Boaters are required to meet federal standards for safety equipment, but the better boaters will go a step further and get a Coast Guard Auxiliary Courtesy Marine Examination to ensure their preparations are the best they can be. The following are examples of federal requirements and Coast Guard Auxiliary recommendations.
Personal flotation devices Minimum federal requirement: Boats under 16 feet must have one type I, II, III or IV PFD of a suitable size for each person aboard. Boats 16 feet and longer must have one type I, II or III (wearable) to fit each person aboard plus one type IV (throwable) PFD.
CME recommendation: In addition to the federal standards, boats under 16 feet should have at least two PFDs, even if there is only one person on board. Boats over 16 feet must have at least three PFDs on board at all times, two wearable and one throwable. The throwable PFD should be ready for immediate use and the wearable PFDs should be readily accessible if not worn.
Fire extinguishers Minimum federal requirement: All motorboats must carry the minimum number of approved hand portable fire extinguishers. Motorboats under 26 feet in length, powered by outboard motors and not carrying passengers for hire need not carry fire extinguishers if they are constructed so that explosive vapors cannot be trapped within the boat.
CME recommendation: All vessels should carry a minimum of one B-1 fire extinguisher except sailboats under 16 feet that have no motorized propulsion system. All Halon extinguishers must have an inspection tag showing they have been inspected within the last six months.
Vessel length No fixed system With fixed system
Less than 26 feet 1 B-I 0 (1 B-I for CME)
26 to less than 40 feet 2 B-I or 1 B-II 1 B-I
40 to 65 feet 3 B-I or 1 B-I and 1 B-II 2 B-I or 1 B-II
Navigation lights Minimum federal requirement: Boats that are operated only in the daytime are not required to have navigation lights.
CME recommendation: All boats 16 feet and longer should have operable navigation lights.
Backfire flame arrester Minimum federal requirement: Gasoline engines installed in boats after April 25, 1940, except outboards, must be equipped with a Coast Guard approved, flame-tight backfire control device.
CME recommendation: All gasoline motorboats must be equipped with backfire flame control, regardless of date of construction or engine installation.
Bailers/bilge pumps Minimum federal requirement: Buckets, bailers and electric bilge pumps are not required, although they are recommended.
CME recommendation: All boats must carry at least one effective means of removing water from the inside of a boat (bucket, scoop, bailer). The same is recommended in addition to any
installed electrical pump on board.
Visual distress signals Minimum federal requirement: All recreational boats operating in coastal or waters joining with coastal waters or the Great Lakes up to a point less than two miles wide must be equipped with daylight and night distress signals.
CME recommendation: Same as the federal requirements with the addition of distress signals for recreational boats on inland waters.
Night: Strobe light, flashlight or lantern. Daylight: Signal mirror or red or orange flags.
Anchor and anchor line Minimum federal requirement: Anchors and anchor lines are not required, although they are recommended.
CME recommendation: The boat must be equipped with an anchor of suitable size for the boat and with line of suitable length and strength.
Emergency propulsion Minimum federal requirement: Alternate propulsion is not required, although it is recommended.
CME recommendation: All boats less than 16 feet must carry a second method of propulsion, an oar or paddle, for example. On larger boats, if an alternate form of mechanical propulsion is carried (other than an outboard or trolling motor), it must use a separate fuel tank and starting source than those used for the main power plant.
Sound signals Minimum federal requirement: Vessels less than 12 meters (39.4 feet) in length are required to carry a means of making an efficient sound signal. Larger vessels are required to carry a power horn or whistle capable of making a four-second blast and a bell measuring at least 7.875 inches at the mouth.
E9 CME recommendation: Same as the federal requirements.
Source: United States Coast Guard