currently dated, proved to the USCG that you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, and 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 and 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 AND a 50 caliber machine gun on the bow, you should know that the answer they expect is “YES SIR.”

However at times I suspect you may be inadvertently helping with for training of new recruits.

There are different requirements on different size boats, and where the boat is being used.   The decal colors are changed each year, which are the same color each year matching the vessel registration tab and 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 or call the Boating Safety Hotline 1-800-368-5647


Explanations  & tips to some of the above items

(#1)    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 & the inspector will not certify his inspection.

Every boat built in the U.S. after 1972 must be identified by a unique 12-digit Hull Identification Number (HIN). This is required by Federal regulations and is helpful for boat buyers like yourself.  The HIN may be found on the rear of the vessel in the uppermost right corner.  It may also be stated on the title, registration, and insurance documents.  Under the Boat Identification Act, it is unlawful for a person to remove, cover, alter, mutilate, or destroy the HIN.

The HIN characters identify five things: builder, hull serial number, month of manufacture, year of manufacture, and model year.

Let’s use ABC12345A606 as an example.
ABC – The U.S. Coast Guard assigns each boat builder a 3-letter identification code and keeps this in a Manufacturers Identification Code (MIC) Database. Information on this code can be found on the U.S. Coast Guard boating safety site:

12345 – The 5 digit hull serial numbers are next. This series of numbers and letters, assigned by the manufacturer, must be unique to the boat.   Many manufacturers will use the length of the vessel as part of these numbers & then would be the first 2 numbers.

A – This is the month the hull was manufactured. Each of the 12 months is represented by a letter starting with A. In our example, “A” means this boat was manufactured in January. “L” would be a boat made in December.

6 – Year of certification or manufacture.

06 – Designates the model year. In this case the boat is from the company’s 2006 model year.

Since a particular combination of hull identification number is never reused, it provides a means to uniquely identify a particular boat. The HIN also has an important safety purpose. It enables manufacturers to clearly identify for boat owners the boats that are involved in a defect notification and possible recall campaign.

(#3)   The inflatable PFDs (Personal Floatation Devise) DO NOT COUNT if they are NOT being worn.  All 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.

The requirement is also that any vessel 16′ or longer must have a Type IV (throwable) device that is “immediately available”.  This means it can not be under the seat lid, hatch or forward bunk.  It has to be in open view & readily accessible.  Use it as a seat cushion.

(#4)   There seems to be a lot of confusion as to the legal requirements or accepted devises pertaining to this section (even by local law enforcement).

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 May, 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 inspects you in August.  Do not throw the outdated ones away, but keep them with your signaling kit & fire (or try to) first. It is also advisable to place the current flares in a zip-lock plastic bag to insure no moisture has contaminated them.  Separate & place your older expired flares in another plastic bag & mark the bag as TRAINING / BACKUP.  Legally you only need the flares, but it is advisable to also carry some of the hand-held rocket & smoke flares aboard, even dye markers may be a life saver.  If you have any of these hand-helds, & enough of the other requirements, the rockets do not need to be current dating like the required flares.

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 or a trucking waterproof over-length load flag (shown below).  To be legal, you could have a orange flag for daytime use & a D cell strobe light (sells fore $20) as a night devise.  However as mentioned above,  the number and type of signals is best judged by considering conditions under which the boat will be operating.  So if you were only going to be on a small lake or a river, the flag & light would make you legal, but if you were on open ocean, then for your safety, have as much distress signal devises on board as possible.

Here is a truckers flag which can be used for day time signaling.  It is made so a handle can be inserted on one edge & has a metal diagonal stiffener A D cell strobe light that has a clip designed to be attached to your PFD

 (#5)    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 the contents are 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.  When the indicator gage needle drops into the red zone, you need to replace the fire extinguisher.

(#6)    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.  Electrical horns are nice, but Freon horns are really nice.  However over time, the Freon may leak out, giving you nothing.  Check these yearly.  Now any sound producing device will make you legal, even a marine whistle.

(#9)   All boats must be able to display navigation lights between sunset & sunrise & in conditions of reduced visibility.  These lights need to have the switch a 3 way so that the bow lights & stern light are illuminated at the same time any time the boat is under way.  The stern light needs to be able to illuminate it separately when at anchor.  The reason for this is if a boater sees a single white light, it means the boat is not moving.  If you were anchored with all the lights on, a boater seeing them, would assume you were under way.    (NOTE)  “between sunset & sunrise”, this means the actual publicized time, not when you can see clearly.     There is no real definition here of reduced visibility.  It is up to the boarding officer.


Listed below is a  link to a Recommended float plan.  Yours does not have to be as extensive as this, but this gives you an idea of what may help find you if a problem arises and you do not return home when indicated.


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