Safety Rules for Boats Under 16 feet

Official Boating Regulations From the US Coast Guard

Friends sailing on sunset sailboat
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The Coast Guard has certain boating safety requirements for recreational boats up to 65 feet. While the safety laws are essentially the same for each size category of boats, some differ. Use this handy reference to comply with the USCG boating safety rules if your boat is under 16 feet.

State Registration

A Certificate of Number or State Registration must be on board while the boat is in use.

State Numbering and Letters

Must be in contrasting color to the boat, not less than 3 inches in height, and located on each side of the forward part of the boat. It must also have a state decal within six inches of the registration number.

Personal Floatation Device

One type of Coast Guard approved life jacket must be on board for each person on the boat.

Visual Distress Signal

One electric distress light or three combination (day/night) red flares when operating between sunset and sunrise.

Fire Extinguisher

One Marine Type USCG B-I fire extinguisher if your boat has an inboard engine, enclosed compartments where fuel or flammable and combustible materials are store, closed living spaces, or permanently installed fuel tanks.


If your boat was built after April 25, 1940 and uses gasoline in an enclosed engine or fuel tank compartment, it must have natural ventilation. If it was built after July 31, 1980 it must have an exhaust blower.

Sound Producing Device

A sufficient way to make a sound signal, like a whistle or an air horn, but not a human produced noise.

Navigation Lights

These are required to be displayed sunset to sunrise.

Backfire Flame Arrestor

Required on gasoline engine boats manufactured after April 25, 1940 except outboard motors.

Marine Sanitation Device

If you have an installed toilet, you must have an operable MSD, Type I, II, or III.

Source: U.S. Coast Guard Safety Regulations