Coast Guard Safety Requirements for Boats 16-26 Feet

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 at least 16 feet to under 26 feet.

Source: U.S. Coast Guard Safety Regulations

State Registration

Father and son on motorboat
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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.

Certificate of Documentation

For documented vessels only, an original and current certificate must be on board. The vessel name must be on the exterior part of the hull and cannot be less than 4 inches in height. The official number, at least 3 inches in height, permanently affixed on interior structure.

Personal Floatation Device

One type of Coast Guard-approved life jacket must be on board for each person on the boat. Also must have one Type V, throwable type of PFD.

Visual Distress Signal

One orange distress flag and one electric distress light, or three hand-held or floating orange smoke signals and one electric distress light, or three combination (day/night) red flares: hand-held, meteor or parachute type.

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 stored, 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

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.