Know the regulations and make sure you're in compliance. Be sure to check state regs, too!

USCG Regulations

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)

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  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 13 June 2014 Reply

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

  • Yvonne McTeer
    Posted at 13 June 2014 Reply

    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 ??

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 13 June 2014 Reply

      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.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 13 June 2014 Reply

      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.

  • Chris
    Posted at 13 June 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Sandy Myers Tysseland
    Posted at 13 June 2014 Reply

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

  • Sue Peck
    Posted at 13 June 2014 Reply

    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

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 13 June 2014 Reply

      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.

    • Sue Peck
      Posted at 14 June 2014 Reply

      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

  • Diane Craig
    Posted at 17 June 2014 Reply

    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

  • Cheryl Bular
    Posted at 01 July 2016 Reply

    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

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 01 July 2016 Reply

      Somefire departments will take them, but it’s a real problem for many of us.

  • Wendy Nichols
    Posted at 01 October 2017 Reply

    Excellent information. We are a British boat in US waters and willingly allowed a US Coastguard team on board to check we complied with all the regulations. They were impressed and said we went above and beyond. My father was in the ’79 Fastnet end always said – what price safety.

  • Ronald Spinks
    Posted at 04 October 2017 Reply

    Remember dad on the worst sea over Britain ron spinks

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