Safety Requirements for VesselsFor a detailed summary of all Texas boating laws and safety regulations, see the Digest of the Water Safety Act.
For a detailed summary of mandatory Boater Education Certification requirements, see the Boater Education page.
Operating Vessels without Required Equipment is Prohibited - No person may operate or give permission for the operation of a vessel that is not provided with the required safety equipment. An operator may not permit a person under the age of 13 to be on board the vessel while the vessel is underway if the person is not wearing a USCG approved wearable PFD. Marine enforcement officers regularly perform vessel safety checks to ensure the safety of boat owners and passengers.
- All Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in serviceable condition, readily accessible, and of the appropriate size for intended user. See Life Jackets for more details on PFD types.
- All children under 13 years of age in or on vessels under 26 feet in length must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable PFD while underway. Underway means not at anchor, made fast to the shore, or aground.
- All vessels, including canoes and kayaks, must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or V wearable PFD for each person on board. A Type V PFD is acceptable only if used in accordance with the specific instructions on the label of the device.
- Vessels 16 feet and longer, excluding canoes and kayaks, are required to be equipped with one Type IV throwable PFD in addition to the Type I, II, III, or V PFD required for each person on board.
- Inflatable PFDs are authorized only when used in accordance with requirements as presented on U.S. Coast Guard approval labels. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for use on personal watercraft, waterskiing, or other high speed activity.
Sound Producing Devices
- Any motorboat less than 12 meters in length (39.4 ft.) is required to carry a whistle or horn, or some other means to make an efficient sound to signal intentions and position in periods of reduced visibility.
- Motorboats 12 meters or more in length are required to carry a whistle or horn, and a bell.
All vessels including motorboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, punts, rowboats, rubber rafts, or other vessels when not at dock must have and exhibit at least one bright light, lantern or flashlight visible all around the horizon from sunset to sunrise in all weather and during restricted visibility.
Power Driven Vessels Underway: Power driven vessels of less than 20 meters (65.6 ft.) but more than 12 meters (39.4 ft.) shall exhibit navigation lights as shown in Figure 1. Vessels of less than 12 meters in length, shall show the lights in either Figure 1 or Figure 2.
Manually Driven Vessels when Paddled, Poled, Oared or Windblown
- A sailing vessel of less than 20 meters (65.6 ft.), while underway shall exhibit sidelights and a sternlight which may be combined in one lantern carried at or near the top of the mast where it can best be seen.
- A sailing vessel of less than 7 meters (23 ft.) shall, if practicable, exhibit the sidelights and a sternlight, or shall exhibit at least one bright light, lantern or flashlight from sunset to sunrise when not at dock.
- All other manually driven vessels may exhibit sidelights and a sternlight, or shall exhibit at least one bright light, lantern, or flashlight from sunset to sunrise when not at dock. In vessels of less than 12 meters (39.4 feet), white lights shall be visible at a distance of at least two (2) miles. Colored lights shall be visible at a distance of at least one (1) mile. "Visible" when applied to lights, means visible on dark nights with clear atmosphere.
Motorboat requirements include sailboats when operated under power, and PWCs.
Every motorboat towing a person must have an observer, other than the operator, 13 years of age or older OR be equipped with a rearview mirror of a size no less than four inches (4") in measurement from bottom to top and across from one side to the other.
Fire Extinguishers Required
Outboard motorboats less than 26 feet in length, of open construction, not carrying passengers for hire, are not required to carry fire extinguishers; however, a fire extinguisher is required if one or more of the following conditions exist: (1) Closed compartment under thwarts and seats wherein portable fuel tanks may be stored. (2) Double bottoms not sealed to the hull or which are not completely filled with flotation material. (3) Closed living spaces. (4) Closed storage compartments in which combustible or flammable materials are stored. (5) Permanently installed fuel tanks. (6) Inboard engines.
U.S. Coast Guard approved extinguishers are identified by the following marking on the label: "Marine Type USCG approved, Size .... Type ::::, 162.028/.../" Check extinguishers annually to assure that they are properly charged.
NOTE: All fire extinguishers must be readily accessible and in condition for immediate and effective use at all times.
Fire extinguishers approved for motorboats are hand-portable, of either B (for gasoline, oil & grease fires) or BC (also extinguishes electrical fires) classification.
The number of approved extinguishers required depends upon the class of the motorboat. When the engine compartment of the motorboat is equipped with a fixed (built-in) extinguishing system of an approved type, one less B-I extinguisher is required.
|Vessel length|| Without fixed system
in machinery space
| With fixed system
in machinery space
|less than 26'||1 B-I||None|
|26' to less than 40'||2 B-I or 1 B-II||1 B-I|
|40' to 65'||3 B-I or 1 B-II and 1 B-I||2 B-I or 1 B-II|
Flame Arresters (Backfire Flame Control) Required
Gasoline engines installed in a vessel after April 25, 1940, except outboard motors, must be equipped with an acceptable means of backfire flame control. The device must be suitably attached to the air intake with a flame tight connection and is required to be Coast Guard approved or comply with SAE J-1928 or UL 1111 standards and marked accordingly.
Exhaust Water Manifold, Muffler
A motorboat must have an exhaust water manifold or a factory-type muffler installed on the engine.
A Personal Watercraft (PWC) is defined as a type of motorboat which is specifically designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or kneeling ON the vessel rather than INSIDE the vessel. Includes jet skis, wet bikes, wave runners, etc. Any person being towed by a PWC is considered an occupant of the PWC and is also required to wear a life jacket.
All equipment requirements for regular motorboats also apply to PWC. See All Vessels section above for general safety requirements.
In addition to those requirements:
- Each occupant must wear a life jacket.
- If the PWC is equipped with a cut-off or kill switch, it must be attached to the operator or operator's clothing.
- Inflatable life jackets are NOT approved for use on PWC.
Operation of Your Personal Watercraft
NOTE: Children under 13 are specifically prohibited from operating a PWC unless accompanied on board by a person at least 18 years of age who can lawfully operate the PWC.
All operational rules for regular motorboats also apply to PWC.
In addition to those requirements, it is unlawful for any person to:
- operate PWC at night (sunset until sunrise);
- operate PWC within 50 feet of another PWC, motorboat, vessel, platform, person, object, or shore except at headway speed (Headway speed-Slow, idle speed, or speed only fast enough to maintain steerage) without creating a swell or wake; and
- operate a PWC and jump the wake of another vessel recklessly or unnecessarily close.
Sailboats are considered motorboats when operated under power, and must include the same safety equipment listed above. See All Vessels section above for general safety requirements.
Sailors must also follow motorboat navigational rules when operating under power.
See All Vessels section above for general safety requirements.
Paddling at night: Remember that you must carry one bright white light that can be exhibited in time to prevent a collision. It is recommended that you carry a lantern, flashlight, or other attached white light that will be visible from 360 degrees. Regulations state that canoes, kayaks, and all other manually driven vessels shall exhibit sidelights and a sternlight, and shall exhibit at least one bright light, lantern, or flashlight from sunset to sunrise when not at dock.