United States Power Squadrons®

Come for the Boating Education . . . Stay for the FriendsSM

South Bend Sail and Power Squadron

Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan

Vessel Safety Check Program

vsc2017

What is a vessel safety check? A Vessel Safety Check is a courtesy examination of your boat (Vessel) to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by State and the Federal regulations. The Vessel Examiner is a trained specialist and is a member of the United States Power Squadrons or the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. They will also make certain recommendations and discuss certain safety issues that will make you a safer boater.

Is this an official inspection? No. This is a courtesy inspection by a trained volunteer. This is not a boarding or a law enforcement issue. No citations will be given as a result of this encounter. We will supply you with a copy of our evaluation so that you may follow some of the suggestions given. Vessels that pass will be able to display our distinctive VSC decal. This does not exempt you from law enforcement boarding, but you can be prepared to demonstrate to law enforcement that you have taken steps to make your vessel as safe as possible and in compliance with applicable laws.

What items are checked by the examiner? The examiner will cover the following items while inspecting your boat:

  1. Display of Numbers - The boat’s registration number must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat They must be plain, vertical, block characters, not less than three (3) inches high, and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers. Place state tax sticker according to State policy.

  2. Registration / Documentation - Registration or documentation papers must be on board and available. Documentation numbers must be permanently marked on a visible part of the interior structure. The documented boat’s name and hailing port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than 4 inches in height. To be documented a boat must be 5 net tons or greater.

  3. Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) - Acceptable PFDs (also known as Life Jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in good serviceable condition, and of suitable size for the each person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs shall be "readily accessible." Throwable devices shall be "immediately available." PFDs shall NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For Personal Watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn and indicate an impact rating. Boats 16 Feet or longer, must also have one Type IV.

  4. Visual Distress Signals (VDS) - Recreational boats 16 feet and over used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either 1) three day and three night pyrotechnic devices, 2) one day non-pyrotechnic device (flag) and one night non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light) or 3) a combination of 1) and 2). Recreational boats less than 16 feet on coastal waters or the Great Lakes need only carry night visual distress signals when operating from sunset to sunrise. It is recommended, but not required, that boats operating on inland waters should have some means of making a suitable day and night distress signal. The number and type of signals is best judged by considering conditions under which the boat will be operating. Alternatives to pyrotechnic devices (flares) include strobe lights, flashlights, or lanterns (night) or signal mirror, red or orange flags, or hand signals (day).

  5. Fire Extinguishers - Fire extinguishers are required if one of the following conditions exists: (1) Inboard engine(s); (2) Closed compartments that store portable fuel tanks; (3) Double bottom hulls not completely sealed or not completely filled with flotation materials (4) Closed living space (5) Closed stowage compartments that contain flammable materials or (6) Permanently installed fuel tanks NOTE: Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and verified as serviceable. The number of fire extinguishers varies depending on the length of the boat.

  6. Ventilation - Boats with gasoline engines in closed compartments, built after 1 August 1980 must have a powered ventilation system. Those built prior to that date must have natural or powered ventilation. Boats with closed fuel tank compartments built after 1 August 1978 must meet requirements by displaying a "certificate of compliance." Boats built before that date must have either natural or powered ventilation in the fuel tank compartment.

  7. Backfire Flame Control - All gasoline powered inboard/outboard or inboard motor boats must be equipped with an approved backfire flame control device that is free of dirt and oil.

  8. Sound Producing Devices / Bell - To comply with Navigation Rules and for distress signaling purposes all boats must carry a sound producing device (whistle, horn, siren, etc.) capable of a 4-second blast audible for ½ mile. *Boats larger than 65 ft. are also required to have an 8-inch or larger bell (see Navigation Rules.)

  9. Navigation Lights - All boats must be able to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and in conditions of reduced visibility. Boats 16 feet or more in length must have properly installed, working navigation lights and an all-around anchor light capable of being lit independently from the red/green/white "running" lights.

  10. Pollution Placard - Boats 26 feet and over with a machinery compartment must display an oily waste "pollution" placard.

  11. MARPOL Trash Placard - Boats 26 feet and over in length must display a "MARPOL" trash placard. Boats 40 feet and over must also display a written trash disposal plan.

  12. Marine Sanitation Devices - Any installed toilet must be a Coast Guard approved device. Overboard discharge outlets must be capable of being sealed.

  13. Navigation Rules - Boats 39.4 feet and over must have on board a current copy of the Navigation Rules.

  14. State and/ or Local Requirements - These requirements must be met before the "Vessel Safety Check" decal can be awarded. A boat must meet the requirements of the state in which it is being examined.

  15. Overall Vessel condition - As it applies to this Vessel. Including, but not limited to whether the deck is free of hazards and the bilge is clean; whether the boat is free from fire hazards, in good overall condition, and visible hull structure generally sound. The use of automobile parts on boat engines is not acceptable. The engine horsepower must not exceed that shown on the capacity plate. The electrical and fuel systems must appear to be safe. The electrical system must be protected by fuses or manual reset circuit breakers. Switches and fuse panels must be protected from rain or water spray. Wiring must be in good condition, properly installed and with no exposed areas or deteriorated insulation. Batteries must be secured and terminals covered to prevent accidental arcing. If installed, any self-circling or kill switch mechanism must be in proper working order. All PWCs require an operating self circling or kill switch mechanism. Portable fuel tanks (normally 7 gallon capacity or less) must be constructed of non-breakable material and free of corrosion and leaks. All vents must be capable of being closed. The tank must be secured and have a vapor-tight, leak-proof cap. Each permanent fuel tank must be properly ventilated. System and fuel tanks must be properly secured with no flammable materials nearby.

On-Line Virtual Vessel Safety Check - You can take a preliminary check of your vessel on-line at the Virtual Vessel Safety Check website.

Schedule a Vessel Safety Check with one of our examiners by emailing our This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Chairman with your request.