Over the past two months, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Natural Resources Police Boating Safety Education and Outreach Unit has conducted many vessel safety checks (VSCs) at marinas across Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay. The purpose of the vessel safety check is to provide the boat owner/operator with an independent assessment of their vessel. 

vessel safety check
Vessel safety checks are free and there are no penalties if you don't pass. Courtesy of the MD DNR

This helps ensure the following: (1) Preventing citations and helps ensure that your vessel meets federal, state, and local safety equipment requirements; (2) Identifies possible equipment defects and costly breakdowns; (3) Increases safe boating practices to help you avoid accidents and injuries; (4) Provides a better understanding for the use and care of your marine safety equipment; (5) Helps ensure environmental compliance; and (6) Increases the boat owner/operator’s level of confidence for themselves and their passengers safety and survivability.

Some of the findings to date are: severely outdated fire extinguishers, outdated flares, inoperable navigation lights, no registration onboard or on the person, non-secured CHT-Y valve, no emergency day orange distress flag, inoperable engine room exhaust blower, no sound producing device or horn, missing MARPOL environmental placards (required for vessels over 26 feet), improper display of vessel numbers, and significant corrosion of personnel flotation device (PFD) auto-air inflation cylinders (which were mainly found on PFDs left on sailboats).

For vessels not in compliance, there is no citation issued. This gives the boat owner/operator the opportunity to correct any deficiencies, without penalty. Another follow-up re-inspection, once deficiencies are corrected, is also free.

Upon successful completion of the VSC, boaters will be provided a VSC safety sticker that will be displayed on the helm window, alerting DNR, US Coast Guard, and local police maritime units that you have taken the time and effort to go through this process, and that you comply with federal, state, and local safety equipment requirements. While this does not mean that you will not be stopped by a maritime police agency, it ensures them that you were previously in compliance the day of your check.

If you are interested in a VSC, reach out to your nearest United States Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla (cgaux.org), or United States Power Squadron (usps.org). There is also a form you can fill out at wow.uscgaux.info/i_want_a_vsc/index.php to find out if there is a volunteer examiner in your area.

By Steve Gershman, Natural Resources Police Reserve Officer