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Courtesy Marine Examinations

Your local Coast Guard Auxiliary is a volunteer organization dedicated to assisting the Coast Guard in promoting boating safety. They offer a free boat inspection called a Courtesy Marine Examination (CME). The CME requirements are at least as stringent as the Coast Guard's guidelines, and in many cases stricter. The examination doesn't enforce the law - it's to promote safety. If your boat passes the test you will receive a Seal of Safety decal to display on your boat.

Following is a list of CME requirements. The list serves as a good overview of the USCG legal equipment minimum, along with some intelligent additions.

Numbering - proper spacing, contrasting color, minimum 3" block letters;

Registration/Documentation - must be on board;

Navigation lights - must operate and show proper configuration;

Sound producing device - horn, whistle, or other (a bell on boats over 12m - 39.4 ft);

Personal flotation device (PFD) - one wearable for each passenger, 2 minimum (Type IV on boats 16 ft or longer);

Fire extinguishers - mounted, minimum for size of boat, HALON, FE241/CO2-current tag;

Visual distress signals (VDS) - INLAND, a VDS, flag, signal light, etc.; INT'L., minimum flares, aerial rockets, or approved signals, not expired;

Backfire flame arrester - approved, tight, clean;

Ventilation - for closed compartments with potential for explosive vapors and an ignition source. Blower must work and warning posted. Fuel tanks secure, over seven gallons considered permanent, and must be grounded/vented. Hoses in good condition, no leaks;

Anchor & tackle - Suitable to boat and the area;

Alternate propulsion - under 16 ft, paddle or oar; if mechanical, separate fuel tank and starting source;

Dewatering device - pumps must work, extra manual bailer;

Overall vessel condition - bilge and equipment area clean, well maintained. Not overloaded, overpowered, or no automotive parts;

Electrical system - batteries secure, terminals covered, well-organized wiring, proper fuses/circuit breakers;

Galley/Heating systems - secure system, proper tank installation; no flammable material nearby;

State requirements - complies with state safety requirements. Contact state boating regulators for current state boating regulations;

Marine sanitation device - approved device, overboard discharge sealed;

MARPOL trash placard - boats 26 ft and longer, written plan over 40 ft;

Pollution placard - boats 26 ft and longer with machinery compartment;

Navigation rules - boats 12m (39.4 ft) and longer;

FCC marine radio license - all radios, radar, EPIRB, etc.

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U.S. Documentation

Larger recreational vessels may be documented by the U.S. Coast Guard. A variety of measurements determine the "tonnage" of the vessel for documentation purposes. For documentation, "tonnage" is a measure of volume, not weight; 30 cubic feet equals one measurement ton; not all space is included - there is "gross tonnage" and "net tonnage." The vessel must measure a minimum of five net tons to be documented. This generally means a minimum length of about 30 feet.

The major advantage of documentation for most owners is the establishment of clear title to your boat. Some banks and lenders will require documentation before a loan will be issued. The document is also internationally recognized proof of ownership and origin, which can smooth customs clearance in many foreign countries.

To obtain documentation, write to the National Vessel Documentation Center at the address below, requesting the necessary forms. The center can also be reached at 1-800-799-8362, and the personnel there are very helpful. The application must be on Coast Guard forms filled out precisely as instructed. Forms include declaration of citizenship (for the owners), vessel measurements, builder's certification, certificate of marking, and a special bill of sale. It is highly advisable to fill out an official Coast Guard bill of sale whenever buying or selling a boat. Do this even if you are planning on obtaining state registration. If you later decide to obtain documentation, the official bill of sale will prevent you from having to contact previous owners, who may be hard to reach.

Your official number will have to be carved into a beam or otherwise attached permanently to some interior part of your vessel. The number must be at least three inches high, in block letters, and preceded by the abbreviation "No." The name of the vessel and its hailing port must be marked together with letters more than four inches high. Recreation vessels may have the name and port at any location. Commercially documented vessels must have the name and port on the stern, plus the name only on each bow.

Bills of sale must be error-free, notarized, and submitted in duplicate. The Coast Guard is notoriously finicky about perfection on these forms. Many private agencies provide documentation services for those desiring assistance in this exacting process.

National Vessel Documentation Center

U.S. Coast Guard
2039 Stonewall Jackson Drive
Falling Waters, WV 25419-9502
Tele: 800-799-8362

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U.S. State Regulations & Registration

In addition to U.S. federal requirements, the owner/operator may be required to comply with additional regulations specific to the state in which the vessel is registered or operated. State laws vary. A vessel in compliance with the laws of the state of registration may not meet the requirements of another state where operated. To ensure compliance with state boating laws, understand the jurisdiction limits and contact the appropriate boating agency.

Jurisdiction Limits

The term "Navigable Waters of the United States" includes all waters navigable continuously from the high seas, including where access is by canals and locks. Also included are bodies of water that cover two or more states which, although not accessible from the ocean, are capable of "interstate commerce." The final inclusion is any waters used for travel to and from a foreign country. These waters are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard. States and local governments, though, can enforce their laws and regulations on these waters, provided that such do not conflict with federal laws and regulations.

Waters other than as defined above are not subject to federal jurisdiction and are regulated only by the states and their political subdivisions.


To obtain information on state boat registrations and rules, contact the appropriate office from the following list. Federal law requires all vessels propelled by machinery (with the exception of racing vessels and tenders under 10 hp) to be registered with the state of principal use if that state has an approved numbering system, or with the Coast Guard. A certificate of number is issued upon registering the vessel. Federal law requires the registration certificate to be on board whenever the boat is in use. When the boat is moved to a new state of principal use, the certificate is valid for at least 60 days. State laws vary.

State numbers must be painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel. Numbers must be of plain block style, contrasting color, and at least three inches high. The validation stickers must be affixed within six inches of the registration number. Check your state's instructions about the exact position for the validation sticker. No other letters or numbers may be displayed nearby.

The owner of a vessel must notify - within 15 days - the agency that issued the certificate of number, if:

- The vessel is transferred, destroyed, abandoned, lost, stolen or recovered;
- The certificate of number is lost, destroyed, or the owner's address changes; or
- The certificate of number becomes invalid for any reason.

Note: Some states require state registration in addition to Coast Guard documentation, and some states have registration requirements that differ from or exceed the Coast Guard rules. Check with the state agency for any differences in your area.

U.S. State Regulations and Registration Offices

Dept. of Cons. and Natural Resources
Marine Police Division
64 N. Union St., Room 438
Montgomery, AL 36130-1451
(334) 242-3673

Department of Public Safety
1979 Peger Rd.
Fairbanks, AK 99709-5257
(907) 451-5351

Arizona Game and Fish Dept.
2221 W. Greenway Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85023
(602) 789-3383

Arkansas Game & Fish Commission
Boating Safety Division
2 Natural Resources Dr.
Little Rock, AR 72205
(501) 223-6399

Dept. of Boating and Waterways
1629 "S" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 445-6281

Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation
13787 S. Hwy. 85
Littleton, CO 80125
(303) 791-1954

Dept. Marine Headquarters
P.O. Box 280
Old Lyme, CT 06371
(860) 424-3124

Division of Fish and Wildlife
Richardson and Robbins Building
P.O. Box 1401
Dover, DE 19903
(302) 739-3440

District of Columbia
Metropolitan Police Dept.
Harbor Patrol Branch
550 Water St. SW
Washington, DC 20024
(202) 727-4582

Dept. of Environmental Protection
Division of Law Enforcement
3900 Commonwealth Blvd. MS 630
Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000
(904) 488-5600

Dept. of Natural Resources
Wildlife Resources Division
Law Enforcement Section
2070 US Hwy., 278, SE
Social Circle, GA 30025
(770) 918-6408

Dept. of Land and Natural Resources
Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation
333 Queen St., Suite 300
Honolulu, HI 96813
(808) 587-1975

Dept. of Parks and Recreation
PO Box 83720
Boise, ID 83720-0655
(208) 334-4180

Dept. of Conservation
Division of Law Enforcement
524 S. Second St.
Springfield, IL 62701-1787
(217) 782-6431

Dept. of Natural Resources
Law Enforcement Division
IGCS, Room W255-D
402 W. Washington
Indianapolis, IN 46204
(317) 232-4010

Dept. of Conservation
Fish and Wildlife Division
Wallace State Office Bldg.
E. Ninth and Grand Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50319-0034
(515) 281-8652

Kansas Wildlife and Parks
900 SW Jackson
Topeka, KS 66612-1233
(913) 296-2281

Kentucky Water Patrol
Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources
rn_chapter_2_a.html#1 Game Farm Rd.
Frankfort, KY 40601
(502) 564-3074

Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries
P.O. Box 98000
2000 Quail Dr.
Baton Rogue, LA 70898-9000
(504) 765-2983

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State St. Section #41
Augusta, ME 04333
(207) 287-2766

Dept. of Natural Resources
Tawes State Office Bldg., B-1
580 Taylor Ave.
Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 260-8881

Division of Environmental Law Enforcement
175 Portland St.
Boston, MA 02214-1701
(617) 727-3190

Dept. of Natural Resources
Law Enforcement Division
P.O. Box 30028
Lansing, MI 48909
(517) 335-3416

Dept. of Natural Resources
Attn: Boating Safety
500 Lafayette Rd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
(612) 296-3336

Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks
P.O. Box 451
Jackson, MS 39205
(601) 364-2185

Missouri State Water Patrol
Dept. of Public Safety
P.O. Box 1368
Jefferson City, MO 65102-1368
(573) 751-3333

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Enforcement Division
1420 E. 6th Ave.
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, MT 59620
(406) 444-2452

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
Law Enforcement Division
2200 N. 33rd St.
Lincoln, NE 68503-0370
(402) 471-5579

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Division of Wildlife
1100 Valley Road
PO Box 10678
Reno, NV 89520-0022
(702) 688-1542

New Hampshire
Division of Safety Services
31 Dock Rd.
Gilford, NH 03246

New Jersey
New Jersey State Police Troop F
P.O. Box 7068
West Trenton, NJ
(602) 882-2000 ext. 6164

New Mexico
Energy, Minerals, & Natural
Resources Dept.
Parks and Recreation Division
P.O. Box 1147
Santa Fe, NM 87504-1147
(505) 827-7173

New York
Bureau of Marine & Recreation Vehicles
Agency Bldg. rn_chapter_2_a.html#1, 13th Fl.
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12238
(518) 473-0179

North Carolina
Wildlife Resources Commission
512 N. Salisbury St.
Archdale Building
Raleigh, NC 27604-1188
(919) 733-7191

North Dakota
Game & Fish Dept.
Information & Education Division
100 N. Bismarck Expressway
Bismarck, ND 58501-5095
(701) 328-6327

Dept. of Natural Resources
Division of Watercraft
4435 Fountain Square Dr.
Columbus, OH 43224-1300
(614) 265-6485

Lake Patrol Division; Dept. of Public Safety
P.O. Box 11415
Oklahoma City, OK 73136-0415
(405) 425-2143

State Marine Board
435 Commercial St., NE
Salem, OR 97310
(503) 373-1405 Ext. 244

PA Fish & Boat Commission
Bureau of Boating
P.O. Box 6700
Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000

Rhode Island
Dept. of Environmental Management
235 Providence Street
Providence, RI 02908
(401) 277-3071

South Carolina
Wildlife and Marine Resources Dept.
Division of Law Enforcement & Boating
P.O. Box 12559
Charleston, SC 29412
(803) 762-5034

South Dakota
Dept. of Game, Fish, and Parks
Division of Wildlife
523 E. Capitol
Pierre, SD 57501-3182
(605) 773-4506

TN Wildlife Resources Agency
Boating Division
P.O. Box 40747
Nashville, TN 37204-9979
(615) 781-6682

Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
Law Enforcement Division
4200 Smith School Rd.
Austin, TX 78744
(512) 389-4624

Division of Parks & Recreation
1594 W. North Temple Street
PO Box 146001
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-6001
(801) 538-7341

Vermont State Police HQ
103 S. Main Street
Waterbury, VT 05671
(802) 244-8778

Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries
P.O. Box 11104
Richmond, VA 23230-1104

WA State Parks & Recreation Commission
P.O. Box 42654
Olympia, WA 98504-2654
(360) 902-8525

West Virginia
Division of Natural Resources
Law Enforcement Section
Capital Complex, Bldg 3
Charleston, WV 25305-0668
(304) 558-2783

Dept. of Natural Resources
Division of Law Enforcement
P.O. Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707
(608) 266-2141

Wildlife Law Enforcement
Game and Fish Dept.
5400 Bishop Blvd.
Cheyenne, WY 82006
(307) 777-4579

American Samoa
Department of Special Operations
PO Box 1086
Pago Pago, AS 96799
011-684 633-2004

Guam Police Department
Special Program Section
PO Box 23909
GMF Barrigada, Guam 96921

Northern Marinas [CNMI]
Boating and Safety Section
Department of Public Safety
PO Box 791
Saipan, CNMI, 96950
011-670 233-7233

Puerto Rico
Office of the Commissioner of Navigation
Dept. of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 5887
Puerta de Teierra, PR 00906
(787) 724-2340

Virgin Islands
Department of Planning and Natural Resources
396-1 Foster Plaza
Annas Retreat
St. Thomas, VI 00802
(809) 776-8600

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Canadian Vessel and Operator Licensing

As Reed's Companion goes to press in early 1998, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans are about to announce a requirement for all boaters, in all types of boats, to meet a minimum basic knowledge requirement. Officially, the target date to begin is January 1, 1999. It is likely that this new regulation will be phased in over a number of years. It is expected that people born after December 31, 1983, will be required to meet the standard. Along with knowledge requirements will be age restrictions that will restrict unaccompanied qualified children less than 12 years of age to boats with engines less than 10 horsepower, and unaccompanied qualified children between 12 and 16 years of age to vessels with less than 40 horsepower.

Vessel licensing or registration in Canada is somewhat similar to the U.S. dual system of state registration or federal documentation. Every vessel principally maintained or operated in Canada that has a motor exceeding 7.5 kW (about 10 hp) or a combination of motors exceeding 7.5 kW total, must be licensed. Vessels larger than 20 "register tons" (an average 36-foot cruiser) may elect to register instead. There are advantages to registering - primarily clear title for securing mortgages and official confirmation of ownership and nationality of captain and vessel when clearing into foreign ports.

Vessel licensing is handled by Canadian customs and is free of charge. The vessel will be issued a license number that must be displayed in block characters not less than 7.5 cm high, and in a color that contrasts with the background. The numbers should be displayed on each side of the bow or on a board attached to each side of the bow. This number is a permanent number for the vessel and remains with it through any subsequent transfers of ownership.

For complete information on Canadian regulations, order the publication "Small Vessel Regulations" (P218) from:

Hydrographic Chart Distribution Office
Department of Fisheries and Oceans
1675 Russell Road
P.O. Box 8080
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3H6
(613) 998-4931; Fax: (613) 998-1217

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Canadian Equipment Requirements

Canada has stricter equipment requirements than the United States. For complete information on these regulations, order the publication "Small Vessel Regulations" as mentioned above. We give here a short description of the basic requirements:

Vessels not over 5.5m (18') in length:

1) One approved small-vessel lifejacket or approved flotation device for each person aboard.
2) Two oars and oarlocks, or two paddles.
3) One bailer or one manual pump.
4) If equipped with an inboard motor, permanent fuel tanks or a stove using liquid or gaseous fuel, and one B-I fire extinguisher.
5) Sound signalling device.
6) Lights must comply with Collision Regulations if permanently fitted.
Vessels 5.5m - 8m (18.0' - 26.2')
All items listed above plus:
7) One approved throwable device - either a cushion, a buoyant heaving line, or an approved lifebuoy.
8) Six approved distress flares: three A, B, or C type flares AND three A, B, C, or D type flares - EXCEPT if vessel is engaged in racing and has no beds/bunks OR operating in a river, canal, or lake in which the boat can never be more than one nautical mile from shore OR boat is propelled by oars or paddles.

Vessels 8m - 12m in length (26.2' - 39.4')

1) One approved small-vessel lifejacket for each person aboard.
2) One lifebuoy 610 or 762 mm. in diameter.
3) One approved buoyant heaving line not less than 15m in length.
4) One bailer and one manual or power-driven bilge pump.
5) Twelve pyrotechnic distress signals in a waterproof container; not more than six may be daytime smoke signals.
6) One anchor with not less than 15m of cable, rope, or chain.
7) If equipped with an inboard motor, permanent fuel tanks or a stove using liquid or gaseous fuel, one B-II fire extinguisher.
8) Proper lights and sound signaling apparatus to comply with the International Rules of the Road (see Chapter 1).

Vessels 12m - 20m in length (39.4' - 65.6')
Items 1-8 above except:

2) One approved 762 mm. lifebuoy or two 610 mm. lifebuoys.
7) Two B-II fire extinguishers, one by entrance to sleeping cabin and one next to the engine space entrance.
9) Two fire buckets and one fire axe.

Vessels over 20m (65.6') in length
Items 1-8 above except:

2) Two approved 762mm lifebuoys, one with an automatic light.
3) One buoyant heaving line not less than 27.5m in length.
7) Two B-II fire extinguishers, one by entrance to sleeping cabin and one next to the engine space entrance. In each accommodation space, one A-II fire extinguisher (maximum of three need be carried). Power fire pump able to reach any part of vessel.
9) Four fire buckets and two fire axes.
10) One VHF radio telephone installation.

Regulation Notes

In Canada, the horseshoe type lifebuoy does NOT fulfill Coast Guard safety requirements.

Note: that an approved lifejacket or personal floatation device (PFD) is required for each person on a sailboard.

In Canada, porta-pottie type heads must be permanently installed in the boat and equipped for proper pumpout.

An official copy of the boat's up-to-date license (i.e., in the owner's name) should be on board. A reasonable length of time is allowed to produce it.

Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan (and possibly additional provinces) have adopted the regulation limiting boats to a top speed of 10 km/h when within 30 meters of shore (approx. 100 feet).

The Small Vessel Regulations will be changed in 1998 to give boaters more options on required safety equipment. Some additional equipment will be required - waterproof flashlights, buoyant heaving lines, and PFDs that actually fit everyone on board.

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U.S. Coast Guard Boarding Policy

The U.S. Coast Guard is the primary maritime law enforcement agency in the United States.

Authority: Section 89 of Title 14 of the United States Code authorizes the Coast Guard to board vessels subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. anytime upon the high seas and upon waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, to make inquiries, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests.

What to expect: A uniformed CG boarding team will notify you that they are coming aboard to conduct a CG boarding. Like other law enforcement officers, they will be armed. Once on board they will conduct an initial safety inspection to identify any obvious safety hazards and to ensure the seaworthiness of your vessel. The boarding officer will then ask to see the vessel registration or documentation and proceed to inspect your vessel. The scope of the vessel inspection, during most boardings, is limited to determining the vessel's regulatory status (e.g., commercial, recreational, passenger, cargo, and/or fishing vessel) and checking for compliance with U.S. civil law applicable to vessels of that status. The CG may also enforce U.S. criminal law. The boarding officer will complete a Coast Guard boarding form and note any discrepancies. You will get a signed copy before they depart.

Report of Boarding: When a CG boarding officer issues you a boarding report, they will either issue a yellow copy, if no discrepancies were noted, or a white copy if there were. A white copy will indicate a warning or a notice of violation. The CG boarding officer should explain the procedures to follow in each case. In any event, those procedures are written on the reverse of the form. If you have any questions, ask the CG boarding officer or call the Coast Guard Customer Information Line at 800-368-5647.

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U.S. Law Enforcement

The U.S. Coast Guard may impose a civil penalty up to $1,000 for failure to comply with equipment requirements, for failure to report a boating accident, or for failure to comply with other federal regulations. Failure to comply with the Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980 can result in a civil penalty of up to $5,000.

Improper use of a radiotelephone is a criminal offense. The use of obscene, indecent, or profane language during radio communications is punishable by a $10,000 fine, imprisonment for two years, or both. Other penalties exist for misuse of a radio, such as improper use of Channel 16 on a VHF radio.

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Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Operating a boat while intoxicated became a federal offense on January 13, 1988. If the blood alcohol level is .10% (.08% in some states) or higher, violators are subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000, or a criminal penalty of up to $5,000, one year of imprisonment, or both.

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Negligent Operation

The Coast Guard may impose a civil penalty for Negligent or Grossly Negligent Operation of a vessel that endangers lives and/or property. Grossly Negligent Operation is a criminal offense with fines up to $5,000, imprisonment for one year, or both. Examples of Grossly Negligent Operation include:

- Operating a boat in a swimming area;
- Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- Speeding near other boats or in dangerous waters;
- Hazardous waterskiing practices; and
- Bowriding, riding on seatback, riding on gunwale, riding on transom.

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Termination of Use

The Coast Guard can terminate a voyage if they feel a boat is being operated in an unsafe condition or if an especially hazardous condition exists. You may be directed to port or told to immediately correct the hazardous situation. Your voyage may be terminated if it is declared a "Manifestly Unsafe Voyage" - the catchall that can be used whenever the Coast Guard feels you are operating in an unsafe manner.

An operator who refuses to terminate the unsafe use of a vessel can be cited for failure to comply with the directions of a Coast Guard officer. Violators may be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned for one year, or both.

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Reporting Accidents

A formal report must be filed with the law enforcement authorities in the state where an accident occurred if more than $500 of damage is done, or a vessel is lost. You have 10 days to file a report.

In the case of fatal accidents, you must notify the authorities immediately. If a person has died or disappeared, you must provide officials with the following information:

- Date, time, and exact of the accident;
- Name of the person (or persons) involved;
- Number and name of the vessel; and
- Name and address of the owner and operator.

In an accident with injuries requiring more than first aid, a formal report must be filed within 48 hours.

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Rendering Assistance

The master of a vessel is obligated by law to provide assistance to any person in danger at sea. The master is subject to a fine and/or imprisonment for failure to do so. Many boaters refer to this great tradition as "The Law of the Sea."

In U.S. waters, the Federal Boating Safety Act of 1971 contains a "Good Samaritan" provision that states:

"Any person...who gratuitously and in good faith renders assistance at the scene of a vessel collision, accident, or other casualty without objection of any person assisted, shall not be held liable for any act or omission in providing or arranging salvage, towage, medical treatment, or other assistance where the assisting person acts as a ordinary, reasonable prudent man would have acted under the same or similar circumstances."

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