Vessel Safety Checks: Are you in compliance?

Vessel DocumentationCoast Guard Safety Alerts

May 21-27 may be National Safe Boating Week, but we encourage all boaters to boat safe year-round. Follow along this week as we provide tips to help you stay safe while out on the water.

Written by Jeff Decker, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist

Norman Vielmette shows Coast Guard Auxiliarist Corey Deck his life jackets during a vessel safety check prior to launching his boat. The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers free vessel safety checks to any boater. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Levi Read.

You’ve taken the tarp off the boat, tested the engine and are about to get underway for the first time this year. You’ve taken the time to make sure you have the proper amount of lifejackets for each passenger and looked around the boat to ensure it was ready for sea.

You cast off all lines and motor out into the channel at idle speed through the no wake area. But before you can even bring the boat up to speed, a Coast Guard boat crew turns on the blue lights and directs you to stop. As the crew draws near, you begin to wonder what you have done wrong.

The officers ask you for your boat registration, sending you into panic mode. You left it in your vehicle.

Coast Guard Auxiliarist Steve Allen conducts a free vessel safety examination at Discovery Park. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Levi Read.

Coast Guard Auxiliarist Steve Allen conducts a free vessel safety examination at Discovery Park. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Levi Read.

You ask the Coast Guardsmen why they stopped you to which a crewman replies “your state registration decal is out of date.”

You mutter to yourself “how did this happen?”

To assist you in avoiding this scenario, think about getting a vessel safety check (VSC). The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadronsmembers help boaters inspect their vessels to ensure required safety equipment is in good, serviceable condition and that they have the required amount of each specific piece of safety gear on board.

These volunteers are trained to inspect everything from fire extinguishers and lifejackets to navigation lights and ventilation systems. Not only will they inspect the equipment, they can give you a brief overview of what you should look for to determine if the equipment is in good and serviceable condition.

Getting a vessel safety check can help you stay safe while out on the water. In addition to getting your kayak checked out, you can also label it with contact information in case it ever goes missing.

Getting a vessel safety check can help you stay safe while out on the water. In addition to getting your kayak checked out, you can also label it with contact information in case it ever goes missing.

The free VSC is performed at your boat – whether in a slip, at the launch ramp, or in your driveway – by a certified vessel examiner, at a mutually-convenient time, and usually takes 30 to 45 minutes, depending upon the size of your boat.

The main purpose of the VSC is to educate boaters and help them meet the state and federal inspection guidelines for safety equipment and vessel requirements. If any safety equipment or other important components of the inspection do not meet the guidelines, you will have to fix these items and reschedule another inspection, however there’s never a penalty if you don’t pass. Instead, you are provided a written report that aids you in correcting any discrepancies noted. Often, a quick trip to the local marine store is all that is necessary to obtain missing safety items and easily pass an inspection.

Boats that pass the examination are awarded a distinctive VSC decal that alerts the Coast Guard, Harbor Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies that your boat was found to be in full compliance with all federal and state boating laws. Frequently, such agencies will not detain or board boats displaying a current-year decal that are otherwise operating safely.

Boat smart and have a VSC done sooner than later. You’ll be glad you did!

By having a vessel safety check, you can rest easy knowing that if something goes wrong, you will be prepared.

By having a vessel safety check, you can rest easy knowing that if something goes wrong, you will be prepared.