Boat Safety Check List | How to Make Sure Your Boat is Safe

Besides taking precautionary measures such as marine weather forecast and making sure that it's a good day to take your boat out, there are many more steps that need to be followed in order to ensure that your vessel is sea worthy.

Make the Seal Of Safety a part of your boat by getting a Coast Guard Auxiliary Courtesy Marine Examination. It is a complimentary check of your boat's gear covering federal and state safety related requirements plus supplementary standards suggested by the Auxiliary. The examination is performed only with your prior approval. The examiners enacting this examination are all members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who have been carefully educated to look for some of the more well-known problems which might occur in your boat or its associated safety equipment.


If your boat meets the CME requirements, the award of the decal is your assurance that your boat is properly equipped for fun and safety on the water.

At the conclusion of the examination, the copy of the check-list is given to you. A Courtesy Marine Examination is not a law enforcement activity. No report of you or your boat is ever made to any law enforcement agency. Only a statistical count of the number of examinations is made to the Coast Guard.

In addition to federal requirements, a vessel must comply with the following Coast Guard Auxiliary standards for award of the Courtesy Marine Examination decal.

1. NUMBERING: The boat's number must be permanently affixed to each side of the forward half of the vessel (the bow) and no other number may be displayed thereon. Numbers are to read left to right, be plain, block characters, that are vertical, and of a color which contrasts with the background distinctly visible and legible, and not less than 3 inches in height. A space or dash must separate letters from numbers. [WA 1234 AB]

2. PERSONAL FLOATATION DEVICES (PFDs): Acceptable PFDs shall be U.S. Coast Guard Approved, in good and serviceable condition, and of suitable size for the wearer. Wearable PFDs shall be readily accessible and throwable devices shall be immediately available for use.

All boats, regardless of size, must have one Type I, II, or III (wearable) PFD of suitable size for each person on board and one Type IV (throwable) in each boat.

Coast Guard Auxiliary requires all boats to have a minimum of three (3) PFDs (two [2] wearable and one [1] throwable) regardless of the number of persons on board.

3. FIRE EXTINGUISHERS: Courtesy Marine Examination requirements exceed the federal regulations by requiring that all vessels carry a minimum of one [1] B-1 fire extinguisher. Only sailboats less than 16 feet without mechanical propulsion are exempt.

Minimum number of Coast Guard Approved, properly secured, hand portable fire extinguishers required:


Vessel Length

No-Fixed System

With Fixed System

less than 26 ft.

1 - B-I

1 - B-I

26 ft. to less than 40 ft.

2 - B-I or 1 - B-II

1 - B-I

40 ft. to 65 ft.

3 - B-I or 1 B-I & 1 B-II

1 - B-II


4. VENTILATION: The requirements are the same as federal regulations. Boats with closed engine compartments built before August 1st, 1980, must have either natural or powered ventilation; those built after that date must have powered ventilation in engine compartment.

Boats with closed fuel tank compartments built before August 1st, 1978, must have either natural or powered ventilation in the compartment; those built after that date need not have any ventilation in the fuel tank compartment provided the compartment conforms with construction standards.

Any compartment containing portable type gasoline containers must be ventilated naturally or with sufficient compartment area open to the atmosphere.

5. BACKFIRE FLAME ARRESTER: Examination requirements are more stringent than the federal regulations. All gasoline inboard motorboats, regardless of date of construction or engine installation, must be equipped with a suitable means of backfire flame control.

6. SOUND PRODUCING DEVICES: For compliance with "Navigation Rules" and for distress signaling purposes, all boats must carry some type of sound producing device (whistle, horn, siren, etc.) capable of a 4-second blast audible for a half mile.

7. NAVIGATION LIGHTS: Boats 16 feet or more in length, MUST have properly installed and working navigation lights, and an all-around anchor light to receive a decal. NOTE: Federal law requires ALL boats to be able to display lights between sunset and sunrise.

8. VISUAL DISTRESS SIGNALS: All recreational boats used on coastal waters, Great Lakes or in the high seas, are required to carry Coast Guard Approved Visual Distress Signals in order to qualify for the CME decal.

For vessels operating on inland waters, the Auxiliary requires some means of making a suitable day and night visual distress signal. The type device and the amount carried is best judged by taking into account the size of the area and the conditions under which the boat will be operating. Recommended equipment could include one or more of the following:




Strobe Light

Signal Mirror


Red or Orange Flags



9. FUEL SYSTEMS: portable fuel tanks [7 gallon capacity or less] must be constructed of sturdy non-breakable material and in safe condition. Tanks shall be free of excessive corrosion and must not leak. Any vents must be capable of being closed and the tank must have a vapor-tight, leak-proof cap. All tanks must be properly secured in the boat to prevent excessive movement.

Permanent fuel tanks [over 7 gallon capacity] and fuel lines must be free of excessive corrosion and not leak. Fuel tanks must be secured and grounded. The fuel fill pipe must be tightly fitted to the fill plate and located outside of a closed compartment, where any spilled fuel will be directed overboard. A vent terminating outboard of the hull and compartments must lead to each permanent fuel tank.

10. ANCHOR AND ANCHOR LINE: The boat must be equipped with an adequate anchor and line of suitable size and length for locality.

11. ALTERNATE PROPULSION: All boats less than 16 feet in length must carry a second method of propulsion. A paddle, oar or other suitable device meets this requirement. If an alternate means of mechanical propulsion is carried [another outboard or trolling motor], it must use a separate fuel and starting source from the main propulsion motor.

12. DEWATERING DEVICE: All boats must carry at least one effective manual dewatering device [bucket, can, scoop, etc.]. This requirement is in addition to any installed electrical bilge pump that the vessel may have on board.

An installed electrical or mechanical bilge pump is not a requirement for award of the CME decal; however, if such a pump is installed it must be in satisfactory operating condition.

13. GENERAL CONDITION [Seaworthiness]: The boat must be free from fire hazards, in good overall condition with the bilges reasonably clean and the visible hull and structure generally sound.

The maximum person capacity and horsepower must not be exceeded.

GALLEY EQUIPMENT: Appliances and their fuel tanks must be properly secured, and the system must not leak [no odor of fuel must be detected when the system is turned on].

There must be no flammable materials in the vicinity of stoves or heaters.

Adequate ventilation must be provided for appliances and their fuel supply.

Appliance fuel shut off valves must be readily accessible.

Only common appliance fuels must be used on vessels. Gasoline, Naptha, or Benzene are not allowed due to their highly volatile nature.

ELECTRICAL: Wiring must be in good condition and properly installed. No exposed areas or deteriorated insulation is permitted.

The electrical system must be protected by fuses or manual resetting circuit breakers. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or spray.

Batteries must be secured to prevent movement and the terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing.


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