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Conduct your own virtual safety check on your boat



You can use this page to check your own boat. We suggest you print the form that we use to as a guide while performing this self-inspection. You can get the Official USCG Vessel Safety Check Form here. It requires that you have the free Adobe Acrobat reader installed on your computer.

For the Virtual VSC page for Paddle Craft, please use the Paddle Craft menu selection to the left. 



After you have completed the self-examination, you can request that one of our examiners perform an actual Vessel Safety Check at I Want a Free Vessel Safety Check!. Upon satisfactory completion of the VSC our Examiner will award a Vessel Safety Check sticker to affix to your vessel.

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.

View the Federal Vessel Requirements Brochure

View the Massachusetts Boating Handbook

View other State Boating Information & Regulations  

Virtual Safety Check Steps 

Item 1 - Display of Numbers:

The boat's registration number (unless a federally documented vessel) must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat They must be plain, vertical, block characters, 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 tax sticker according to State policy.

Item 2 - Registration / Documentation:

  • State Registration or U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation papers must be current, on board, and available.
  • State registrations numbers must be displayed on both sides of the forward half of the hull using block style numbers and letter, at least 3” in height and contrasting in color to the hull.
  • State validation decal must be displayed within 6 inches of the state registration number.
  • 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. To be documented a boat must be 5 net tons or greater.

 Item 3 - Personal Flotation Devices (PFD):

  • Acceptable Wearable PFDs (also known as Life Jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in good serviceable condition, and of suitable size for the each person on the boat.
  • Children must have properly fitted PFDs. Wearable PFDs shall be "readily accessible.
  • "Throwable PFDs shall be "immediately available.
  • "For Personal Watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn in accordance with state law.
  • Boats 16 feet in length or longer, must also have one Throwable PFD, except for canoe and kayaks which are exempt.

 Item 4 - Visual Distress Signals (VDS):

  • Recreational boats 16 feet and over used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either 1) three day and three night pyrotechnic devices, 2) one 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 carry 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.
  • Alternatives to pyrotechnic devices (flares) including:
               - Night
               - Day
               - Strobe light
               - Signal mirror
               - Flashlight
               - Red or orange flags
               - Lantern
               - Hand signals

 Item 5 - Fire Extinguishers:

Fire extinguishers are required if one or more of the following conditions exists:

  1. Inboard engine(s)
  2. Closed compartment under thwarts and seats wherein portable fuel tanks may be stored.
  3. Double bottoms not sealed to the hull or which are not completely filled with flotation material.
  4. Closed living space
  5. Closed stowage compartments in which combustible or flammable materials are stowed, or
  6. Permanently installed fuel tanks

NOTE: Fire extinguishers must be on board and in good and serviceable condition.

Fire extinguishing equipment required.


All motorboats must carry at least the minimum number of portable fire extinguishers set forth in table 25.30-20(a)(1), except that motorboats less than 26 feet in length, propelled by outboard motors and not carrying passengers for hire, need not carry portable fire extinguishers if the construction of the boats will not permit the entrapment of explosive or flammable gases or vapors.

Table 25.30-20(a)(1).  Minimum Number of 5-B Portable Fire Extinguishers Required

Boat Length (ft) No Fixed Fire Extinguishing System in Machinery Space Fixed Fire Extinguishing System in Machinery Space
Under 16 1 0
16 and over, but under 26 1 0
 26 and over, but under 40 2 1
 40 and over, but not over 65 3 2

 One 20-B portable fire extinguisher may be substituted for two 5-B portable fire extinguishers.

The following conditions do not, in themselves, require that fire extinguishers be carried.  Numbers for identified conditions are the same as those in Figure 25.30-20(a1):

  1. Bait wells.
  2. Glove compartments.
  3. Buoyant flotation material.
  4. Open slatted flooring.
  5. Ice chests.

 Item 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 have either natural or powered ventilation in the fuel tank compartment.

Item 7 - Backfire Flame Control:

All gasoline powered inboard/outboard or inboard motor boats must be equipped with an approved backfire flame control device.

Item 8 - Sound Producing Devices / Bell:

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 ½ mile. *Boats larger than 65 ft. are also required to have a bell (see Navigation Rules.)

Item 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.

Paddlers can meet the lighting requirements in one of three ways:

  1. Having a flashlight (electric torch or lighted lantern in the Rules) ready at hand and displaying it in time to prevent collision.
  2. Using a 360 degree white light. (Not an option in International Waters)
  3. Using red and green sidelights (some people call them bow lights or running lights) displaying over an arc of visibility of 112.5 degrees each in concert with a white 135 degree stern light. The sidelights can be in a combination light.

Item 10 - Pollution Placard:

Boats 26 feet and over with a machinery compartment must display an oily waste "pollution" placard. Where? How big is the placard? What material?

Item 11 - MARPOL Trash Placard:

Boats 26 feet and over in length must display a "MARPOL" trash placard. Boats 40 feet and over must also display a written trash disposal plan.

Item 12 - Marine Sanitation Devices:

Any installed toilet must be a Coast Guard approved device. Overboard discharge outlets must be capable of being sealed. When/where/why? Give info about federal No-discharge zones.

Item 13 - Navigation Rules:

Boats 39.4 feet and over must have on board a current copy of the Navigation Rules.

Item 14 - State and/ or 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.  Contact your local marine law enforcement agency.

Item 15 - Overall Vessel condition:

As it applies to this Vessel. Including, but not limited to:

Deck free of hazards and clean bilge: 

  1. The boat must be free from fire hazards, in good overall condition, with bilges reasonably clean and visible hull structure generally sound.
  2. The use of automobile parts on boat engines is not acceptable.
  3. The engine horsepower must not exceed that shown on the capacity plate.
Safe Electrical and Fuel Systems:
  1. The electrical system - Must be protected by fuses or manual reset circuit breakers. 
  2. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or water spray. 
  3. Wiring must be in good condition, properly installed and with no exposed areas or deteriorated insulation. 
  4. Batteries must be secured and positive (red) terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing..
  5. 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. * See new ECOS regulations.

Fuel Systems

  1. Portable fuel tanks (normally 7 gallon capacity or less) must be constructed of non-breakable material and free of corrosion and leaks. 
  2. All vents must be capable of being closed. 
  3. The tank must be secured and have a vapor-tight, leak-proof cap. 
  4. Each permanent fuel tank must be properly ventilated.

Safe Galley and Heating Systems:

  1. System and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby.