Recreational Boating Safety – Housekeeping

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
Well, it’s the first of the year, and it’s time to do some housekeeping; that is, take care of some items that require attention. There are four basic categories we will address this week: boat and boat trailer registration, boat and boat trailer maintenance, boat operator registration and boat operator maintenance (don’t laugh- there are some things we forget about taking care of). Let’s get started, in no particular order of importance.

The Station Galveston Flotilla of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary operates out of the USCG Station Galveston base on Galveston Island. They provide assistance to the Coast Guard by providing maritime observation patrols in Galveston Bay; by providing recreational boating vessel safety checks; and by working alongside Coast Guard members in maritime accident investigation, small boat training, watch standing, and property administration.

Boat Trailer Registration
We have to register our boat trailers every year. By coincidence, I got my renewal for my boat trailer license plate this Saturday. Just before typing this paragraph, I renewed online. To quote the Texas DMV: Registration renewal has never been more convenient. The renewal notice has the web address, but here it is in case you didn’t receive your renewal notice: . It took me less than 5 minutes to do. In order to renew online you will need the license plate number of your boat trailer and the last 4 digits of the trailer’s VIN number. You will also need a credit card. You will receive a $1 discount for renewing online.

Boat Registration
The following vessels/boats when on Texas public water are required to have current registration, including when docked, moored, or stored:

  • All motorized boats, regardless of length;
  • All sailboats 14 feet in length or longer or any sailboat with an auxiliary engine(s); and
  • USCG Documented vessels.

Registration is valid for a two-year period. The boat’s registration number, if required, must be permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the boat. The letters and numerals must be painted or permanently attached. They must be plain block letters and numerals at least three inches high and in a color that contrasts with the background against which they are affixed. They also must read from left to right. In Texas, the validation decal must be affixed in line with and 3 inches towards the rear of the boat from the registration number. Here is how your boat should have its numbers and registration certificate placed:

In Texas, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division (TPWD) handles boat registration. Yes, you can renew your registration online! Here is the website to do that:

If you are reregistering your boat, then now is the time to make sure you properly place that Texas registration tag. Note that this positioning requirement is a Texas requirement, and some other states, such as Florida, have different positioning requirements. Make sure your registration certificate is on board at all times when you operate your boat.

Boat Trailer Maintenance
As much as I am on the water (at least once a week, even in the winter), I see the results of lack of boat trailer maintenance far too often. Salt water plays havoc with our boat trailers. The first thing you should do is check every single nut and bolt to make sure it is tight and not corroded to near the point of failure. There are some excellent anti-corrosion sprays out there. I spray my connections annually. Be sure your license plate is secured also. You don’t want that plate to end up in the belly of a great white shark like that Louisiana plate did in Jaws. It is easy to knock a license plate off on some ramps. Be sure to lubricate your wheel bearings. Last year I witnessed a boat owner pull his boat out of the water and lose a wheel due to the hub breaking off. When I checked out the hub, it was completely dry- no lubrication at all. I have seen boats being pulled down the highway with tires sliding due to locked wheel bearings.

Boat Maintenance
We know that salt air works its magic on electrical wiring and connections also. Check out your wiring and connections for corrosion. Clean those connections and protect them from the elements with an anti-corrosion spray designed for electrical connections. Check all holes in the hull that could be below the water line for signs of leaks or deterioration. This is especially important on inboard engines that use sea water for cooling. Check your live well connections also. Check your hull plug for deterioration or corrosion. During storage it is important to keep all batteries fully charged, but be sure not to overcharge. The industry standard now is to use a battery cutoff switch to keep your electronics from draining your batteries during storage. If your boat is out of the water, check your hull for damage. Check the interior of your boat for mold and dry rot.

Boat Operator Registration
What? Yes, if you were born after August 31, 1993, you are required to have a Boater Education Certificate in your possession while operating a boat. The BoatUS course is the only certified boater education course that is offered online that is also free. You can find their boater education course at Even if you were born before the September 1, 1993, I highly recommend that you take this course. The information you get could save your life or the life of your passengers. The BoatUS Foundation is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting boater education and safe boating.

Boat Operator Maintenance
This may sound like a joke, but you have to be in shape mentally and physically to safely operate a boat. The mental part includes knowledge. You must know about the Rules of the Road. You must know how to operate your boat, including understanding how it operates under different wind and sea conditions. As my old buddy Dirty Harry would say, “A boater must know their limitations.” You should also know your boat’s limitations. Although The Eagles may recommend that you “Take it to the Limit,” I recommend you operate well within your limits. Get that annual physical before you get out onto the water for the first time this year. Many of the Coast Guard emergency calls are for a boater with a medical emergency. In addition to yourself, make sure at least one other person aboard knows how to operate your boat in an emergency.

Now is the time to take care of housekeeping items so that you are prepared when it comes time to get back out on the water.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at [email protected] I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!


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One Response to “Recreational Boating Safety – Housekeeping”

  1. Don says:

    Bob: To renew a trailer license plate online requires a TRAILER vin? I don’t have one so I guess I’ll mail mine in. ALSO: I’ve heard any boat/kayak even with an electric trolling motor must be registered, is this true?

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