The Vessel Safety Check and the Boarding Officer

As the Coast Guard and other Law Enforcement Groups step up their on the water equipment checks having the proper safety equipment becomes more important to prevent being cited for improper equipment.  Knowing that your boat meets the proper State and Federal safety equipment rules is a great feeling if a Law Enforcement Vessel approaches, it’s also a great way to tell your crew you care about their safety.

A current VSC sticker tells anyone that approaches your boat that on at least one day this year your boat met the applicable State and Federal safety standards.  A VSC is another set of eyes taking a look at your boat from a safety standards view point.

A Vessel Safety Check is FREE and is preformed by specially trained US Coast Coast Guard Auxiliary and US Power Squadron Members.  Boats that are eligible for a VSC are under 65 feet in length and are generally recreational type vessels.  The VSC must be requested by the owner and the owner or owners representative must be present during the VSC.

A commonly ask question is: “If I have a Vessel Safety Check sticker on my boat, will that stop the Coast Guard from boarding us or our boat being checked at the launch ramp?” Answer: No,  however if you are boarded having the sticker will go a long ways to making any boarding a “catch and release” event.  This is where the boarding officer or officers at a boat launch ramp do an abbreviated check on a few items, proper lifejackets, vessel not overloaded, proper fire extinguisher’s, sober driver, no hazardous conditions and a few other items.

A VSC is intended to inspect for compliance to applicable State and Federal rules and general seaworthiness of a vessel.  A VSC is also a chance for a boat owner to ask questions about boating safety, the VSC is a mix of checking for compliance to the rules and education of the vessel owner.

A few notes on what a VSC is NOT, it is not an enforcement action, if your vessel does not pass the VSC, you will be advised on why but no record will be kept or any Law Enforcement organization be notified.  A VSC is not a Marine Survey.   A VSC is not intended to ferret out spots of dry rot not readily apparent to the eye.  A Vessel Examiner WILL check for problems that are readily apparent to the eye such as deteriorated fittings, wasted fittings, defective hoses, deteriorated connections, loosened planking or cracked ribs.  The VE is not trained as a Marine Surveyor and will not disassemble a vessel or tap for rot so it is possible for a vessel to have deficiencies that fall outside the ability of the VE to detect them.

A few common reasons boats fail a Vessel Safety Check:

  • Outdated Flares
  • Lights, Burned out, improper display, etc.
  • Non-Standard PFD’s (Lifejackets), No Coast Guard certification number (missing or worn off)
  • Improper placement and style (color) of the WN numbers (State Registration Numbers).
  • Unsecured head valves

A couple of tales from the trenches:

The boat owner had plenty of life jackets for the boat size, all properly stored.  He’d gotten a hell of a good price at the boat store for them, too.  Only problem – not a single one had a USCG approval number – the boat store was across the border somewhere in Canada and the life jackets were all Canadian.

Second interesting reason – the boat was immaculate, the owner had a well thumbed copy of the Federal Reqs (and a copy of the VE inspection form) and had done the inspection himself before he called me.  It was an easy quick VE until I checked the registration against the WN numbers on the side of the boat.  NO MATCH  He had bought the boat a couple of years back and kept the older numbers.  The state changed the numbers when they sent him the new registration.  A week later, after he had new numbers on the side, we had one of the shortest VEs on record resulting in a sticker.

Thanks to Garry B. for the trench tales.

Request a FREE Vessel Safety Check or more information including a “virtual safety check”, and information about Boating Safety Classes in the Northwest from the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

My Vessel is located in the Ballard, Crown Hill, Shilshole, Salmon Bay, Magnolia, or Elliot Bay Marina area and I would like a Free Vessel Safety Check from Flotilla 21!

Download a copy of the inspection form (ANSC-7012) used by the Vessel Safety Examiner (PDF).

Thanks for your interest in and support of boating safety!


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