Boating safety equipment requirements may vary from state to state but most regulations closely resemble the standards set forth by U. S. Coast Guard (USCG). All states have laws which prescribe the equipment required for boating safety. These regulations vary somewhat in relationship to the overall length of the boat. This causes many first time boat owners to question if their equipment satisfy the requirements of the law while ensuring the safety of those on board. Penalties for not abiding by these boating safety regulations, mostly in the form of fines, has proven to be an effective enforcement tool.
The average boat size for those of us who enjoy fishing in and around the southern estuaries normally ranges from about 14 to 21 feet and is most often powered by an outboard motor. With this in mind, our topic for this page will center around the boating safety equipment necessary for boats less than 16 feet (Class A) to those between 16 to less than 26 feet (Class 1) and being powered by an outboard.
The life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) is the single most important item on any boat. All acceptable life jackets are categorized by the USCG with labels defining its “TYPE” and a statement of its approval. For our average fishing boat the regulations require that there must be at least one wearable Type I, II, III, or V life jacket for each person on board. These life jackets must be of the proper size for the wearer, be in good condition, and be readily accessible. Additionally, if your boat is at least 16 feet in length, a Type IV throwable ring or cushion preserver must be on board. Although wearing a life jacket by adults is not mandatory it is highly recommended. Most states do however, have rules that require children under a particular age to wear a PFD while the boat is underway.
Ever wondered why many boat ignition key chains have a whistle attached to them? That is because all boats are required to have a “sound producing device” such as a whistle or horn. USCG navigation rules state that this device must be capable of producing a six second blast which can be heard one half a mile away. Thus, for our average fishing boat discussion, a referee style whistle will meet this requirement as well as being durable enough to last. Other sound producing device options include an electrical horn or a hand held air discharged horn.
While we are on the subject of navigation rules, unless you fish only during daylight hours with no chance of foul weather or darkest, the boat must have navigational lights. The rule requires “navigation lights between the period from sunset to sunrise and during other periods of restricted visibility” which includes fog or heavy rain. This means that our average fishing boat must have the standard red/green bow light and the “all-round” white stern light which is at least 3’ 3” higher than the bow light. The stern light must be “on” anytime after sunset and the boat is anchored even if you are fishing.
A minimum of three visual distress signals (flairs) are required for any boat on the high seas and coastal waters. Basically, if a boat is in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, or any if their bays, harbors, rivers, etc. and more than two miles from any land, visual distress signals must be on board. These visual distress signals are designed for nighttime use only, daytime use only or a combination of both. Boats less than 16 feet may carry the nighttime use only signals however, all boats over 16 feet in length must also carry visual distress signals for daytime use. To avoid any confusion, simply carry the combination visual distress signals which have been designed and approved for both day and night use. The price is about the same.
One question that often arises deals with the requirement of a fire extinguisher on board the boat. You are not required to have a fire extinguisher if your boat is less than 26 feet long and is powered by an outboard motor unless you have a permanently installed gas tank which might permit the entrapment of gas vapors. However, if you need or want a fire extinguisher make sure it is “Marine USCG Approved Type B” and we here at Fishing-Tips-Bait-Tackle.Com highly recommend all boats carry one.
If your boat is powered by an inboard motor a fire extinguisher is mandatory and you have the additional requirement of a functional ventilation system. This system must be capable of efficiently venting fuel vapors from all enclosed compartment where vapors may become entrapped.
In addition to boating safety equipment requirement, most state may have boating safety operating rules. Examples of these operating rules include; establishing speed limitation, creating no wake zones, or defining a course of action to be taken following a boating accident. State laws often defines unlawful actions as well, such as operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the interference of normal channel navigation by anchored vessels and exceeding maximum load or horsepower limits. Thus we recommend boaters visit their states boating safety web site and review all rules.
Also, there are two boating safety steps to consider before you "hook-up" the boat and trailer to the truck. First, check the weather forecaster especially the wind speeds. High winds generally mean high seas. Secondly, always tell someone where you plan to fish and when you expect to return.