Motor Vessels Over 20 Meters

This page has detailed regulations for US Flagged Recreational (non commercial ) vessels over 20 meters (65.6ft). The standard pleasure craft booklet doesn't include the special requirements for boats over 20 meters, which are technically Motor Vessels, instead of Motor Boats.

Determining whether you are over 20 meters.

The length of the vessel for regulatory purposes:

The length shall be measured from end to end over the deck excluding sheer.

Title 46 Part 24.10-1.2 

"(2) The expression ``length shall be measured from end to end over the deck excluding sheer'' means a straight line measurement of the overall length from the foremost part of the vessel to the aftermost part of the vessel, measured parallel to the centerline. Bow sprits, bumpkins, rudders, outboard motor brackets, and similar fittings or attachments, are not to be included in the measurement. Length shall be stated in feet and inches." 

It is not necessarily the length given in the document issued by the Coast Guard or state registration papers.

For a clarification of the 65 feet and 20 meter issue.

Security Issues

Due to recent security issues since 9/11, if you operate in or near any of the formal vessel traffic areas, you should make it a point of checking in with them.
Maintaining Contact with the local Vessel Traffic Service (VTS).  Seattle, as an example.

USCG Vessel Traffic Service Map

Fire Extinguishers

If you do your own perusing in the CFR's it is real easy to drop into the wrong section.  The pleasure craft stuff is in Part 25.  Access to CFR's at the GPO Title 46 Part 25

For boats over 20 meters the regs call for one portable B-II extinguisher in the engine room for each 1000 brake horsepower and additional B-II's dependent on the gross tonnage of the vessel. For instance 90 tons requires 2 more B-II's. (If the boat is older than about 1952, reg 33.25.30xx does not apply; then the vessel is exempted).

Up to 1000 total hp = 1 B-II
1500 total hp = 2 B-II
Over 2000 total hp = 3 B-II
And so, on see the reg page.

For Gross Tonnage add:

Up to 50 GT = 1 B-II
Up to 100 GT = 2 B-II
Up to 500 GT = 3 B-II
Over 500 GT see the reg page.

See CFR Title 46, Chapter I, Part 25.30-20--Fire Extinguishing Equipment


The lifejacket regs are not different and the regs for the throw able device are the same.


Title 33. Part 86.23  Annex III. You have to have a bell at least 300 mm in diameter(12" in.).  A bell that can be operated by automatic control would be preferable. The Standard/Horizon VLH-3000 loud hailer will sound automatically. I can find no other device on the internet that will do the job.

Finding a bell in the 12 inch range that is not a thousand dollars or so is quite a challenge, here is a manual one from Perko that retails for about $150, this link will take you right to the Perko catalog Item: 179 012 PLB

Radio Stuff.

Every vessel over 20 meters is required to monitor VHF channel 13 (33 CFR Part 26.03(a)(1)). This regulation comes from the "Vessel Bridge to Bridge Radiotelephone Regulations", which are included in the Rules of The Road booklet which you are required to carry.  Access to GPO Title 33 Part 26
In addition, if you are in a "Vessel Traffic Service Area", you are required to have a radio to monitor the VTS channel(33 26.03(f)).
If you are participating (this is where it gets tricky), in the VTS and monitoring the VTS channel, you are exempt from monitoring VHF channel 16 (47 CFR 80.148(b)).  Technically if you are over 20 meters you are not required to participate in the VTS, but the regs(33 26.05) imply that you are required to monitor the VTS channel.
Note: if you are operating on the Great Lakes see 33 Part 26.09 exemptions, and the Canadian/US Agreement on the Great Lakes which applies.

In other words, if you are in the VTS area, you must monitor the VTS channel, but if you are not required to monitor the channel, because you are not "Participating", which means that you are notifying the traffic center of your movements and are checked in with them, then you are NOT exempt from monitoring channel 16. The practical effect of all this is that to comply with the regs as written you will have to monitor:
Channels 16, 13 and the VTS channel.

By the way, channel 13 monitoring is required by regulations and any accident which might follow a failure to have monitored the channel would be considered a fault by the courts and result in your being held liable at least in part for any accident that might result.

The area in which channel 13 monitoring is required
Defined in Title 46 Part 7  has the details, which includes all Inland waters, any US waters inside of 12 miles. This is not the same lines used to define the boundary for the COLREGs, which is in CFR 33 Part 80. In general the difference is that channel 13 monitoring is required in areas not covered by the Inland Navigation Rules and extends some distance offshore, along the coast out to the 12 mile boundary as marked on the charts.

Due to the complexity and ambiguity of these overlapping areas, even many commercial operators are not intimately familiar with the exact coverage and you can anticipate that other vessels may not monitor 13 in exact accordance with the regulations.

USCG Vessel Traffic Service Map, leads to online manuals for each traffic service area. In some cases a vessel over 20 meters is required to contact the local VTS.  Also see Security, above.

There are specific regs from the FCC concerning the radio to be used for complying with the Bridge to Bridge requirements. See Part 80 Subpart U (80.1001-1023)--Radiotelephone Installations Required by the Bridge-to-Bridge Act

FCC regulations and technical issues

A page of FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions at the FCC

If you are over 20 meters then you must have a FCC Ship Station License, also the operator must have at least a Restricted Radio Operator's License even if you are not going into a foreign country or only have VHF and Radar. When you fill out the License application, be sure to mark that the vessel is not "Voluntary", in other words the code is "SB" not "SA".  Ask for a MMSI and mark that you will communicate with "Foreign Coast Stations" and use Narrow Band Printing(NB-DP/SITOR). You don't want to have to do this over, later.

Since you are required to have the radio, you also are required to have a  copy of the regulations -Title 47 Part 80.  (download)

VHF handheld radios may not be operated from land, unless you have a Marine Utility License, which most applicants are not eligible. See the quotation below:


You must have a special license, called a marine utility station license, to operate a hand-held marine radio from land -- a ship station license IS NOT sufficient. You may apply for this license by filing FCC Form 601 with the FCC. To be eligible for a marine utility station license, you must generally provide some sort of service to ships or have control over a bridge or waterway. Additionally, you must show a need to communicate using hand-held portable equipment from both a ship and from coast locations. Each unit must be capable of operation while being hand carried by an individual. The station operates under the rules applicable to ship stations when the unit is aboard a ship, and under the rules applicable to private coast stations when the unit is on land."


The red and green sidelights must be screened (with boards) and the background painted matte black (Title 33. Part 84.09a Annex I.).
The sidelights shall not be placed in front of the masthead light (Title 33. Part 84.05b Annex I.).

These 3 links will take you to the US Government Access to the Code of Federal Regulations(2007).  The links above may not be the most current since they may point to versions of the code from prior years. In most cases the links will retrieve the most recent available year. About once a year I try to update the links.

Title 46 Shipping
Title 33 Navigation and Navigable Waters
Title 47 Telecommunications
Pamphlets you should have on board.

Nav Rules  Download from the USCG site.
FCC rules, part 80.  

VTS manual for your operating area (if there is a VTS).USCG Vessel Traffic Service Map.

 I have verified this information with various sources at the USCG here in Portland Oregon and at the Commandant's office in Washington DC.


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