What Factor Determines A Boat’s Required Equipment?

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What Factor Determines A Boat’s Required Equipment?

Let’s face it – one of the most challenging parts of any boating trip is deciding what equipment to bring on board.

Under federal and state law, boats are required to carry certain equipment in order to meet minimum U.S. Coast Guard requirements. This usually includes safety gear, sanitation devices, placards, and other items.

We get it – it’s a lot to consider, especially if you’re new to the game.

So if you’re planning to join the millions of recreation boaters in the US, there’s one important question you need to ask before you stock your boat: what factor determines a boat’s required equipment?

What is the Required Equipment for a Boat?

It all boils down to one main factor: Boat Length.

A boat’s length dictates three important considerations:

  1. What equipment to bring on board
  2. The number of equipment to bring on board
  3. Why you need to bring that equipment on board

Why Boat Length Matters

Obviously, a longer boat means more storage space – which in turn, means more equipment required on board. But it’s more complicated than that.

The required equipment to meet minimum safety standards all depends on the length of your boat. While you’re out on the water, game wardens can stop you at any time to check whether your boat has all the required equipment.

To put it simply – boat length determines whether your vessel’s equipment complies with state regulations and passes safety inspections.

To show you just how important that is, the US Coast Guard classifies recreational vessels into different classes based on boat length:

  • Class A – vessels less than 16 feet in length
  • Class I – vessels from 16 feet to less than 26 feet in length
  • Class II – vessels more than 26 feet but less than 40 feet in length
  • Class III – vessels more than 40 feet but less than 65 feet in length

Each class differs on what kind of equipment you should bring on board, so make sure you understand how long your vessel is before stocking up.

For a full list of all equipment required for each class based on length, refer to the last portion of this article.

Measuring Boat Length

Boat length – properly termed as Length Overall – generally refers to the length of the hull excluding attachments.

To find out a boat’s length, measure along its center line starting from the tip of the bow (front of the boat) to the stern (rear of the boat).

This means that swim platforms, wakeboard towers and other hull attachments are not included when measuring boat length.

Other Factors that Determine a Boat’s Required Equipment

Apart from boat length, there are a few other factors to take into consideration when deciding what equipment to bring on board:

1. Storage Capacity

The foremost area to consider is the size of the hull, since most of the equipment will be stored on the main deck.

The good news is: most required safety equipment won’t take up too much space. For example, life jackets are usually stored underneath boat seats, while type IV floatation devices are typically attached to the side of the boat.

For equipment like spare lines and repair tools, most sailing vessels come equipped with a lazarette – a storage locker for gear and equipment near the cockpit. It is typically found below the weather deck and accessed through a cargo hatch.

2. Maximum Weight Allowed

The equipment you should bring on board also depends on the maximum amount of weight that your boat can safely handle.

Most state laws require that a capacity plate be placed on recreational watercrafts, particularly on boats smaller than 20 feet.

This plate lists the boat’s capacity in terms of number of persons and pounds that the boat can safely hold. But for purposes of staying within the weight limit for equipment, the most important number is the amount of pounds.

3. Length of Your Trip

If you’re planning to be out on the water for extended periods of time, it’s a good idea to always carry a simple set of tools and other repair equipment to fix emergency mechanical problems – at least enough for you to get back to the dock.

For longer boating trips, your pre-departure checklist should also include extra provisions for consumption, like food and water.

4. Forecasted Weather Conditions

It’s an important factor to take in especially in bad or choppy weather, when an overloaded boat is more likely to being swamped or even capsized.

If you’re likely to run into rough weather, it’s always a good idea to double up on the emergency equipment you might need, like PFDs and sound signaling devices.

5. Boating Location

Boats that head out into the ocean to go fishing have a different set of required equipment than a boat on a lake or other calm, inland waterways.

For instance, the US Coast Guard requires the use of a visual distress signal for boats on the high seas and coastal waters only.

6. Type of Boat

As a general rule, motorized boats are required to have more equipment than non-motorized ones.

Kayaks, for instance, are required to carry only life jackets while boats that are at least 16 feet require both a life jacket and a type IV pfd.

7. Fuel Tank Weight and Consumption

Running out of fuel in the middle of a boating trip has been cited as the major cause of towing in the past year.

Understanding your vessel’s tank weight and fuel burn will help you estimate the number of extra gallons of gas to bring on board.

If in doubt, remember the golden rule for fuel consumption – a third of your fuel to get out, a third to return back and a third to keep as reserve.

Required vs. Recommended Equipment

Boating equipment generally falls into two main groups:

  1. Required Equipment
  2. Recommended Equipment

Required Equipment refers to equipment necessary to meet minimum safety standards set by federal and state laws. These are an absolute must to have on board and are subject to inspection by game wardens.

Recommended Equipment, on the other hand, refers to equipment that isn’t mandatory to bring on board, but are still highly encouraged to ensure maximum safety while on the water.

Equipment Required by Law

All equipment needs to be “U.S. Coast Guard Approved” – meaning it means the U.S. Coast Guard specifications and standards for performance and construction.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Regulations, here is everything you need to keep on board:

1. Life Jackets

All boats, regardless of length, are required to carry one wearable life jacket for each person on board. Thus, the number of life jackets should be the same as the number of persons.

Life jackets must be placed in an area where they are readily accessible; not stowed away in plastic bags or closed compartments.

2. Type IV PFD

All vessels 16 feet or longer are required to bring, in addition to life jackets, a Type IV PFD or throwable floatation device. It should be on the main deck within arm’s reach or other easily reached location.

This requirement does not apply to canoes and kayaks.

3. Fire Extinguishers

Marine-type fire extinguishers are required on boats where there is a risk of fire arising from fuel.

To be classified as US Coast Guard approved, they must be hand-portable and have either a B-I or B-II classification. Like PFDs, it must be placed in a readily accessible location like near the steering wheel.

4. Visual Distress Signals

Visual Distress Signals are an important equipment to have on board so you can easily signal other boaters and law enforcement officers when you are in need of assistance. These come in three main types:

  • Pyrotechnic flares – these need to be in working condition and not expired in order to meet standard requirements. Federal regulations require a minimum of 3 signals for day use and another 3 for night use.

  • Electronic Signaling Equipment – produces a high-intensity white light to signal for help. Unlike flares, these devices do not make use of fire and typically last longer. But they are only available for nighttime use.

  • Orange Distress Flag – must be attached to a paddle or boat hook, or flown from a mast in order to be visible. They are available for day time use only.

It’s important to remember that not all boats are required to bring Visual Distress Signals. Only vessels operating high seas, coastal waters, and territorial seas are required to have them on board.

5. Sound Producing Devices

Boats 40 feet or shorter are required to carry either an athletic whistle or handheld horn that is capable of producing a signal that can be heard from half a mile away.

Additionally, sound signals are required during meeting, crossing, and overtaking situations, and while at anchor.

6. Pollution Regulation Placards

Vessels 26 feet or longer are required to display a placard in a prominent location, for the purpose of notifying the crew and passengers of garbage discharge restrictions.

7. Marine Sanitation Devices

All boats that have installed toilet facilities are required to have an operable marine sanitation device on board. This may either be a Type I and II (flow through device) or a Type III (holding tank).

8. Ventilation System

This is required only for boats that use gasoline for electric generation, mechanical power, or propulsion.

To meet minimum safety standards, the system must have a supply opening and exhaust opening into either another ventilated compartment or to the atmosphere.

Recommended Equipment and Supplies

While the law requires certain equipment that you should bring on board, it doesn’t cover everything that you might need for your journey.

Aside from the mandatory safety equipment, the U.S. Coast Guard also recommends preparing a pre-departure checklist that may include the following:

1. First Aid Kit

Accidents can happen anytime you’re out on the water.

To make sure you’re prepared for common emergencies, it’s a good idea to always keep a first aid kit on hand to treat cuts, scrapes, minor injuries and even seasickness.

Some of the common items to include in your kit are:

  • Antiseptic
  • Waterproof adhesive bandages
  • Cold medications
  • Sterile gauze
  • Anti-nausea pills
  • Tweezers and scissors
  • Prescription medications for longer trips

2. Basic Tools

Being far from shore means you have to be prepared for minor emergencies – including mechanical problems.

This is why keeping basic tools on board is a must. Items you should bring include the basics: an adjustable wrench, screwdrivers, and a pair of pliers.

3. VHF Radio

A VHF radio will help keep you in contact with the harbor as well as nearby boaters.

It comes especially handy when in open water and cell phones tend to lose service. It’s also a good way to receive notifications from the US Coast Guard of any military operations in the area.

4. Anchor and Line

An anchor and line comes in handy when in offshore waters because it helps prevent your boat from drifting too far due to strong currents. It also helps you maintain your position while waiting for emergency assistance.

5. Dock Lines

Any boating journey will benefit a lot from bringing a few extra ropes.

The additional lines may be used not just for towing and docking, but even in emergency overboard situations.

6. Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

If your usual boating route is off coast and in open water, then a EPIRB will make an excellent investment.

This device automatically transmits a distress call when it comes in contact with water. Federal laws require EPIRBs to be registered so it’s easy for law enforcement to track your location and reach your emergency contact.

7. Headlamps or navigation lights

Boats that leave the dock after sunset should be fully equipped with navigation lights.

They come in handy even in the daytime when there is low visibility due to fog or heavy rain.

List of U.S. Coast Guard Required Equipment Based on Boat Length

Because boat length determines a boat’s required equipment, you can find the range that your boat belongs to below to help you determine what safety gear you are required by law to carry on board:

Class A – vessels less than 16 feet in length

  • Personal Floatation Device (life jackets for each person on board)
  • Fire Extinguisher (Type B-I)
  • Visual Distress Signals
  • Sound Producing Devices
  • Marine Sanitation Device (if vessel has installed toilet facilities)
  • Backfire Flame Arrestor
  • Ventilation

Class I – vessels from 16 feet to less than 26 feet in length

  • Personal Floatation Device (life jackets for each person on board and 1 Type IV floatation device)
  • Fire Extinguisher (Type B-I)
  • Visual Distress Signals (minimum of three-day and three-night use)
  • Sound Producing Devices
  • Marine Sanitation Device (if vessel has installed toilet facilities)
  • Backfire Flame Arrestor
  • Ventilation

Class II – vessels more than 26 feet but less than 40 feet in length

  • Personal Floatation Device (life jackets for each person on board and 1 Type IV floatation device)
  • Fire Extinguishers (One type B-II or two type B-I)
  • Visual Distress Signals (minimum of three-day and three-night use)
  • Sound Producing Devices
  • Marine Sanitation Device (if vessel has installed toilet facilities)
  • Pollution Regulation Placards (oil discharge and waste discharge)
  • Backfire Flame Arrestor
  • Ventilation

Class III – vessels more than 40 feet but less than 65 feet in length

  • Personal Floatation Device (life jackets for each person on board and 1 Type IV floatation device)
  • Fire Extinguishers (One type B-II and one type B-I, or three B-I)
  • Visual Distress Signals (minimum of three-day and three-night use)
  • Sound Producing Devices
  • Marine Sanitation Device (if the vessel has installed toilet facilities)
  • Pollution Regulation Placards (oil discharge and waste discharge)
  • Backfire Flame Arrestor
  • Ventilation

The Bottomline

Before you ship off from shore, always factor in your boat’s length to determine the equipment you need on board in order to meet the minimum safety standards required by law.

Knowing what equipment to bring is essential to making the most of your boating journey. That way, you can spend more time on the water and less time packing for your trip.