What Boating Safety Equipment is Required?

Boating in Connecticut offers a unique blend of scenic beauty and recreational enjoyment, but it also comes with the responsibility to ensure safety and compliance with state regulations. Whether you’re navigating the serene waters of the Long Island Sound or participating in competitive water sports, understanding and adhering to Connecticut’s boating safety equipment laws is essential. Here’s what you need to know about these requirements.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

In Connecticut, everyone on board a boat must have access to a personal flotation device (PFD), more commonly known as a life jacket. Statistics suggest that wearing a life jacket could have prevented over 90 percent of boating-related drowning incidents to date.

Every vessel must carry a wearable life jacket for every person on board. These life jackets need to be within easy reach, fit the person intended to wear them, and be in good working condition. For vessels longer than 16 feet, excluding kayaks and canoes, the law also mandates carrying a readily available Type IV throwable device alongside the required number of wearable life jackets.

Life jackets have to meet several criteria to ensure they offer adequate protection. Specifically, they must be Coast Guard-approved and feature a legible label showing this. They should also be snug but comfortable and must not obstruct the face or be able to slip over the head. Every component, from straps to buckles and seams, must be intact and functional.

Notably, ski belts don’t count as legal life jackets. Also, inflatable life jackets are unsuitable for high-speed water sports, anyone under 16, or those weighing less than 90 pounds.

Sound Producing Devices

Sound-producing devices play a critical role in preventing accidents by allowing boaters to communicate effectively, especially in situations where visibility is poor or when navigating crowded waterways.

In Connecticut, every boat 40 feet in length or shorter must have a device capable of making an “efficient sound signal.” This could be a handheld whistle, air horn, or any similar device that others can hear from a distance. Every boat longer than 40 feet must have a power-operated sound-producing device that is audible for one-half mile, plus a bell.

Fire Extinguishers and Backfire Flame Arrestors

Different types of fires can ignite on boats, including those involving wood, fabric, and paper (Type A), flammable liquids like oil or gasoline (Type B), and electrical circuits (Type C). Connecticut boaters must prepare for possible fire emergencies by having fire extinguishers tailored to the types of fires that might occur on their vessels. Here are the minimum requirements for fire extinguishers:

  • Class A and Class 1 Vessels (up to 26 feet):These vessels must have at least one B-1 type approved hand portable fire extinguisher. Outboard motorboats less than 26 feet long and not carrying passengers for hire are exempt if their design prevents gas or vapor accumulation and they don’t have permanent fuel tanks.
  • Class 2 Vessels (26 feet to 40 feet):These boats must have at least two B-1 type approved portable fire extinguishers or one B-II type on board.
  • Class 3 Vessels (40 feet to 65 feet):For these vessels, the requirement increases to at least three B-1 type extinguishers or one B-1 type plus one B-II type.

To prevent fires from engine backfires, every inboard motorboat with a carburetor system must also have a backfire flame arrestor on each carburetor. These devices must be Coast Guard-approved, meet minimum safety standards, and be kept in good working order.

Ventilation Equipment

Gasoline fumes can be extremely dangerous on a boat. Without proper ventilation, these fumes can accumulate in enclosed engine and fuel tank compartments, creating a risk of fire or explosion. Connecticut boating regulations mandate that all such compartments have adequate ventilation to clear out gasoline fumes before they can pose a threat.

Intake and Exhaust Ducting

Any boat with an enclosed engine or fuel tank compartment must have a system in place that brings fresh air in (intake ducting) and expels fumes (exhaust ducting). The intake ducting should reach at least midway to the bilge or below the level of the carburetor air intake. The exhaust ducting needs to extend from the lower part of the bilge to the cowls in the open air.

Exhaust Blowers

Many boats are equipped with exhaust blowers in their engine compartment that expel gasoline fumes. If your boat has an exhaust blower, always turn it on for at least four minutes before you start the engine to reduce the risk of fire or explosion.

Minimum Requirements Based on Construction Date

  • Boats Built Before August 1, 1980: These vessels must have at least two ventilator ducts equipped with cowls or equivalent devices to ventilate the bilges of every closed engine and fuel tank compartment. This requirement applies to boats constructed or decked over after April 25, 1940, that use gasoline as fuel.
  • Boats Built On or After August 1, 1980:These vessels need at least two ventilator ducts to ventilate every closed compartment containing a gasoline engine or gasoline tank efficiently. However, this doesn’t apply to compartments with permanently installed tanks that vent outside the boat and contain no unprotected electrical devices. Additionally, engine compartments with a gasoline engine and a cranking motor must either be open to the atmosphere or contain power-operated exhaust blowers that are controllable from the instrument panel.

Visual Distress Signals (VDS)

Visual distress signals (VDS) allow boaters to summon help when in trouble on the water. The U.S. Coast Guard approves the use of certain electronic devices as modern alternatives to traditional flares.

When You Need VDS

While boating in Connecticut, you’ll only need to carry VDS under specific conditions. Generally, vessels don’t require VDS unless they’re navigating the waters of Long Island Sound (LIS) and Fishers Island Sound (FIS). Here are the VDS rules you must follow while on LIS or FIS between sunset and sunrise:

  • For smaller crafts, you must have VDS on board when out between sunset and sunrise. This includes recreational vessels under 16 feet, open sailboats under 26 feet without propulsion machinery, and manually propelled vessels.
  • For all other vessels, you must carry three daytime and three nighttime VDS, or three devices that can serve both purposes.

Types of VDS

All VDS must have U.S. Coast Guard approval and be in working condition. They should be easy to access in an emergency. The types of approved VDS include:

  • Pyrotechnic Devices:These include flares and smoke signals, both handheld and aerial, which are effective but come with expiration dates and must be disposed of carefully.
  • Non-pyrotechnic Devices:These include orange distress flags and electric distress signals
  • Other Devices:Other devices, like signaling mirrors and water dye, can also signal distress but don’t meet the requirements for approved VDS on LIS and FIS

Legal Requirements and Restrictions for VDS

  • Connecticut boaters must not display or allow the display of a VDS unless there’s an immediate or potential danger to your vessel or its occupants.
  • Class A vessels (less than 16 feet) need to carry nighttime VDS when operating after dark.
  • Vessels of Classes 1 through 3 (16 feet to 65 feet) must have VDS for both day and night use.


You cannot operate a motorboat in Connecticut waters unless it complies with specific noise level standards. These standards are set at 90 decibels (dB(A)) for engines manufactured before January 1, 1993, and at 88 dB(A) for engines made on or after that date.  

Connecticut law mandates that all motorboats must have a muffler or a muffler system to keep noise levels within legal limits. The law also prohibits the use of muffler cutouts, bypasses, or any similar devices that could allow a boat to operate louder than the state noise limits.

Injured in a Boating Accident? Contact Holth & Kollman, LLC

If you have suffered injuries in a boating accident or need legal guidance on boating laws in Connecticut, Holth & Kollman, LLC is here to help. We offer free consultations to discuss your situation and provide the support you need. Contact us now to get started with a Connecticut boat accident lawyer.