Boating Equipment

"Coast Guard approved equipment" is equipment which has been approved by the Commandant of the U. S. Coast Guard and has been determined to be in compliance with U. S. Coast Guard specifications and regulations relating to the material, construction and performance of such equipment.

Personal Flotation Devices
Floatation Devices

All children 12 years of age and younger are required to wear a Coast Guard approved PFD while on the open deck of a recreational boat except when anchored, moored, or aground. There are four basic things you should keep in mind about your personal flotation devices.

First, you must have one wearable device of the appropriate size on board for each person in the boat or each person being towed. (This applies to rowboats, sailboats, canoes and rafts as well as motorboats.)

Second, each device must be kept readily accessible. They should not be hidden below deck or stored in plastic bags. They should be worn or at least be close at hand where they can be reached quickly in an emergency.

Third, each device must be Coast Guard approved and bear the approval stamp and number.

Fourth, each device must be in good condition and be of the appropriate size for the person intended to wear it. The straps must be firmly affixed, there should be no rips, tears or holes which will affect the operating efficiency of the device, and there should be no leaks in the plastic bags containing the flotation material (this can be checked by squeezing each bag and listening for escaping air.)

State and Federal Flotation Device Regulations

All boats, including canoes and kayaks, must be equipped with one wearable personal flotation device for each person on board or for each person being towed on water skis, etc.

Boats 16 feet in length or over must also be equipped with one Type IV (throwable) PFD per boat in case someone falls overboard.

Inflatable Flotation Devices
There are a wide variety of inflatable life jackets available. To be accepted as one of the required life jackets on board, the device must have a Coast Guard approval stamp on it. If it is approved as a Type V, it must be worn to be accepted. Inflatable devices of any kind are not acceptable for persons less than 16 years old or for personal watercraft operation.

Ski Belts
These are not on the approved list of flotation devices and are not recommended for your safety. A ski belt may not be counted as one of the required pieces of equipment on board any boat. A ski belt may be worn while skiing but an approved flotation device for the skier must be on the towing boat.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) are classified by "Types" indicated below:

  • Type I: Has the greatest required buoyancy and is designed to turn most unconscious persons in the water from a face down position to a vertical or slightly backward position. The Type I PFD provides the greatest protection to its wearer and is most effective for all waters.
  • Type II: A wearable device designed to turn its wearer in a vertical or slightly backward position in the water. The turning action is not as pronounced as with a Type I, and the device will not turn as many persons under the same conditions as the Type I.
  • Type III: A wearable device designed so the wearers can place themselves in a vertical or slightly backward position. While the Type III has the same buoyancy as the Type II PFD, it has a little or no turning ability. A Type III comes in a variety of styles, colors and sizes. Many are designed to be particularly useful when water skiing, sailing, hunting, fishing or engaging in other water sports. Several of this type will also provide increased hypothermia protection.
  • Type IV: A device designed to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped and held by the user until rescued. It is not designed to be worn. The most common Type IV devices are a buoyant cushion and a ring buoy.
  • Type V: Any PFD approved for restricted use. Approved flotation devices which are partially or totally inflatable must be worn to be accepted as a legal device.

Acceptable flotation devices must meet the following conditions:

  • They must bear the Coast Guard approved label
  • They must be in good and serviceable condition
  • They must be an appropriate size for the person who intends to wear it
  • Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible
  • Throwable devices must be immediately available for use.
Fire Extinguishers

Fire Extinguishers must be carried on all motorboats which have any of the following conditions:

Boats are 26 feet or longer, transport passengers for hire, have one or more of the following:

  • Inboard engines
  • Closed compartments under thwarts and seats where portable fuel tanks may be stored
  • Double bottoms not sealed to the hull or which are not completely filled with flotation material
  • Closed living spaces
  • Closed storage compartments where combustible or flammable material is placed

Permanently installed fuel tanks. These are defined as:

Tanks which require the removal of screws or bolts to remove them from the boat.
Tanks that when filled cannot be easily or readily handled by one person on board.
Each fire extinguisher is classified by letter and Roman numeral according to the type of fire it will extinguish, and the size of the extinguisher.

The "letter" indicates the Type of fire:

  • A - Fires of ordinary combustible materials
  • B - Gasoline, oil and grease fires
  • C - Electrical fires

Extinguishers approved for motorboats are hand portable, of either B-I or B-II classification for gasoline, oil and grease fires.

Coast Guard Classes B-I B-II
U.L. Listing 5B 6B
Foam (gallons) 1-1/4 2-1/2
Carbon Dioxide (lbs) 4 15
Dry Chemicals (lbs) 2 10
Halon (lbs) 2-1/2  

Dry chemical fire extinguishers without gauges or indicating devices must be weighed and tagged every six months.

Check extinguishers regularly to be sure that gauges are free and showing fully charged and nozzle is clear.

Number of Fire Extinguishers Needed:

  • Vessels under 26 feet in length: If the boat meets any of the conditions which require an extinguisher, then a minimum of one B-I extinguisher must be on board.
  • Vessels 26 feet to under 40 feet in length: one B-II or two B-I extinguishers are required.
  • Vessels 40 feet to under 65 feet in length: Three B-I or one B-II and one B-I extinguisher are required.

A permanently installed fire extinguisher in an engine compartment may be substituted for one B-I extinguisher on any class of vessel.

Read labels on fire extinguishers; the extinguisher must say U. S. Coast Guard approved or U. L. listed for marine use.

Flame Arresters

Inboard mounted gasoline engines installed in a motorboat or motor vessel after April 25, 1940, must have a flame arrester fitted to the carburetor for backfire flame control.


  • A vessel which has an attachment to the carburetor, or has the engine located so that flames caused by engine backfires, will be dispersed outside the vessel so neither the vessel nor the persons on board are endangered.
  • A vessel whose air and fuel intake system bears a Coast Guard approved label stating that such a system is safe without a flame arrester.

Vessels with closed gasoline engine compartments must be ventilated. Boats built after July 31, 1980, must be ventilated by a powered exhaust blower system. Boats built before that date must have at least one intake and one exhaust duct fitted with cowls for the removal of explosive fumes. The intake duct should be vented from outside the boat to midway of the compartment or to a level below the carburetor air intake. The exhaust duct should be vented from the lower portion of the engine compartment to the outside of the boat.

Vessels with enclosed fuel tank compartments must be ventilated like the description above. An exception is made if the boat meets the following requirements:

  • Built after July 31, 1978.
  • Electrical components within the compartment are ignition proofed.
  • The tank is vented to the outside of the boat.
Sound Signaling Devices

Vessels less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) are not specifically required to carry a whistle, horn or bell but they must have some means of making an "efficient sound signal."

Vessels over 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) are required to carry a bell and a powered whistle or horn.

Visual Distress Signals

Visual distress signals are not required for boaters using Tennessee waters. They are desirable to have on any boat but are only required for boats using coastal waters and the Great Lakes. Boaters using those waters should obtain the exact requirements based on the length of their boat and whether they will be operating at night.

Marine Sanitation Devices

Marine sanitation device laws apply to boats with installed heads (commodes). Sanitation devices are classified by types. Types I & II treat sewage and then discharge it into the water. A Type III is a holding tank which retains the waste until it is pumped out at a marina or other facility. The following is a summary of the M.S.D. laws:

  • Discharging untreated sewage into public water is prohibited. It is illegal to use a vessel which is capable of discharging untreated sewage.
  • Public waters are classified as either discharge (capable of accepting treated sewage) or no discharge (waste must be retained in a holding tank until properly removed).
  • Discharge into public waters is restricted to a Type I or II U.S. Coast Guard approved marine sanitation device on those waters classified as discharge.
  • Marinas and docks operating on public water must provide a sewage removal service.
Discharge Reservoirs No Discharge Reservoirs
Barkley Beech River Lakes
Caulderwood Boone
Cheatham Center Hill
Chickamauga Cherokee
Cordell Hull Chilhowee
Cumberland River Dale Hollow
Ft. Loudon Douglas
Kentucky Ft. Patrick Henry
McKellar Great Falls
Melton Hill J. Percy Priest
Mississippi River Lake Graham
Nickajack Nolichucky
Old Hickory Normandy
Pickwick Norris
Reelfoot Ocoee 1,2,3
South Holston Tims Ford
Tellico Watauga
Tennessee River Wilbur
Watts Barr Woods


Marine Pollution Placards

Federal law requires that all vessels 26 feet and over must display one or more pollution placards (signs) in a prominent location so that it can be read by the crew and passengers.

The placard must:

  • Be at least 9" wide x 4" high.
  • State that discharge of plastic or garbage mixed with plastic into any waters is prohibited.
  • State that discharge of all garbage is prohibited in the navigable waters of the United States and, in all other waters, within three nautical miles of the nearest land.