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Vessel Examinations

 VSC Poster
 A vessel safety check (VSC) is a courtesy examination of your boat to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and the federal regulations. The vessel examiner is a trained specialist and is a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. They will also make certain recommendations and discuss certain safety issues that will make you a safer boater.

This is not boarding or a law enforcement issue. No citations will be given as a result of this encounter. We will supply you with a copy of our evaluation so that you may follow some of the suggestions given. Vessels that pass will be able to display our distinctive VSC decal. This does not exempt you from law enforcement boarding, but you can be prepared to make this a positive encounter. Your local division and its constituent flotillas periodically offer vessel safety check opportunities free of charge.

Please feel free to visit the National VSC Website for additional information, including requesting a vessel safety check and even taking a virtual safety check.

Lives and property are often risked because of small oversights. Having a good pre-underway checklist can help minimize the risk of overlooking important steps in trailering and launching. Click here to download a a PDF checklist developed by Auxiliarists.A checklist doesn't have to be complicated. See the basics in this Coast Guard Auxiliary news story.

In addition, for a complete security you should file a float plan prior to getting underway, please visit the Float Plan Central for additional information.

You can use the following guidelines to pre-examine your boat. It's suggested that you print out this page while performing your self-inspection. While it is not an exhaustive list, it will point out any major deficiencies ahead of your VSC.

1. Display of Numbers. The boat’s registration number 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 (e.g., FL 1234 AB or FL-1234-AB).

2. Registration / Documentation. These 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. To be documented a boat must be five (5) net tons or greater.

3. Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs). Acceptable PFDs (also known as life jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in good and serviceable condition, and of suitable size for the each person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs shall be "readily accessible." Throwable devices shall be "immediately available." PFDs shall not be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For personal watercraft (PWC) riders, the PFD must be worn and indicate an impact rating. Boats 16 feet or longer must also have one Type IV PFD.

4. Visual Distress Signals (VDS). Recreational boats 16 feet or longer used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either (1) three daytime and three nighttime pyrotechnic devices, (2) one daytime non-pyrotechnic device (e.g., flag) and one nighttime non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light), or (3) a combination of items (1) and (2). Recreational boats measuring less than 16 feet on coastal waters or the Great Lakes need only carry nighttime 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 daytime and nighttime 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) include:

Night Day
Strobe light Signaling mirror
Flashlight Red or orange flags
Lantern Hand signals

5. Fire Extinguishers. These are required if one of the following conditions exists: (1) an inboard engine, (2) closed compartments that store portable fuel tanks, (3) double-bottom hulls not completely sealed or not completely filled with flotation materials, (4) closed living spaces, (5) closed stowage compartments that contain flammable materials, or (6) permanently installed fuel tanks. Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and verified as serviceable. The following table shows the minimum number of extinguishers required for vessels of variatious lengths:

Boat Length No Fixed System Fixed System
Less than 26 feet one B-1 none
26 to 39 feet two B-1 or one B-2 one B-1
40 to 65 feet three B-1 or one B-1 and one B-2 two B-1 or one B-2

6. Ventilation. Boats with gasoline engines in closed compartments, built after 1 Aug, 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 Aug 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.

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

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 four-second blast audible for one-half mile. Boats larger than 39.4 feet 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 in length or more must have properly installed, working navigation lights and an all-around anchor light capable of being lit independently from the red, green and white "running" lights.

10. Pollution Placard. Boats 26 feet or longer with a machinery compartment must display an oily waste "pollution" placard.

11. MARPOL Trash Placard. Boats 26 feet or longer must display a MARPOL trash placard. Boats 40 feet or longer must also display a written trash disposal plan.

12. Marine Sanitation Devices. 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 or longer must carry a current copy of the Navigation Rules aboard.

14. State / Local Requirements. These requirements must be met before the VSC decal can be awarded. A boat must meet the requirements of the state in which it is being examined. Please check with your local marine law enforcement agency for specific details.

15. Overall Condition. Including, but not limited to:

(A) Deck free of hazards and clean bilge. The boat must be free from fire 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) Safe 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 or 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. Portable fuel tanks (normally seven-gallon capacity or less) must be constructed of non-breakable material and free of 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 ventilated.

(C) Safe galley and heating systems. System and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby.