You are here:   Home » Recreation » Rules & Regulations » Boating » Required Equipment

Required Equipment

Montana and federal laws require that basic safety items be on board all boats.

Personal Flotation Devices (Life jackets)

  • Life jackets: U.S. Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs or life jackets) must fit the intended wearer, be readily accessible, and be in good condition.
  • Children under 12 years of age must wear a life jacket on a boat less than 26 feet in length that is in motion.
  • There must be a wearable life jacket (Type I, II, or III) for each person on vessels less than 16 feet long (including canoes and kayaks of any length). A Type IV throwable device may NOT be substituted for wearable life jackets.
  • Vessels 16 feet and longer must have one Type I, II or III life jacket for each person on board. In addition, one U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type IV throwable device must be on board and be immediately available for use.
  • A Type V life jacket may be used in place of any life jacket if specifically approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for the activity in which the wearer is engaged. The Type V life jacket must be worn at all times to be acceptable.
  • Sailboard operators (wind-surfers) under 15 years of age must wear a life jacket at all times. If two or more persons are occupying a sailboard, each person must wear a life jacket.
  • Anyone towed by a boat must wear a life jacket.
  • All persons operating or riding on a personal watercraft 220 KB must wear a life jacket.
  • Anglers using float tubes, belly boats, pontoon boats or kick boats, read the "Do you need a life jacket?" poster 9 MB to determine whether you need a life jacket on board.
Life Jackets: What you need to know … before you go!
PFD Type I
Type I:
Off-shore life jacket

Best for open, rough, or remote waters where rescue may not be immediate. Designed to turn an unconscious person face-up.

Type II:
Near shore life vest

Good for calm water where fast rescue is likely. A good choice for children when equipped with a strap to buckle between their legs.

Type III:
A Flotation aid

Generally the most comfortable to wear for water sports. Available in many colors and styles including vests and float coats. Will not turn an unconscious person face-up.

Type IV:
A Throwable Device

Includes boat cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys. Designed to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped to the chest, not worn.

PFD Type V
Type V:
A Special Use Device

Intended for specific activities. May be used instead of another PFD only if used according to conditions printed on the label. Includes deck suites, pullover vests, work vests, and some hybrid life jackets.

Fire Extinguishers

All motorboats must carry on board a U.S. Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher as listed below:

  • Motorboats less than 26 feet long must have at least one B-1 fire extinguisher. Exception: motorboats less than 26 feet long that are propelled by an outboard motor and are completely open construction (no closed spaces where gasoline fumes may be trapped) are not required to have a fire extinguisher.
  • Motorboats 26 feet to less than 40 feet long must have at least two B-1 or one B-II fire extinguishers.
  • Motorboats 40 feet to not more than 65 feet long must have at least three B-1 or one B-1 , and one B-II fire extinguishers.
  • When a fixed fire extinguishing system is installed and operational in the machinery space of a boat, one less B-1 fire extinguisher is required.

Marine Fire Extinguisher Classification

A fire extinguisher is classified by the type of fire it is meant to extinguish and its size. Extinguishers approved for motorboats are hand-portable of either B-1 or B-II classification.

Classification (type-size) Foam (minimum gallons) Carbon Dioxide (minimum pounds) Dry Chemical (minimum pounds) Halon (minimum pounds)


1 1/4



2 1/2


2 1/2




Backfire Flame Arresters

Flame Arrestor

Close mesh type flame arrestor

Every inboard gasoline engine must be equipped with a backfire flame arrester that is securely attached to the carburetor and in proper working order.


Air Intake

All boats of closed construction (the engine or fuel compartments are not open to the atmosphere) and which use gasoline as fuel must be equipped with a ventilation system to remove explosive vapors from the bilges of engine and fuel tank compartments. The explosive vapors are heavier than air and accumulate in the bottom of the boat without proper venting, creating an extremely hazardous condition.

Montana requires at least two ventilation intake ducts fitted with cowls or their equivalent to vent bilges and fuel tank compartments. At least one intake duct must be installed so that it extends to the point at least midway to the bilge, or at least below the level of the carburetor air intake. At least one exhaust duct must be installed so as to extend to the lower portion of the bilge. The duct should not be located so that a normal accumulation of bilge water would obstruct it.

Remember to adequately ventilate your boat before starting it by running your blower for at least 4 minutes - especially after fueling.

Whistles, Horns and Bells

Horns and Whistles
  • Sirens may not be used or installed except on authorized emergency vessels.
  • A motorboat 16 to 26 feet long must carry some means of producing an efficient sound signal that is audible for one-half mile, such as a whistle or a horn.
  • A motorboat more than 26 feet long must have on board a bell and a whistle or horn capable of making a sound that is audible for one mile.

Maneuvering and warning signals

One Long Blast:

warning signal (coming out of a slip)

One Short Blast:

I will pass you on my port (left) side

Two Short Blasts:

I will pass you on any starboard (right) side

Three Short Blasts:

I am in reverse

Five or More Blasts:

danger signal

Navigational Lights

Navigation Lights

Between sunset and sunrise and at other times of restricted visibility, vessels in operation must display navigational lights. All white lights required by the rules must be visible from a distance of at least two miles. All colored lights must be visible for a distance of at least one mile.

Boat Navigation Lights

Navigation lights include:

  • a green light on the starboard (right) side of the boat
  • a red light on the port (left) side of the boat
  • a white light that is visible in all directions (usually located on the stern and higher than the red and green lights)

Manually propelled (non-motorized) boats may exhibit navigation lights or instead carry a white light which can be exhibited in time to prevent a collision.

Boats at anchor outside of a designated mooring area must display an all-around white anchor light between sunset and sunrise.