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Required Equipment for Tennessee Boaters

Safe Boat Operation begins by making sure your boat and required equipment are together and in good working order before you get out on the water. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadron have teamed up to provide a free boat safety check for any recreational boat.

Members from either team are available to verify all safety equipment is on board and in good working condition. You can qualify for a safety decal if you meet certain additional requirements. Be sure to visit the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary website for additional details.

Tennessee's minimum requirements for specific equipment and documents to carry on board while the vessel is in use include:

Your Tennessee Boater's Certificate / Card (Only for boaters born after January 1, 1989)

Certificate of Registration Number (To deter theft, don't leave it on the boat)

Personal Flotation Devices: Coast Guard approved Type I, II and III in appropriate sizes for all on board.

PFDs Type IV - Cushions & Life Ring Buoys are only required to be aboard boats longer than 16 feet.

PFDs Type V - Inflatable life jackets are not for use by children or Personal Watercraft riders.

Ignition Safety Switch must be installed on all PWCs

Type B-1 Fire Extinguisher for boats less than 26' long. (Requirements differ for boats over 25' 11”)

Flame Arrestor on each carburetor (For gas-powered motors excluding outboards)

Ventilation System – at least 2 ventilation ducts fitted with cowls must be properly installed

Muffler – All engines must have a working muffler. Boat noise must not prevent sound signals from being heard. In Tennessee, you may not exceed 85 decibels within 50 feet or more.

Horn, Whistle Or Bell – Vessels over 39' 4" are required to carry all three emergency sound devices. You must be able to produce sounds at 4 - 6 second intervals that must be heard at least 1 ˝ miles away.

Daytime Visual Distress Signals for boats over 25' 11” (Pyrotechnic devices and an orange flag)

Diver Down Flags (Boaters must not get within 100 feet of a Diver Down flag)

Night Time Visual Distress Signals (Flares, meteors, electric lights)

Navigation Lights (Required to be used from sunset to sunrise and in low visibility)

VHF Radio is a good thing to have on board even though it is not required.

Personal Flotation devices (PFDs)

Enough can not be said about the importance of wearing life jackets. Most boating fatalities are the result of victims not wearing a life jacket. Federal law requires every boat to be equipped with an adequate supply of good quality Coast Guard approved life jackets available in sizes that fit every passenger and crew member properly. All boats in Tennessee, including canoes and kayaks, must be equipped with one wearable personal flotation device for each person on board.

Unless your boat is less than 16’ long, you must carry at least one Type IV (throw-able) PFD in case someone falls overboard.

Tennessee's Life Jacket regulations are state-specific regarding when, where and who is required by law to wear a Life Jacket:

  • All children under 12 years old must wear a life jacket while in the open portion of a moving boat on Tennessee waters.
  • Anyone being towed on skis, a tube, wake board or the like.
  • Anyone riding on a Personal Watercraft (PWC) and
  • A U. S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device must be worn by each person on board vessels being operated within specifically marked areas below any dam.

In addition to abiding the law, PFDs should ALWAYS be worn by:

  • Children of all ages
  • Windsurfers
  • Everyone on the boat during rough weather
  • Everyone on the boat during heavy water traffic
  • Anyone who cannot swim
  • You! when you're boating alone