Boater’s Best Deal: Free Vessel Safety Checks
When it comes to boating, there’s usually a cost. Yet amidst the bills and expenses, there’s a boating freebie available to every vessel owner. This no-cost perk may save lives, prevent injuries, reduce risks, and potentially prevent costly fines.
This great-sounding deal is a Vessel Safety Check (VSC), a no-cost, no-risk way to have the equipment and personal protection gear on our watercraft checked to make sure it complies with all applicable standards. Administered by members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadrons® and available to operators of boats, paddleboards, canoes, kayaks, and jet skis, a VSC takes about 30 minutes.
During a VSC, held at your vessel’s location, you’ll interact with a knowledgeable examiner. He or she ensures that all necessary safety equipment required to pass a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) inspection is aboard, up-to-date, and in proper working condition.
Along with the exam, the examiner, an experienced and knowledgeable boater, will share safety tips and suggestions. It’s a great time to ask questions about local waters, operation of equipment, and even “rehearse” placing a VHF radio call for assistance.
Boaters may avoid a VSC because they fear citations. However, the exam is not considered an official boarding, so no authorities are notified if the vessel fails. Instead, the owner receives a personalized copy of the safety check and an evaluation of what’s necessary to pass next time.
To increase the odds of passing an annual VSC, there are web pages and resources available to prepare you:
- Public Vessel Safety Check Questions & Answers
- Online Virtual Vessel Safety Check
- Paddlecraft-specific Virtual Vessel Safety Check
- Vessel Safety Check Manual
Once you’re confident your vessel is in compliance, arrange for an in-person VSC by contacting your local Auxiliary or Power Squadron, or schedule an exam via safetyseal.net/GetVSC/.
Vessels passing the VSC receive a distinctive decal that alerts approaching law enforcement that the minimum safety standards have been met. It doesn’t prevent a boarding, but skippers know they won’t receive costly citations for non-compliant items covered by a VSC.
Don’t Gamble with Boat Safety
By William C. Winslow
As boating season begins, responsible boaters seek out a free vessel safety check from state and local marine law enforcement officers. Up to 25 percent fail across the country, which means without correction, those boat owners are putting themselves and others at risk.
The number one reason for failure is “up-to-date flares,” reports Andrew Thurman, a veteran vessel safety check officer with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary (USCGAux). “All flares, for craft requiring them, have an expiration date. It isn’t that boats owners are deliberately negligent,” says Thurman, “but flares are like spare tires. They are out of sight until you need them and then, with an under-inflated tire or expired flare, you’re in trouble when an emergency arises.”
U.S. Coast Guard regulations are very explicit in the type and number of life jackets to have onboard. Yet according to Anthony Carter, another USCGAux examiner, “An inadequate number of life jackets” also makes the failure list. “I don’t think it’s willful, but more like carelessness or inexperience in operating a boat,” he explains.
Other reasons a boat may fail a vessel safety check:
- Incorrect display of hull registration numbers.
- Missing ownership, insurance, and registration paperwork.
- Expired fire extinguishers.
- No backfire flame control for inboard gas-powered boats.
- Missing sound producing devices (e.g. a horn or bell).
- Navigation lights missing, not the proper type, and/or incorrectly displayed.
- Overall vessel condition not shipshape (e.g. dirty bilges with standing water).
- Fuel in bilge or fuel leak.
- Inadequate or blocked ventilation.
Complete list here: www.safetyseal.net/vsc_stats.asp