Boating America

Boaters Safety Guide

Planning another outting?

Now is the time to review

safety procedures.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a life. "

A collection of important information to review on safe boating.

Life Preservers
The above information is based on the U.S. Coast Guards Federal Requirements. Call 1-800-368-5647.

Federal Law Requires these items on your boat.

These items are required on all U.S. waters (Note: If you approach Canadian Waters, Canadian regulations do not permit Flare Guns). Some states may require slightly more items, check with your local Coast Guard office, it is also recommended to take a safe boating course.

Vessels less than 16 feet.

Vessels Less Than 26 Feet


Here is a collection of safe boating techniques
as recommended by the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.
(This page contains large files; Please Stand By)


Comon Buoys include "Wake" and "No Wake", "Swimming", "Skiing", "Dam", " Marina" "Shallow" and "Locking" Zones



Locking is your only means of moving up or down river through a dam area.
Locking is dangerous if you are not familiar with these following steps:

The during heavy traffic the lockmaster usually locks boats in the following priority:

1st Priority. -Military Craft

2nd Priority -Mail Boats

3rd Priority -Commercial Passenger Craft

4th Priority -Commercial Tows (i.e. Barges)

5th Priority -Commercial Fisherman

6th Priority -Pleasure Boats

Sometimes small craft are required to wait and lock through with other craft.

1. Craft going downstream should stay in the clear 400 feet upstream from the end of the guide wall after signaling for permission to lock. This is a safety feature in case large craft leave the lock and head your direction. Always head for the lock and not the Dam.

2. Not more than one mile of the lock a signal must be given: one long blast, and one short blast. some locks may have whistles along the guide walls. Radio frequency for locking in most areas is channel 13 (156.65 MHz) and channel 14 (156.7 MHz). Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) is also monitored, but is used mainly for authorized call, reply and distress (no locking on this channel.

3. Some locks have traffic signals like traffic lights. Others may use air horns or both:

Red Light Stand Clear.

Yellow Light Approach Lock but under Full Control.

Green Light Enter Lock.

One Long Blast Enter Landward Lock

Two Long Blasts Enter Riverward Lock

One Short Blast Leave Landward Lock

Two Short Blasts Leave Riverward Lock.

(Keep in mind "Long to Enter" "Short to Exit" "One Landward" "Two Riverward" i.e.. two short mean leave river ward locks)

4. No Smoking! Fumes from engines build in the locks.

5. You should carry at least 50 feet of mooring line. Do not tie up to ladders along the wall.

6. Be sure to have a mooring ring or a similar device on your boat which your line can be tied, (ring, bit, cleat, chock, ring bit). Some lock walls may even contain a floating mooring hook that moves with the level of the water.

7. Small boats and larger pleasure boats with only one person aboard may use one long line fastened securely at one end of the boat, while the bight of the line around the mooring post on the lock wall then leads towards the free end of the line around a cleat at the other end of the boat. This will allow the boater to leave out or take in the open end line as the water drops or rises and prevents the boat from floating around in the lock. Larger boats should have two persons, one at each end with open line around a cleat on each end and the mooring post with the attachment (large loop).

8. You must take in or let out mooring line throughout the locking process!

9. Locks with floating mooring bitts allow the boater to place a line from the attached end to around the mooring bit and then locate to the opposite end of the boat with the open end to take in or let out line. Use stationary bits to check the momentum of your vessel.

10. Be sure to use fenders to prevent damage to your boat.

11. Passengers should always stay seated.

12. Life jackets should always be warn when handling lines or in rough weather.

13. Keep speeds low.

14. Always obey lock masters.

15. Stay between the red and black buoys (white on top). It is your guide through the navigable channel.

16. Always keep your distance from the stern of the tows. The stern waves can capsize a small craft.

17. Avoid passing in front of tows.

18. Keep away from barges moored along the river. Small craft can get carried under by the undertow.

How a lock operates.

"Federal Requirements for Recreational Boating " By U. S. Dept. of Transportation / U. S. Coast Guard From the February 1985 issue of The U.S. Coast Guard

Complete this page, before going boating and leave it with a reliable person who can be depended upon to notify the Coast Guard, or other rescue organization, should you not return as scheduled. Do not file this plan with the Coast Guard.


2. DESCRIPTION OF BOAT. TYPE ______________ COLOR______________

TRIM___________________ REGISTRATION NO._________________________

LENGTH___________ NAME____________________ MAKE________________

OTHER INFO._________________________________________________________

3. PERSONS ABOARD____________________________________________________


_______________________ _______ ________________________________

_______________________ _______ ________________________________

_______________________ _______ ________________________________

4. ENGINE TYPE_____________________________ H.P.________________________

NO. OF ENGINES______________________ FUEL CAPACITY_________________


PFDs___________ FLARES_____________ MIRROR___________________

SMOKE SIGNALS_____________ FLASHLIGHT____________ FOOD____________

ANCHOR_________ RAFT OR DINGHY______________ EPIRB_________________

6. RADIO YES/NO TYPE_______________ FREQS.____________________________

7. TRIP EXPECTATIONS: LEAVE AT________________________________(TIME)

FROM_____________________________ GOING TO_____________________________

EXPECT TO RETURN BY______________________________________(TIME) AND IN

NO EVENT LATER THAN__________________________________________________

8. ANY OTHER PERTINENT INFO._____________________________________________

9. AUTOMOBILE LICENSE__________________________ TYPE_____________________

TRAILER LICENSE__________________________________ COLOR AND MAKE OF


WHERE PARKED_______________________________________________________

10. IF NOT RETURNED BY____________________________(TIME) CALL THE

COAST GUARD, OR_______________________________(LOCAL AUTHORITY)

TELEPHONE NUMBERS_______________________________________________






This document contains the Federal equipment carriage requirements for recreational boats. The owner/operator of a recreational boat may also be bound to comply with other regulations specific to the State in which the boat is operated. Regulations vary from State to State. Even though a boat may comply with the laws of the original State of registration, there is no guarantee that it complies with the boating laws of another State where it is being operated.

To obtain information on these requirements, contact your State boating authorities or local Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel.




All undocumented vessels equipped with propulsion machinery must be registered in the State of principal use. When you register your boat, you will be issued a certificate of number. These numbers must also be displayed on your vessel. Since some States require the numbering of all vessels, check with your local State boating officials for numbering requirements.

The documentation of a vessel as a yacht does not exempt it from applicable State or Federal taxes, nor does it exempt you from compliance with State and Federal safety and equipment regulations.

Certificate of Number

The owner/operator of a vessel must carry a valid certificate of number whenever the vessel is in use. When a vessel is moved to a new State of principal use, the certificate of number is valid for at least 60 days before a new one is required.

Note * * * The U. S. Coast Guard issues the certificate of number for New Hampshire, Alaska, the Northern Marianas Islands and American Samoa. Two color coded validation stickers are included with each certificate of number issued by the Coast Guard.

Display of Number

Registration numbers must be painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel and no other letters or numbers may be displayed there.

Notification of Changes

An owner whose vessel is lost, destroyed, abandoned, stolen, recovered or transferred shall notify the authority which numbered the vessel within 15 days.

An owner whose certificate of number is lost or destroyed or whose address changes, shall notify the issuing authority within 15 days.

An owner whose certificate of number becomes invalid for any reason, shall surrender it in the manner prescribed by the issuing authority within 15 days.


Each U.S. Coast Guard Vessel bears a distinctive stripe and the words, "Coast Guard," on the side of the vessel; flies the Coast Guard ensign; and is manned by uniformed personnel. Coast Guard law enforcement personnel may also be found aboard other vessels and normally carry sidearms or other firearms in the performance of their duties.

A vessel underway, when hailed by a Coast Guard vessel or patrol boat, is required to heave to, or maneuver in such a way that a boarding officer will be able to come aboard.

In addition to the Coast Guard, other Federal, State and local law enforcement officials may board and examine your vessel, whether it is numbered, unnumbered or documented.

The Coast Guard may impose a civil penalty up to $1,000 for failure to: comply with numbering or equipment requirements; report a boating accident; or meet other Federal regulations. Failure to comply with the unified Inland Rules of the Road (Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980) can result in a civil penalty up to $5,000.

IMPROPER USE OF A RADIOTELEPHONE is a criminal offense. The use of obscene, indecent or profane language during radio communications is punishable by a $10,000 fine, imprisonment for two years, or both. Other penalties exist for other misuse of a radio, such as: improper use of the calling and distress frequencies (Channel 16 VHF-FM) or violations of the Bridge to Bridge Radiotelephone Act.

Remember Channel 16 is a calling and distress channel only. It is not to be used for conversational traffic or for radio checks. Such traffic shall be shifted to an authorized working channel.

NEGLIGENT or GROSSLY NEGLIGENT OPERATION of a vessel which endangers lives and property is prohibited by law. The Coast Guard may impose a civil penalty for negligent operation. GROSSLY NEGLIGENT OPERATION is a criminal offense and an operator may be fined up to $5,000, imprisoned for one year, or both. Some examples of actions that may constitute negligent or grossly negligent operation are:

Operating a boat in a swimming area Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs Excessive speed in the vicinity of other boats or in dangerous waters Hazardous water skiing practices Bow, seatback, gunwale or transom riding.

Termination of Use

A Coast Guard boarding officer who observes a boat being operated in an UNSAFE CONDITION, specifically defined by law or regulation, and who determines that an ESPECIALLY HAZARDOUS CONDITION exists, may direct the operator to take immediate steps to correct the condition, including returning to port. Termination of unsafe use may be imposed for:

Insufficient number of CG Approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) Insufficient fire extinguishers Overloaded condition Improper navigation light display Fuel leakage Fuel in bilges Improper ventilation Improper backfire flame control Hazardous bars (C.G District 13 only) Manifestly unsafe voyage

An operator who refuses to terminate the unsafe use of a boat can be cited for failure to comply with the directions of the Coast Guard boarding officer, as well as for the specific violations which were the basis for the termination order.

Navigation Rules

The navigation Rules establish actions to be taken by vessels to avoid collision. The operator of each self-propelled vessel 12 meters (39.4 ft.) or more in length is required to carry on board, and maintain for ready reference, a copy of the Inland Navigation Rules, subject to a penalty for failure to comply of not more than $5,000.

The International Rules are applicable outside established lines of demarcation, and the Inland Rules apply inside these lines. The demarcation lines are painted on most navigational charts and are published in the NAVIGATION RULES International-Inland (COMDTINST M16672.2A).

The boat operator is responsible for knowing and following the applicable navigational rules. Copies of the rules may be obtained form the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402 (tel: (202) 783-3238). The stock number is 050-012-00192-8 and the price is $6.00 per copy.


"Coast Guard Approved Equipment" has been approved by the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and has been determined to be in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard specifications and regulations relating to materials, construction and performance.

Flame Arresters

(Backfire Flame Control)

Gasoline engines installed in a motorboat or motor vessel after April 25, 1940, except outboard motors, must have a U.S. Coast Guard Approved flame arrester fitted to the carburetor (For exceptions see 46 CFR 25.35).

Fire Extinguishers

Each approved fire extinguisher is classified by a letter and a Roman numeral according to the type of fire it is designed to extinguish and its size. The letter indicates the TYPE OF FIRE:

A---Fires of ordinary combustible materials.

B---Gasoline, oil and grease fires.

C---Electrical fires.

Extinguishers approved for motorboats are hand-portable, of either B-I or B-II classification, and have the following characteristics: Coast Guard Classes UL listing FOAM (Gals.) CO2 (LBS.) DRY CHEM (LBS.) HALON (LBS.) B=I 5B 1.25 4 2 2.5 B-II (6B)* 2.5 15 10 10 -- 10B --- 10 2.5 5

* UL rating 6B is no longer issued.

Fire extinguishers must be carried on ALL motorboats that meet one or more of the following conditions:

Inboard engines. Closed compartments under thwarts and seats where portable fuel tanks may be stored. Double bottoms not sealed to the hull or which are not completely filled with flotation materials. Closed living spaces. Closed stowage compartments in which combustible or flammable materials are stored. Permanently installed fuel tanks. There is no gallon capacity to determine if a fuel tank is portable. However, if the fuel tank is secured so it cannot be moved in case of a fire or other emergency, then the Coast Guard considers the tank permanently installed. In addition, if the weight of the fuel tank is such that persons on board cannot move it in case of a fire or other emergency, then the Coast Guard considers it permanently installed.

Dry chemical fire extinguishers without gauges or indicating devices must be inspected every 6 months. If the gross weight of a carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguisher is reduced by more than 10 percent of the net weight, the extinguisher is not acceptable and must be recharged.

Check extinguishers regularly to insure that gauges are free and nozzles clear.

Fire extinguisher requirements are classified by the size of the vessel:

1. Boats Less Than 26 Feet in Length with NO fixed fire extinguishing system installed in machinery spaces, must have at least one Type B-1 approved hand-portable fire extinguisher. When an approved fixed fire extinguishing system is installed in machinery spaces, no Type B-1 extinguisher is required. If the construction of the boat does not permit the entrapment of explosive or flammable gases or vapors, no fire extinguisher is required.

2. Boats 26 Feet to Less Than 40 Feet in Length must have at least two Type B-1 or at least one Type B-1 PLUS one Type B-2 approved portable fire extinguisher. When an approved fixed fire extinguishing system is installed, one less Type B-1 extinguisher is required.

NOTE * * * Coast Guard Approved extinguishers are identified by the following marking on the label: "Marine Type USCG Approved, Size . . ., Type . . ., 162.208/", etc.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Personal Flotation Devices must be Coast Guard Approved and are classified by "Type" according to performance.

Boats less Than 16 Feet in length must be equipped with one Type I, II, III, IV, or V PFD for each person aboard.

Boats 16 Feet and Larger must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or V for each person aboard PLUS one Type IV.

Type I ----

A Type I PFD is any approved wearable device that is designed to turn most UNCONSCIOUS persons in the water from a face-down position to a vertical or slightly backward position. The Type I PFD has the greatest required buoyancy: the adult size provides a minimum buoyancy of 22 pounds and the child size provides a minimum buoyancy of 11 pounds. The Type I PFD provides the protection to its wearer and is most effective for all waters, especially during offshore and ocean cruising, where there is the probability of a delayed rescue.

Type II ----

A type II PFD is any approved wearable device designed to turn its wearer in a vertical or slightly backward position in the water. The turning action is not as pronounced as with a Type I, and the device will not turn as many persons under the same conditions as a Type I. An adult size device provides a minimum buoyancy of 15 1/2 pounds, the medium child size provides a minimum of 11 pounds and the infant and small child sizes provide a minimum buoyancy of 7 pounds.

Type III ----

A Type III PFD is any approved wearable device designed so the wearers can place themselves in a vertical or slightly backward position. While the Type III has the same buoyancy as the Type II PFD, it has little or no turning ability. The Type III PFD comes in a variety of styles, colors and sizes and many are designed to be particularly useful when water skiing, sailing, fishing, hunting or engaging in other water sports. Several of this type will also provide increased hypothermia protection.

Type IV ----

A Type IV PFD is any approved device designed to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped and held by the user until rescued. It is not designed to be worn. The most common Type IV devices are buoyant cushions and ring buoys.

Type V ----

A Type V PFD is any PFD approved for restricted use.

All PFDs that are Coast Guard Approved bear one of the above designations. All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and of an appropriate size for the persons who intend to wear them. Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible and throwable devices must be immediately available for use.

A water skier, while being towed, is considered on board the vessel for the purposes of compliance with the PFD carriage requirements.

Note * * * Canoes and kayaks, regardless of length, are required to carry one approved PFD of any type for each person on board. A Type V PFD may be carried in lieu of any PFD, but only if that Type V PFD is approved for the activity in which the boat is engaged.

Visual Distress Signals

All recreational boats, when used on coastal waters, the Great Lakes, territorial seas and those waters connected directly to the Great Lakes and the territorial seas, up to a point where a body of water is less than two miles wide must be equipped with Visual Distress Signals. The following are exempted from the requirements for day signals and only need to carry night signals when operating at night:

Recreational boats less than 16 feet in length. Boats participating in organized events such as races, regattas or marine parades. Open sailboats less than 26 feet in length not equipped with propulsion machinery. Manually propelled boats.

PYROTECHNIC VISUAL DISTRESS SIGNALS must be Coast Guard Approved, in serviceable condition and stowed to be readily accessible. They are marked with a date showing the serviceable life, and this date must not have passed. Launchers produced before January 1, 1981, intended for use with approved signals are not required to be Coast Guard Approved.

USCG Approved Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals and Associated Devices include:

Pyrotechnic red flares, hand-held or aerial Pyrotechnic orange smoke, hand-held or floating Launchers for aerial red meteors or parachute flares

NON-PYROTECHNIC VISUAL DISTRESS SIGNALING DEVICES must carry the manufacturer's certification that they meet Coast Guard requirements. They must be in serviceable condition and stowed to be readily accessible. This group includes:

Orange distress flag Electric distress light

No single signaling device is ideal under all conditions and for all purposes. Consideration should therefore be given to carrying several types. For example, an aerial flare can be seen over a long distance on a clear night, but for closer work, a hand-held flare may be more useful.

Handling and Storage:

Pyrotechnic devices should be stored in a cool, dry location and must be readily accessible in case of an emergency. Care should be take>

Transfer interrupted!

damaging their coverings. A watertight container, such as a surplus ammunition box, painted red or orange and prominently marked "DISTRESS SIGNALS" is recommended.

If young children are frequently aboard your boat, careful selection and proper stowage of visual distress signals becomes especially important. If you elect to carry pyrotechnic devices, select devices that are in tough packaging and that would be difficult to ignite accidentally.

Coast Guard Approved pyrotechnic devices carry an expiration date. This date cannot exceed 42 months from the date of manufacture and at such time the device can no longer be counted toward the minimum requirements.


A wide variety of signaling devices, both pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic, can be carried to meet the requirements of the regulation.

Boats Less than 16 Feet operating in coastal waters and certain other exempted boats listed on the previous page need only carry night signaling devices when operated at night. All other recreational boats must carry both night and day signaling devices.

Note * * * If pyrotechnic devices are selected, a minimum of three must be carried. Any combination can be carried as long as they add up to three signals for day use and three signals for night use. Three day/night signaling devices meet both requirements.

The following is an illustration of the variety and combinations of devices which can be carried in order to meet the requirements:

1. Three hand-held red flares (day and night).

2. One electric distress light (night).

3. One hand-held red flare and two parachute flares (day and night).

4. One hand-held orange smoke signal, two floating orange smoke signals and one electric distress light (day and night).


NIGHT USE ONLY 161.013 Electric Distress Light for Boats

DAY USE ONLY 160.022 Floating Orange Smoke Distress Signal (5 minutes) 160.037 Hand-Held Orange Smoke Distress Signal 160.057 Floating Orange Smoke Distress Signal (15 minutes) 160.072 Orange Distress Signal Flag for Boats

NIGHT AND DAY USE 160.021 Hand-Held Red Flare Distress Signal 160.024 Parachute Red Flare Distress Signal (37mm) (These signals require use in combination with a suitable launching device) 160.036 Hand-Held Rocket-Propelled Parachute Red Flare Distress Signal 160.066 Red Aerial Pyrotechnic Flare Disterss SIgnal for Boats (these devices may be either meteor or parachute assisted type. Some of these signals may require use in combination with a suitable launching device.)



In some States launchers for meteors and parachute flares may be considered firearms. Therefore, check with your State authorities before acquiring such a launcher.


All distress signaling devices have both advantages and disadvantages. The most popular, because of cost, are probably the smaller pyrotechnic devices. Pyrotechnics make excellent distress signals, universally recognized as such, but they have the drawback that they can be used only once. Additionally, there is the potential for both injury and property damage if pyrotechnics are not properly handled. Pyrotechnic devices have a very hot flame and the ash and slag can cause burns and ignite materials that burn easily. Projected devices, such as pistol launched and hand-held parachute flares and meteors, have many of the same characteristics of a firearm and must be handled with the same caution and respect.



"No person in a boat shall display a visual distress signal on water to which this subpart applies under any circumstances except a situation where assistance is needed because of immediate or potential danger to the persons aboard."


Under the Inland Navigation Rules, a high intensity white light flashing at regular intervals from 50-70 times per minute is considered a distress signal. Therefore, strobe lights used in inland waters shall only be used as a distress signal.

The hand-held and the floating orange smoke signaling devices are good day signals, especially on clear days. Both signals are most effective with light to moderate winds because higher winds tend to keep the smoke close to the water and disperse it, which makes it hard to see.

The distress flag must be as least 3 x 3 feet with a black square and ball on an orange background. It is accepted as a day signal only and is especially effective in bright sunlight. The flag is most distinctive when waved on something such as a paddle or boathook or flown from a mast.

The electric distress light is accepted for night use only and must automatically flash the international SOS distress signal ( * * * --- --- --- * * * ). Flashed four to six times each minute, this is an unmistakable distress signal, well known to most boaters. The device can be checked anytime for serviceability if shielded form view.

Note * * * An ordinary flashlight is not acceptable since it must be manually flashed and does not normally produce enough candle power.

Red hand-held flares can be used by day, but are most effective at night or in restricted visibility such as fog or haze. Only hand-held flares made after October 1, 1980 are approved by the Coast Guard for use on recreational boats. When selecting such flares, look for the Coast Guard approval number and date of manufacture. Make sure that the device does not carry the markings, "Not approved for use on recreational boats."


Sound Signaling Devices for Vessels Less Than 20 Meters (65.6 ft)

1. Vessels 12 Meters (39.4 ft.) or More in Length But less Than 20 Meters (65.6 ft.) must carry on board a power whistle or power horn and a bell.

2. Vessels Less Than 12 Meters (39.4 ft.) need not carry a whistle, horn or bell. However, the navigation rules require sound signals to be made under certain circumstances, and you should carry some means for making an efficient signal when necessary.


No person may operate a boat built after July 31, 1980 that has a gasoline engine (for whatever use) unless it is equipped with an operable ventilation system that meets the Coast Guard standards (see 33 CFR 183.610 and 183.620).

For boats built after April 25, 1940, and before August 1, 1980 (with engines using gasoline as fuel and other fuels having a flashpoint of 110 degreesF. or less) the following is required:

At least two ventilation ducts fitted with cowls or their equivalent for the purpose of properly and efficiently ventilating the bilges of every engine and fuel tank compartment. There shall be at least one exhaust duct installed so as to extend to the lower portion of the boat.

The operator of a vessel is required to keep the system in operating condition.

Navigation Lights


Recreational boats operating at night are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise. Although most recreational boats in the United States operate in waters governed by the Inland Navigation Rules, recent changes to the rules have made the general lighting requirements for both the Inland and International rules basically the same. The differences between them are primarily in the options available.

Range and Arc of Visibility of Lights


Vessels Less than 20 meters

Light Visible Range in Miles Arc in Degrees Less than 12 meters 12 meters or more Masthead Light 2 3 225 All-round light 2 2 360 Sidelights 1 2 112.5 Sternlight 2 2 135


Power Driven Vessels

Note * * * A sailing vessel operating under machinery alone, or under sail and machinery power is considered a power-driven vessel.

Lights Used When Anchored

Power-driven vessels and sailing vessels at anchor must display anchor lights. However, vessels less than 7 meters in length are not required to display anchor lights unless anchored in or near a narrow channel, fairway or anchorage or where other vessels normally navigate.

An anchor light for a vessel less than 20 meters in length is an all-round white light visible for 2 miles exhibited where it can best be seen. A vessel less than 20 meters in Inland waters when at anchor in a special anchorage area designated by the Secretary of Transportation, is not required to exhibit an anchor light.

Day Shapes


A vessel proceeding under sail when also being propelled by machinery, shall exhibit forward, where it can best be seen, a conical shape, apex downwards, except that for Inland Rules, a vessel less than 12 meters in length is not required to exhibit the dayshape.

Diving Operations

The Navigational Rules require vessels which are restricted in their ability to maneuver due to diving operations or activity to exhibit a rigid replica of the international code flag "A" not less than one meter in height, when it is impracticable to show the shapes required by rule 27(d).

This requirement does not have any impact on the use of the red and white diver's flag which may be used by choice, or required by State or local law to mark the diver's location under water. The "A" flag is a navigation signal advertising only the vessel's restricted maneuverability. It does not pertain to the diver.


The Refuse Act of 1899 prohibits the throwing, discharging or depositing of any refuge matter of any kind (including trash, garbage, oil and other liquid pollutants) into the waters of the United States to a distance of three miles from the coastline. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits the discharge of oil or hazardous substances in quantities which may be harmful into U.S. navigable waters, the contiguous zone, and waters within 200 miles in some cases. You must immediately notify the U.S. Coast Guard if your vessel or facility discharges oil or hazardous substances into the water. Call toll-free 800-424-8802 (In D.C. 426-2675).

Federal regulations issued under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act require that:

(1) No person may operate a vessel of less than 100 gross tons unless it has a fixed or portable means to discharge oily bilge slops to a reception facility. A bucket or bailer is considered a portable means (see 33 CFR 155.360).

(2) Vessels 26 feet in length and over must have posted a placard at least 5 by 8 inches, made of durable material, fixed in a conspicuous place in the machinery spaces, or at the bilge pump control station, stating the following:



The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits the discharge of oil or oily waste into or upon the navigable waters of the United States or waters of the contiguous zone if such discharge causes a film or sheen upon, or discoloration of, the surface of the water, or causes a sludge or emulsion beneath the surface of the water. Violators are subject to a penalty of $5,000.


(see 33 CFR 183.450)

(3) No person may intentionally drain oil or oily waste from any source into the bilge of any vessel (see 33 CFR 155.770).

You must also help to ensure that others obey the law. You are encouraged to report polluting discharges which you observe to the nearest U.S. Coast Guard office or call toll-free 800-424-8802 (In D.C. 426-2675). Report the following information:

a. location b. source c. size d. color e. substance f. time observed

Do not attempt to take samples of any chemical discharge. If uncertain as to the identity of any discharge, avoid flame, physical contact or inhalation of fumes.

Marine Sanitation Devices

All recreational boats with installed toilet facilities must have an installed, operable Marine Sanitation Device (MSD). Boats 65 feet in length are limited to installing Type II or III MSDs. All installed MSDs must be Coast Guard certified if the boat is to be in compliance. Coast Guard certified devices are so labeled except for some holding tanks, which are already certified by definition under the regulations, if they store only sewage and flushwater at ambient air pressure and temperature.


Boating accidents that involve a recreational boat or its equipment must be reported if a person dies within 24 hours, disappears from a vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury, or is injured and receives medical treatment in addition to normal first aid. The operator must report the accident within 48 hours to the nearest State boating authority and provide the following information:

a. The date, time and exact location of the accident;

b. The name of each person who died, disappeared or was injured;

c. The number and name of the vessel; and

d. The names and addresses of the owner and operator.

(If the operator cannot give this notice, each person on board shall notify that authority, or determine that the notice has been given)

Accidents involving only property or equipment damage must be reported within 10 days if the damage is in excess of $200, or total boat loss.

Rendering of Assistance

The master or person in charge of a vessel is obligated by law to provide whatever assistance can be safely provided to any individual at sea in danger of being lost, and is subject to a fine and/or imprisonment for failure to do so.


As the operator and/or owner of a vessel you are responsible not only for the prudent and safe operation of your boat, but also for the lives and safety of your passengers and others around you. Become familiar with Federal, State and local rules and regulations regarding safe boat operation. Try to learn all the aspects of good seamanship: boathandling, navigation and piloting, weather, etc.

Besides meeting the legal requirements, prudent boaters carry additional safety equipment.


All boats less than 16 feet in length should carry a second method of propulsion, such as a paddle or oars. If an alternate means of mechanical propulsion (another outboard or trolling motor) is carried it should use a separate fuel tank and starting source from the main propulsion motor.


All boats should carry at least one effective manual device (bucket, scoop, etc.) in addition to any installed electric bilge pump.


Carry adhesive bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, antiseptic, aspirin, etc.


All boats should be equipped with an adequate anchor and anchor line of suitable size and length for the boat and the waters in which the boat is being operated. Choose the right anchor for your boat and the type of bottom you expect to be anchoring in.


There are several things to remember when loading a boat: distribute the load evenly; keep the load low; don't overload; don't stand up in a small boat; and consult the "U.S. Coast Guard Maximum Capacities" label. On boats with no capacity label, use the following formula to determine the maximum number of persons your boat can safely carry in calm weather:


Passenger Capacity Calculation

Average Weight 150 lbs per person: People= (LxW)÷15

The length of your vessel is measured in a straight line from the foremost part of the vessel to the aftermost part of the vessel, parallel to the centerline, exclusive of sheer. Bowsprits, bumpkins, rudders, outboard motors, brackets and similar fittings are not included in the measurement.


Fill all portable tanks on the dock. Close all hatches and other openings before fueling. Do not allow anyone to smoke. Secure all electrical equipment, radios, stoves and appliances. Shut off all engines and motors.

After fueling, wipe up or wash off any spilled fuel immediately. Open all hatches and windows and let the boat air out. Run the blower, and before starting the engine, sniff the bilges for fuel vapors. NEVER start the engines until all traces of fuel vapors have been evacuated.


Be sure portable fuel tanks are constructed of sturdy non-breakable material and are in safe condition. Be sure that tanks are free of excessive corrosion and do not leak. Make sure the vents on portable tanks are capable of being closed and that the tanks have a vapor-tight, leak-proof cap. Be sure the tanks are properly secured in the boat to prevent excessive movement.

Permanent fuel tanks and fuel lines should be free of excessive corrosion and must not leak. Be sure the fuel fill pipe is tightly fitted to the fill plate and located outside closed compartments. The fill pipe should also be located where any spilled fuel will be directed overboard. Fuel tanks should be vented to the outside of the hull and any compartments.


Use the "One-Third Rule" in fuel management. Use one-third of the fuel to get there, one-third to get back and keep one-third in reserve.


Your boat should be free of fire hazards and in good overall condition with reasonably clean bilges and the hull and superstructure reasonably sound.


There are few places where "good housekeeping" is more important than afloat. This means properly securing and stowing all equipment and supplies; keeping decks and spaces clean and free of clutter and trash; performing safety checks and required maintenance on a regular schedule; and ensuring that all repairs are made properly and with marine rated parts.


Carry a few tools and some spare parts and learn how to make minor repairs. You would be surprised how many Coast Guard search and rescue cases are caused by minor breakdowns which the operators should have been able to repair.


Alcohol and other drugs reduce judgment and the ability to react. The sun, wind, vibration, and noise inherent in boating are very fatiguing, increasing the debilitating effects of alcohol and drugs. The Federal Government has enacted legislation prohibiting the operation of a vessel while under the influence of alcohol. Most States also have laws prohibiting the operation of a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Some have included in these laws an implied consent clause similar to that for driving. This allows the authorities to test for Blood Alcohol Content.


File a Float Plan. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Tell them what your boat looks like and other information that will make identifying it easier should the need arise. See the example at the beginning of this article. Remember to cancel it when you return.


Check weather reports before getting underway. Be watchful for signs of impending bad weather and know the National Weather Service Storm Advisory Signals and where they are flown.


Most hunters and fishers do not consider themselves boaters. To them, the boat is just another piece of equipment needed to engage in their main interest, hunting or fishing. But, let's look at the facts.

A great many hunters and fishers do use boats. These are normally small utility boats with a semi-V hull, flatbottom jon boats or canoes. Of these boats, the utility boat is the most stable and can carry the most weight for its size. It can also handle a larger motor and is more maneuverable in rough weather.

Small boats tend to be tippy and unstable. Capsizings, sinkings, and falls overboard account for 70 percent of boating fatalities and are directly related to the lack of stability of small boats.

These facts do not mean that small boats are inherently dangerous. It does mean that people using small boats must have a greater awareness of the boat's limitations and have the skill and knowledge to cope with these limits.


Standing in a small boat raises the center of gravity, often to the point that the boat capsizes. Standing to land a fish, changing position in the boat, or relieving yourself over the side is not worth the risk.


Sitting on the gunnels, seat backs or in raised pedestal seats while underway is dangerous. A wave or a sudden turn may cause the person to fall overboard and may cause capsizing because of the raised center of gravity.


Anchoring a small boat by the stern has caused many capsizings and sinkings. The transom is normally squared off and has less freeboard than the bow. In a current, the stern can be pulled under by the force of the water, and the boat is vulnerable to swamping by wave action. The added weight of a motor, fuel tank, or other gear in the stern increases the problem.

To properly anchor, bring the bow into the wind or current and put the engine in neutral. When the boat comes to a stop, lower, do not throw, the anchor over the side. Use about 5 to 8 times as much anchor line as the depth of the water.



It is a common belief that someone dressed in heavy clothing and waders will sink immediately should he fall in the water. This is not true. The air trapped in the clothing provides considerable flotation and bending the knees will trap the air in the waders, providing additional flotation. The secret is to keep calm. Do not thrash about or you will lose the air trapped in the clothing. Do not try to remove any clothing or footwear, or you will exhaust yourself as well as lose the air that keeps you afloat. Keep your knees bent, get on your back and paddle slowly to safety.


Hypothermia is the loss of body heat, which in water occurs quite rapidly. If your boat capsizes it will probably still float. If fairly new (1978 model or newer) it will float even with you in it and full of water or capsized. Get in or on the boat to get as much of your body out of the water as possible. If you can't get in the boat a PFD will enable you to keep your head out of the water, which is very important since it is a very high heat loss area.


Sudden immersion in cold water can be very painful, causing rapid, uncontrolled breathing, cardiac arrest (heart stoppage), and other problems. This may cause a person that falls in the water to go under and never come up again--alive. Wearing a PFD is the only defense. If you must enter the water, button up your clothing, wear a PFD, and enter the water slowly.


A drowning victim that has been under water for a considerable time (up to 1 hour) and shows no signs of life, may not be dead. Numerous documented cases exist where victims have been resuscitated with no apparent harmful effects after long immersions. Start CPR immediately and get them to a doctor quickly.


Conversion of Metric to U.S. Customary/Imperial Units

Metric Measure U.S. Customary/Imperial Measure Feet and Inches rounded to 1/4 in. 50 Meters (M) 164.0 ft 164' 0" 20 M 65.6 ft. 65' 7 1/4" 12 M 39.4 ft. 39' 4 3/4" 10 M 32.8 ft. 32' 9 1/2" 8 M 26.2 ft. 26' 2 1/2" 7 M 23.0 ft. 23' 0" 6 M 19.7 ft. 19' 8 1/2" 5 M 16.4 ft. 16' 4 3/4" 4 M 13.1 ft. 13' 1 1/4" 2.5 M 8.2 ft. 8' 2 1/2" 1 M 3.3 ft. 3' 3 1/2"

Revised 1/17/2005

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