April 2011

Making the grade

Put your vessel to the test

To receive a VSC decal, boats must pass a 15-item checklist. We’ve listed the top five reasons boats fail vessel safety checks. How does your boat measure up?

1. Visual distress signals

At a minimum, recreational boats 16 feet and longer used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry either three day and three night pyrotechnic devices, one day non-pyrotechnic device (flag) and one night non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light), or a combination of the above.

Recreational boats less than 16 feet on coastal waters or the Great Lakes need to carry night visual distress signals only when operating from sunset to sunrise.

Boats operating on inland waters are recommended, but not required, to have some means of making a suitable day and night visual distress signal.

Alternatives to flares

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

2. State & local requirements

To receive a VSC decal, a boat must meet the requirements for the area in which it is examined. Click here for state requirements.   

3. Navigation lights

All boats must be able to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and in reduced visibility. Boats 16 feet or longer 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.

4. Registration & documentation

Registration or documentation papers must be kept on board and available. To be documented, a boat must be 5 net tons or greater. 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 high.

5. Display of numbers

The boat’s registration number must be permanently attached to each side of the boat’s forward half. They must be plain, vertical, block characters not less than 3 inches high and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers, e.g., FL 1234 AB or FL-1234-AB. (Place state tax sticker according to state policy.)

To learn more, check out the virtual exam or find a vessel examiner near you.

Stay cool while looking it with a palm tree jacquard Hawaiian shirt from the USPS Ship's Store.

Mastering Marlinespike

Carrick bend

Praised by some as the nearest thing to a perfect bend, the carrick bend will not slip wet or dry, unties easily and can’t jam. It’s especially useful when bending large lines or hawsers together.


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