What Does The Coast Guard Require On Your Boat?

What is coast guard regulation equipment for passenger boat

While most newer boats come equipped with all coast guard requirements, it's always important to double-check and know what you're looking for lest you be subjected to an exorbitant fine. If you're bringing some extra people out on the water and they don't have their own quality life-jackets you might end up financially liable. Beyond the money, it's simply not safe.

Coast guard requirements are important for your safety and that of people around you, including other watercraft. While a large portion of the coast guard requirements are similar, the needed items do change just a bit. Needs will scale upwards based on the size of your vessel, but we will cover each of these size ranges in detail.

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Vessels Less Than 16'

Personal Flotation Devices:

At least one flotation device must be provided to each member on board. We're talking about type I, type II, type III, and type V. That air mattress below deck won't cut it. Just having the PFDs onboard isn't enough, they need to be worn at all times.

The letter of the law states that they need to be 'easily accessible' but this can become a subject of some debate, so it's best to nip that problem in the bud and just keep them worn. Not only will you avoid any arguments with the Coast Guard about exactly what 'easily accessible' means, but you'll also keep yourself safer.

Fire Extinguishers:

Fire extinguishers are only a coast guard requirement on watercraft with an enclosed engine, enclosed living space, or permanent fuel tanks. Any type of B-I fire extinguisher will fulfill this requirement. B-I fire extinguishers are effective against flammable liquid fires and generally contain either mono-ammonium phosphate or sodium bicarbonate as the extinguishing agent.

Visual Distress Signals:

When operating at night, one night signal such as a flare or electric lamp can work wonders for keeping you safe. While not a coast guard requirement until the next size tier, it is certainly a good idea.

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Sound Producing Devices:

Again, these aren't required until your vessel hits the 40' mark, but a reliable marine air horn or whistle is a wise idea. Sound producing devices can make it much easier to signal your intentions and keep yourself and those around you safe.

Marine Sanitation Devices:

Watercraft that feature toilet facilities must have an operable, Coast Guard certified type I, type II, or type III MSD installed. Those three types cover all sanitation systems and that requirement remains the same up until 65'. You will need to keep them in working order of course, and our enzymatic boat toilet tank digest will do just that!


Gasoline-powered boats require a Coast Guard-standard ventilation system. This is standard on any boat built after 1980, but older boats might need some renovation in order to comply with Coast Guard regulations.

Backfire Flame Arrestor:

Outboard engines don't need to worry about this one, but if you've got an engine compartment then it is imperative that you've got a backfire flame arrestor compliant to coast guard requirements attached to each carburetor. These devices prevent the ignition of gasoline vapors in case the engine backfires. Needless to say, you should never do without these.

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Vessels 16' to 26'

Coast guard requirements stipulate that at least one Type IV throwable flotation device is required on all watercraft 16' or greater. These flotation devices are both cushions and the more commonly seen life-rings. They don't take the place of personal flotation devices, so everyone will still need a life-jacket of their own.

Visual distress signal requirements are increased. Instead of distress signals for a single night you'll need something capable of three days and three nights of use. Daytime visual distress signals can be an orange flag or smoke signal, with the flag obviously being a cheaper option. Nighttime visual distress signals are either flares or electric lamps, with the lamps being the inexpensive option in this case.

Vessels 26' to 40'

Fire extinguisher requirements increased. Coast guard requirements stipulate that you'll need either one B-II extinguisher or two B-I fire extinguishers to make up for the larger size of these vessels.

Pollution regulation placards are added as a requirement from this size upward. These are 5" x 8" Oil Discharge and 4" x 9" Waste Discharge placards. This signage is required by the coast guard and if they don't see them displayed you'll be in for an awkward discussion or even a fine.

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Vessels 40' to 65'

Fire extinguisher requirements are again increased at this size. You'll need either a B-II and B-I, or three B-I extinguishers on board.

Vessels at this size that contain a galley are required to have an approved waste management plan.

Sound producing devices are bumped up to require a bell in addition to the horn or whistle that was recommended previously.

One copy of the Inland Navigation Rules is to be kept on board for this size and any other greater sizes. These are essentially the rules of the road and can make a great reference for any vessel, but at greater than 40' they do become a coast guard requirement.

Vessels 65' to 165'

Fire extinguisher requirements are slightly different at these sizes depending on the weight of your vessel. If your ship weighs under 50 gross tons you'll need at least one B-II extinguisher onboard. For weights 50 to 100 tons you'll need two B-II extinguishers available.

Marine sanitation devices needs are increased. Type I is no longer an acceptable MSD. As stipulated by coast guard requirements, you'll need to have a type II or type II marine sanitation device installed.