USPS and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary help recreational boaters learn safe practices by performing free vessel safety checks, which ensure that a boat complies with federal and state boating laws.
A vessel exam typically takes 20 to 30 minutes, and there is no penalty if your boat doesn’t pass. Simple problems could be corrected on the spot; if not, the inspector will gladly reinspect your boat.
Seven-five percent of all boats pass and receive an official CGA/USPS VSC sticker. While having a sticker doesn’t guarantee your boat won’t be stopped by the Coast Guard, it does show your intent to be safe.
Inspectors look at the following 15 items* during a vessel safety check:
- Display of registration numbers
- Registration and documentation
- Personal flotation devices
- Visual distress signals
- Fire extinguishers
- Backfire flame control
- Sound producing device
- Navigation lights
- Pollution placards
- MARPOL trash placards
- Marine sanitation devices
- Carriage of Inland Navigation Rules
- State requirements
- Overall vessel condition
*Depending on boat length and propulsion system, some items may not apply.
10 safe boating tips
- When you go boating, let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll return.
- Carry a handheld VHF radio in a waterproof bag. Cell phones don’t always work.
- Attach a loud whistle to your life preserver; keep a flashlight and mirror handy as distress signals.
- Never forget how flammable gasoline is. Be sure your tank vents are free of corrosion.
- Don’t smoke and pump gasoline! Always fill portable tanks off the vessel.
- I don’t care what kind of boat you have: If it’s motorized, keep a fire extinguisher aboard.
- For inboard motors, be sure the backfire flame arrestor is properly installed; clean as needed.
- Properly distribute weight in boat; don’t exceed capacity. Don’t move until everyone is seated.
- Never operate a boat under the influence of alcohol.
- Practice putting on your life jackets. Fit them to individuals before leaving the dock.