US Coast Guard

Boating Safety Requirements

Boating safety is a must while on a lake, river, or other waterway.  Safety requirements vary by state, but there are a base set of federal regulations that are valid across the United States.  These regulations come from the US Coast Guard.  We will print those requirements below in summary form.

Here is the link to the long brochure of full requirements for boating safety.

In general, you may need:

  • Displayed boater registration numbers
  • Life vests for everyone on board
  • Passengers under 13 must wear a life vest at all times
  • A horn, whistle, bell or other sound device
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Flare or other light distress signal

A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats And Safety Tips

Owners and operators of recreational boats must make sure that their vessel carries the required safety equipment (carriage requirement) and is in compliance with federal and state regulations.  This 84-page booklet contains detailed information on the minimum federal safety equipment requirements, along with a Quick Reference Chart, sample Float Plan and Pre-Departure Checklist, safety tips and additional safety equipment recommendations.  Among the topics:

  • Registration, numbering and documentation


  •  Equipment requirements, including life jackets, visual distress signals, fire extinguishers, ventilation, backfire flame control, sound producing devices, navigation lights, pollution regulations and marine sanitation devices.


  • Operating procedures, including navigation rules, nautical charts, dams and navigation locks.


  • Law enforcement issues, including negligent operation, boating under the influence (BUI), termination of use, boat accident reporting requirements, rendering assistance to other boaters and U.S. Coast Guard boarding policy.


  • Safety and survival tips, including carbon monoxide hazards, overloading, anchoring, cold water survival, trailering, safe refueling, propeller blade hazards, weather precautions and safety tips for vessels operating offshore.


  • Marine/emergency communications, including satellite EPIRBs, Digital Selective Calling, Rescue 21, radio regulations, VHF-FM marine radio channels, and ships in distress.


  • Other boater responsibilities, including bridges and shipping channels, commercial shipping safety zones, naval vessel protection zones and U.S. Coast Guard security/limited access areas.

Note that in addition to the minimum federal requirements stated here, the owner/operator may be required to comply with other regulations and/or laws specific to the state in which their recreational vessel is registered or operated. To ensure compliance with state boating laws, boaters should contact the appropriate boating agency in their area for additional information.

To view the Federal Requirements Brochure online, please visit

To download a copy of the U/S. Coast Guard’s Federal Requirements Brochure for Recreational Boaters please click here.


Media and Marketing Materials

Members of the press, boating safety specialists and advocates, and the general public are invited to utilize any and all of the media and marketing materials in this section.

Here are some general guidelines from

Boats 16 Feet To Less Than 26 Feet

  • Personal Floatation Devices (Life Jackets)

    Recreational boats must carry Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Devices, in good and serviceable condition, and of appropriate size for the intended user. Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible, not stowed in bags, locked or closed compartments or have other gear stowed on top of them. Throwable devices must be immediately available for use. There must be one Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person on board or being towed on water skis, etc., PLUS one Type IV throwable device. Throwable, Type IV PFDs may no longer be substituted for wearable types on boats less than 16 feet. State laws on mandatory PFD wear may vary.

  • Fire Extinguishers

    At least one B-1 type Coast Guard-approved hand portable fire extinguisher. Not required on outboard motorboats less than 26 feet long and not carrying passengers for hire if the construction of such motorboats will not permit the entrapment of explosive or flammable gases or vapors, and if fuel tanks are not permanently installed.

  • Visual Distress Signals

    Must carry approved visual distress signals approved for daytime and nighttime use. For pyrotechnic devices (handheld or aerial red flares, floating or handheld orange smoke, and launchers for aerial red meteors or parachute flares) a minimum of 3 required, in any combination that totals 3 for daytime and 3 for night use. Three day/night devices will suffice. Devices must be in serviceable condition, dates not expired and stowed accessibly. Exceptions are open sailboats less than 26 feet long and not equipped with propulsion machinery, and manually propelled boats; both required to carry only night signals.

  • Bells, Whistle

    Every vessel less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) long must carry an efficient sound-producing device.

  • Ventilation (Boats built BEFORE 8/1980)

    At least two ventilator ducts fitted with cowls or their equivalent for the purpose of properly and efficiently ventilating the bilges of every closed engine and fuel tank compartment of boats constructed or decked over after April 25, 1940, using gasoline as fuel or other fuels having a flashpoint of 110° F or less.

  • Ventilation (Boats built AFTER 8/1980)

    At least two ventilator ducts for the purpose of efficiently ventilating every closed compartment that contains a gasoline engine and fuel every closed compartment containing a gasoline tank, except those having permanently installed tanks vented outside the boat and containing no unprotected electrical devices. Also, engine compartments containing a gasoline engine with a cranking motor must contain power-operated exhaust blowers controllable from the instrument panel.

  • Backfire Flame Arrestor

    One approved device on each carburetor of all gasoline engines installed after April 25, 1940, except outboard motors. Device must be marked to show compliance with SAE J-1928 or UL 1111 Standards.