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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What life jackets are required to be carried on my recreational boat?

A: In general, Federal law requires that you must have a Coast Guard-approved, wearable life jacket that is in good and serviceable conditions and of the appropriate size for each person onboard your vessel. In addition, boats greater than 16 feet in length must carry a Coast Guard-approved throwable device (Type IV). A throwable device is not required on canoes or kayaks regardless of length. For more information on exemptions and the proper use of life jackets, see

Q: When should I wear my Life Jacket?

A: The USCG recommends wearing your life jacket at all times when the boat is underway.

Q: What are the federal regulations for life jacket wear for children?

A: On a vessel that is underway, children under 13 years of age must wear an appropriate U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket unless they are below deck or within an enclosed cabin. If a state has established a child life jacket wear requirement that differs from the Coast Guard requirement, the state requirement will be applicable on waters subject to that state's jurisdiction. Contact your state boating authority for more information.

Q: Who can wear a Coast Guard-approved inflatable Life Jacket?

A: Inflatable life jackets are generally intended for persons over 80 lbs (39kg). To meet life jacket carriage requirements, the intended wearer must be over 16 years of age. See the life jacket’s label for more information.

Q: Am I required to carry a Life Jacket on my Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP).

A: Yes, when used beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area a SUP is considered a vessel under 46 U.S.C.

Q: If I lose my boating safety certificate, how do I obtain a replacement?

A: You should contact the organization that issued the certificate and request a replacement card. You may also contact your state boating agency’s boater education department for more details or visit

Q: Is my boating safety certificate valid to operate a boat in another state?

A: In most cases, yes. However, there are a few states that do not honor a certificate obtained outside of their state. Always check the laws of the state where you will be boating to ensure your current certificate will be accepted. Visit

Q: How do I dispose of expired pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals (VDS) or marine flares?

A: The disposal of expired pyrotechnic devices should be done in accordance with local county and state hazardous waste regulations. Please check with these local authorities to obtain the correct disposal procedures.

Q: How do I register my Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or submit an updated registration form?

A: You may register online at For more information visit the NOAA website at

Q: What Visual Distress Signals must I carry on my boat?

A: Visual distress signals are required to be carried onboard vessels operating on the Great Lakes, High Seas, Territorial Seas and connecting waters seaward of a point where the width of the entrance exceeds 2 nautical miles, with certain exceptions. For more information on the types and quantities required and proper use of visual distress signals, see

Q: What is a Vessel Safety Check?

A: A Vessel Safety Check (VSC) is a courtesy examination of your boat (vessel) to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and federal regulations. The volunteer VSC examiner may also make recommendations and discuss safety issues that can make you a safer boater. No citations will be given if the boat does not pass. The examiner will supply you with a copy of the evaluation so that you may follow up with any recommendations. Vessels that pass the examination will be able to display the distinctive VSC decal. The decal does not exempt boaters from law enforcement boarding but indicates to boarding officers that the boat has been examined and found to be in compliance with safety equipment regulations.

Q: What agency is responsible for performing a Vessel Safety Check?

A: The volunteer Vessel Examiner is a trained specialist and a member of either the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons, or in some cases state volunteer examiners.

Q: How can I get my recreational vessel inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary?

A: "Visit the Vessel Safety Check website at: Click on the tab labeled ""I want a VSC."" Enter your 5-digit ZIP Code and the program will search the database to locate

Q: Does the Coast Guard approve boating safety courses?

A: No. Boating safety course are currently approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and approved by each individual state. Look for the NASBLA logo when researching for an approved boating safety course or contact your state boating agency.

Q: How can I find a boating safety course offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary?

A: Visit the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary website to locate a course offered near you:

Q: How can I find a boating safety course that is offered by the U.S. Power Squadrons?

A: Visit the United States Power Squadrons website to find a course offered near you:

Q: When should I file a float plan?

A: You should complete a float plan and leave it with a responsible party each and everytime you get underway.

Q: How do I fill out and file a Float Plan?

A: Using the new USCG Float Plan can save lives and it's offered free from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Visit and follow the instructions. Once you have completed the form, print it and leave it with a friend or relative before getting underway.

Q: How can I find boating laws applicable to my state?

A: Visit and check the state-by-state reference guide, or contact your state's boating authority.

Q: While operating my recreational boat, what is the prescribed distance for me to stay away from military, cruise lines and commercial ships?

A: Boaters should keep their distance from all military, cruise line, or commercial shipping. Do not approach within 100 yards, and slow to minimum speed within 500 yards of any U.S. naval vessel. Violators of the Naval Vessel Protection Zone could face six years in prison and a $250,000 fine, not to mention a quick and possibly severe response from the vessel itself. Approaching commercial vessels may result in an immediate boarding by the Coast Guard.

Q: What is teak surfing?

A: Teak surfing is performed by a person hanging onto the swim platform (often made of teak wood) at the back of a boat while the boat is moving forward. Often swimmers will let go of the platform and body surf on the boat's wake. Although teak surfing is not illegal in some states, it is extremely dangerous due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and sudden loss of consciousness resulting in death. The United States Coast Guard advises boaters not to teak surf. Please help spread this safety message and discourage teak surfing.

Q: What are the specific size-criteria for my boat to be Coast Guard documented?

A: A vessel must measure at least five net tons and, with the exception of certain oil spill response vessels, must be wholly owned by a citizen of the U.S. Net tonnage is a measure of a vessel's volume. It should not be confused with the vessel's weight, which may also be expressed in tons. Most vessels more than 25 feet in length will measure five net tons or more. For information about how tonnage is determined, including a web-based interactive form that calculates tonnages, visit the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Center's web site at the Marine Safety Center's Tonnage Page.

Q: How do I document my vessel?

A: Visit the following website: It will provide you with all of the information you will need to document your vessel. You can download all necessary forms.

Q: How do I order a copy of the Navigation Rules (Rules of the Road)?

A: The Coast Guard maintains an amalgamated version of the COLREGS and Inland Navigation Rules (collectively referred to together as “Navigation Rules”) on the Navigation Center website.  A free electronic copy of the more traditional “Coast Guard Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook” (ISBN: 9780160925665) is available here. The government printed version is listed at the U.S. Government Bookstore, call Tel: 202-512-1800 or email for further information. NOAA has also included a copy of the Rules in each edition of the Coast Pilot under Appendix B.  Commercial facsimiles are also available from various publishers (e.g. Paradise Cay, Maryland Nautical) but, the Coast Guard does not attest to their veracity.

Q: Is it required to have registration numbers on a 12-foot jon boat with a 3 HP gasoline motor?

A: In general, all recreational vessels that are propelled by machinery must be registered in the state of their principal use. Contact your state boating agency for questions concerning numbering and titling as numbering laws vary somewhat from state to state.

Q: When should I energize or display my navigation lights?

A: Navigation lights are to be energized or displayed from sunset to sunrise and when operating in or near areas of restricted visibility (e.g., fog, snow, and heavy rain).

Q: Do I need a horn on my boat?

A: Navigation Rules require sound signals to be made under certain circumstances, such as meeting, crossing, and overtaking other vessels. Recreational vessels are also required to use sound signals during periods of reduced visibility and while at anchor. See A Boater's Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats for the types of sound producing devices required for your specific vessel. A vessel of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) must, at a minimum, have some means of making an efficient sound signal (i.e., handheld air horn, athletic whistle, installed horn, etc.). A human voice is not acceptable. A vessel 39.4 feet (12 meters) or greater must have a sound signaling appliance capable of producing an efficient sound signal, audible for a  mile, with a 4- to 6-second duration.

Q: How do I apply for a Manufacturer's Identification Code (MIC)?

A: Email requests may be sent to See the Manufacturer's page for more information.

Q: Where can I find information about boating abroad?

A: Information on the steps you must take before boating abroad may be found on the Royal Yachting Association website at

Q: Should I include a photo with my float plan?

A: Yes it is recommended that you include a photo of your vessel. Just like with luggage many boats look alike so a photo will help responders identify your boat.

Q: How do I get my Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or Life Jacket approved for sale as USCG Approved in the U.S.

A: Approval Guidance and Information may be found at