Safe Boating Week will be celebrated this year on May 22nd. For more information, visit

Judy Hills, Roving ACBS reporter

OK, I confess—for over ten years I was in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary and I was a flotilla commander for several of those years. Thus, I am opinionated when it comes to boating safety. When I attend ACBS boat shows (and I’ve been to a lot of shows), it is very rare that I see a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) sticker displayed. While there might have been more, I only saw two at the Racine Show out of all the boats displayed and they were both out of date. What does that say about us? Are we as a group not concerned with vessel safety? 

What is the purpose of a VSC?

“The Vessel Safety Check (VSC) program is an effective, proactive preventive safety program unique to the recreational boating community. It ensures that key marine safety equipment is present, is within prescribed functional limits, and is compliant with Federal, State and local regulations.” That applies to antique and classic boats that are used and are shown in the water.

Why get your vessel inspected?

In one word:  safety!  The examiner will review regulations that apply to your vessel.  Regulations may differ depending on the length of your boat. VSCs are not intended for commercial vessels or those with a 6-pack license. Recreational vessels should carry certain emergency equipment to ensure the safety of all those aboard. The inspection also ensures that your vessel meets other requirements of the law like displaying registration numbers properly. Antique and classic boats are not exempt from those requirements. 

Another reason to have a VSC is that some insurance companies offer discounts for those vessels examined yearly. Check with your carrier.

And while safety is the number one reason for ensuring that your vessel meets requirements, if you are stopped or boarded by a regulatory agency, it is almost certain that you will be issued a citation if you are out of compliance. Surely you will want to avoid this expense and possible embarrassment.

Who conducts VSCs?

Both the US Coast Guard Auxiliary (USCGA) and the US Power Squadron (USPS) have certified Vessel Safety Examiners that conduct Vessel Safety Checks. 

When and where is a VSC conducted?

These VSCs may be conducted wherever your boat might be located: your home, your storage unit, your berth at the marina, a boat launch area, or (surprise, surprise) at a boat show.

What does the inspection include?

Again, requirements are different depending on the length of your boat, but the following items are included on the checklist: life jackets, throwable flotation device, registration & numbering, navigation lights, ventilation, fire extinguisher, distress signals (flares, whistle, mirror, etc.), sound producing device (horn, bell), battery cover & connections, as well as overall vessel condition. Here is a link to a copy of the USCG Auxiliary VSC form:

How long does it take?

A typical inspection will take about 30 minutes.

How do I arrange for a VSC?

If you have a local Power Squadron or US Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla, you could contact them directly via their website. If you do not have a local group, you may fill out a form online (URL at end of this paragraph) and “you will be contacted by one of up to five volunteer examiners whose names will be provided in a confirmation email. Note: The correct STREET ADDRESS of the boat or marina’s location is required to find the nearest examiner(s). Do not use a PO Box for the address as it cannot be used to calculate the distance to the examiners. When you click the Submit button, you will be taken to a new page. If it returns to this page, there is a problem with your information, email, phone or address or if your information is correct it means there are no volunteer examiners within twenty miles of your location.”

What if there is no examiner within 20 miles of my boat’s location?

Here is where your ACBS chapter could help.  At the next boat show or on-water event arrange for a vessel safety examiner to be on hand to do VSCs! Those who would like to have their boats inspected may do so.  This is an easy way for your chapter to show support for boating safety. You might even add a Safety Award for participation.

What else do I need to know about VSCs?

Vessel Safety Check stickers are issued for a calendar year and are void December 31st. The sticker should be displayed in plain sight.

VSCs are free and there are no consequences if you do not pass. The examiner will tell you what you need to do to pass the next time and then you can re-schedule when you have fixed the noted items. 

The bottom line:

So there is no downside to this inspection. It might just save you from a ticket or may even save your life. Get your boat inspected!

Thank you, Judy Hills, for this safety reminder. 


  1. Thank you for this piece Judy. I was in the USCGAUX for many years and will say that this is a great service offered for free. I think the main reason that more boats do not carry the sticker is a lack of awareness and to some extent, a lack of USCGAUX examiners nearby. We need to keep vessel safety a high priority in our hobby and make certain our vessels comply with basic safety requirements, whether not they are inspected. Thanks again.

  2. I am a Vessel Safety Check Examiner with the United States Power Squadron located at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. I’m also, a member of the Smith Mountain Lake Chapter ACBS. Each year we perform Safety
    Checks on several boats of the ACBS members there at Smith Mountain Lake. The members are happy and eager to have their antique boats inspected, and look forward each spring to have it available. Our Chapter has a mini boat show in June, and that is where several boats are Checked. We also go to their private docks on individual appointments.
    Our local Power Squadron usually inspects several hundred boats around the lake, and has earned several first place trophies from the
    Regional and National Power Squadron.
    My Winters are spent in Florida, and I offer inspections there in the
    Leesburg, Central Florida region.
    I hope many more ACBS members across the country will look up a
    Safety Examiner and have their boats checked. It’s FREE and it may also
    save a life.
    Art Cournoyer, P.IN
    Vessel Safety Check Examiner E219990
    Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

  3. Judy et al
    Very useful article that raises a couble of questions:
    1. ACBS boats value authenticity. Many boats from the early years were not equipped with bilge blowers, battery covers etc. ACBS judging criteria explicitly waives the authenticity goal for specific modern safety features. Have you seen any ACBS boat fail inspection because it doesn’t comply with the latest stadards? Eg, I suspect that some old boats had their early registration numbers located amidships – hardy a safety issue.
    2. How does the fraction of ACBS boats that fail.inspection compare to the average fraction of non ACBS boats that fail?

    Thanks for the article
    Gene Porter

    • Gene, I believe their are n/a things that do not apply to classic boats. I have seen classic boats fail because of out of date fire extinguishers or faulty & recalled ones. Flame arrester on engines also is a failable offense. I would say half the boats fail on the first try.

  4. Thank you for your writing page Judy. It helped me a lot.
    Although I’m surrounded by water when sailing, fire incidents can still take place and testing is an indispensable step. This is wonderful service offered for free.
    Again thanks for this safety reminder.

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