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Required Equipment for Virginia 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 will provide a free boat safety check for any recreational boat.

Both programs will verify all safety equipment is on board and in good working condition. You can qualify for a safety decal if you meet certain requirements.Visit U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron websites for additional details.

Most waters in Virginia are considered to be federal waters and all federal boating laws apply. Virginia's minimum requirements for specific equipment and documents to carry on board while the vessel is in use include:

Your Virginia Boater's Certificate / Card (Only for boaters as required by Virginia's phase in toward all boaters being required to carry a boater's card by 2016.)

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 26 ' 11".

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)

Horn, Whistle Or Bell Must be audible for 1 mile.

Daytime Visual Distress Signals for boats over 26' 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 are required by all vessels operating on coastal waters at night.)

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

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.

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

  • All children under 13 years old must wear a life jacket while in the open portion of a boat on Virginia waters.
  • Anyone being towed on skis, a tube, wake board or the like.
  • Anyone riding on a Personal Watercraft (PWC) and
  • Everyone aboard when boating within 800 feet below a hydro-electric dam and/or navigational lock and 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