When Operating on Federally Controlled Waters

All vessels on federally controlled waters, including PWCs, must have a sound producing device that emits an efficient sound capable of being heard at least one-half mile away. This includes a whistle, horn or bell.

Boaters should also be aware that large commercial vessels may sound their horns to signal to boaters to move out of the main shipping channel.

Vessel Safety Equipment

When operating on federally controlled waters, including lakes, rivers, streams and estuaries, your vessel must be equipped with certain boating safety equipment. The equipment required depends on where you’re going and the size of your vessel.

TPWD Game Wardens and marine law enforcement officers will stop, board and inspect your boat to make sure that you have the necessary boating equipment onboard. If you don’t have the required equipment onboard, you may be stopped and cited.

All vessels must carry USCG-approved visual distress signals for day and nighttime use. Pyrotechnic VDSs are either flares or smoke signals, with combination day/night signals counting toward both requirements.

Every person on board a recreational motorboat must wear a Coast Guard-approved Type I, II or III personal flotation device that fits them properly. In addition, one throwable floatation device (Type IV) like a ring must be available for each person on board. Navigation lights must be displayed on all boats between sunset and sunrise and during times of restricted visibility.

Personal Flotation Devices

Under federal law, each vessel 16 feet or longer must carry one USCG-approved wearable personal flotation device (PFD) for each person on board and, if needed, one USCG-approved throwable device. Two commenters suggested eliminating the distinction between wearable and throwable PFDs, but the Coast Guard believes that the separation is necessary as these types of devices are evaluated to different standards, serve different purposes and meet different carriage requirements.

A Type II PFD, or buoyancy aid, is ideal for calm inland water where there is a good chance of quick rescue and offers freedom of movement and comfort while wearing. It can be inherently or manually inflated. Often, this is what people who fish from boats or engage in other recreational water activities choose as it can be worn continuously. A Type IV PFD, or throwable flotation device, includes boat cushions and life rings that are designed to be thrown to conscious people in distress.

Life Jackets

84 percent of boating-related drowning victims were not wearing their life jackets. Make sure you have Coast Guard-approved wearable life jackets on board for each person who will be on your vessel.

Inflatable life jackets, or PFDs, are gaining in popularity with many boaters because they are more comfortable and easy to put on than older styles. You can find these in a variety of colors and patterns to help you be seen by other boaters.

Legacy Type III and equivalent Level 70 PFDs are still available, but you may want to consider an inflatable. When choosing a life jacket, look for a model that fits well and is appropriate for the type of water activities you plan to do. Look for the label that says ‘Coast Guard-approved’ and be sure that all straps, zippers and buckles are in good condition. Also, check that the lanyard can be easily retrieved from the life jacket. Choose a PFD with a floatation rating that is appropriate for your weight and chest size.

Emergency Engine Cut-Off Switch

A simple device, the engine cut-off switch (ECOS) can save lives in accidents that occur when the boat operator is ejected from the helm. Often times, this is the result of a fall overboard and can be deadly if the operator is struck by a propeller.

Most powerboats and PWC come equipped by the manufacturer with an ECOS, which is connected to the operator via a lanyard that attaches to the boat operator’s wrist, clothing or personal flotation device. When the lanyard is pulled, it shuts off the engine.

Many state laws require ECOS use, similar to how seat belt laws have made buckling up second nature for millions of drivers. Federally, a law known as Kali’s Law requires the devices when operating a vessel on plane or above displacement speed. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to make a big difference in preventing runaway boats and propeller strikes, the number one cause of recreational boating injuries and deaths.

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