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 While there might have been more, I only saw two at the Racine Show out of all the boats displayed and they were both out of date.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: https://www.usps.org/national/vsc/formtool_files/a7012.pdf
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.” http://safetyseal.net
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: