USCG Regulations

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Know the regulations and make sure you're in compliance. Be sure to check state regs, too!Do you know all of the Coast Guard requirements that apply to your boat?

  • How many and what type of life jackets?
  • Do you need flares? What type and how many?
  • Fire extinguishers: size, type and number?
  • Lights and sound devices
  • Discharge restrictions
  • Anything else?

Dave and I are what I’d call “basically familiar” with the federal requirements, but we wanted to make sure that we’re in compliance before we leave the dock this fall. I came across a great downloadable brochure from the Coast Guard with all the requirements nicely laid out along with a bunch of safety information.


These are the regs for recreational boats, not commercial. If you are taking paying customers or engaging in certain other commercial activity, you need to consult the commercial regulations.

Additional state or local laws may apply, as may special federal laws in some areas.

This links directly to the Coast Guard site, so the brochure should be the most recent one published.

If the brochure does not show below (some browsers have problems), click here to view.  Right-click this link to download (PDF, 2.8 mb)

Print Friendly
How to Copy

Do You Find The Boat Galley Useful?

You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site or clicking below. No extra cost to you!



  1. Here are the regulations regarding equipment to have on board from our home state, Tasmania, Australia

  2. thanks for this information .. just a question .. we are a Canadian registered boat , and are up to date with our requirements … are these requirements for U.S.A. registered boats only ??

    • Good question. As I read it, some apply to US-registered boats and some apply to any boat in US waters. I can’t find a specific list of what’s required for foreign boats online (or maybe I should say that the ones I find are for cargo ships, cruise ships, ferries, etc.), but you could call the USCG at (202) 372-1062 and see what they say.

    • PS. If you do call, please post what you’re told. I’m sure there are plenty of other cruisers who would like to know. I’m still looking for more info, but haven’t found it yet.

  3. It is a good idea to carry the rules with you. Particularly for the state through which you are traveling. We know three boats who were going to be cited in a particular southern state, and when they pulled out the rules the officers involved were incorrect and the citation was torn up.

  4. Picked up the same brochure while at West Marine. We are set!!

  5. One issue we heard is that the life jackets that we buy in Canada while approved by Canadian coast guard are not acceptable to the USCG. Several boaters we spoke to have some life jackets that they bought in US as well. Seems silly to me

    • Interesting — would never have thought of that. Sometimes there is just no logical sense to the regulations between countries. Such as why dog food that was made in the US and imported to a Mexican store can’t be brought back into the US — yep, the bag was confiscated by US customs at the airport.

    • Canada is the same with dog food! So stupid. Can’t bring any dog food that contains beef into Canada even with receipt showing it was bought in Canada! We keep our boat in Point Roberts which is in US but then go to Canadian gulf islands. Makes provisioning challenging

  6. Diane Craig says:

    Every year we make a phone call or send an email to the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. They will do a free Vessel Safety Check of your boat where ever it is located. They came to our house this year since that is where the boat was and did the safety check. They will go over rules and regulations. Check all of your equipment and if you pass they place a sticker on the side of your boat that is good for one year. Takes the guess work out of it and gives you some peace of mind. It also lets other authorities, not just the Coast Guard, know that you are following State and Federal laws. Just go to

  7. Anyone know where to get rid of expired flares? Coast Guard says to keep them on your boat but we’re getting quite a collection

Add Your Thoughts