United States Coast Guard
                      Program Operations Division
                           14 August, 2003

                          PROGRAM GUIDANCE FOR

Several questions and issues have been raised concerning the proper 
display of state issued registration numbers on recreational vessels.  
Of the 185,000 vessels examined in 2002 under the VSC Program, 10,000 
failed due to improper display of numbers.  State marine patrol 
officers and Vessel Examiners (VE) for the Vessel Safety Check (VSC) 
Program have noted several problems in the field, especially with newer 
sportier designed vessels where the owners want their numbers to match 
the designs and color schemes of their boats.  As a result, the Office 
of Boating Safety, as program manager, has been asked to provide program 
guidance on this issue.  This letter serves to provide that guidance for 
Vessel Examiners of the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U. S. Power 
Squadrons, and the State providers for the Vessel Safety Check Program 
and state boating law enforcement agencies.

The manner in which numbers are to be displayed on vessels is prescribed 
under Title 33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 173.27.  The basic 
tenets of the regulation are, the numbers must 

  1) be painted on or permanently attached to both sides of the 
     forward half of the vessel, 
  2) be in plain vertical block characters of not less than 3 inches 
     in height, 
  3) contrast with the color of the background and be distinctly 
     visible and legible, 
  4) have spaces or hyphens that are equal in width to a letter or 
     number other than "I" or "1" between the letter and number 
     groupings, and 
  5) read from left to right.  

There are exemptions and exceptions for vessels operated by dealers for 
the purposes of demonstration, and for vessels due to their construction 
that cannot fully comply with the regulations as written.

The following is program guidance for applying the basic tenets as 

The numbers must be painted on or permanently attached to both sides of 
the forward half of the vessel.  Generally numbers are applied to the 
hull, but this is not required.  Numbers may be applied to the super-
structure or cabin sides, provided the placement is still on the forward 
half of the vessel.  Self-adhesive numbers are accepted as permanently 
attached.  Numbers may also be placed on placards or plates, and then 
bolted or screwed in place.  Plates or placards may not be attached to 
removable stanchions or rails, nor may numbers be placed on glass 
windows, as they are not considered permanent attachment points.

Numbers and letters must be in plain vertical block characters of not 
less than 3 inches in height.  They must be of a single color, not 
outlined, shadowed, or rounded, and appear in the manner as illustrated:

                            VA 1234 AB

Some self-adhesive numbers may be a fraction of an inch off in height.  
Generally, the Coast Guard does not require the measuring of the numbers 
unless they appear to be too small.  The rule of thumb used by the Coast 
Guard to determine proper height without measuring is, if the numbers 
can be read at a distance of 100 feet, accept them.  If not, then 
measuring may be called for. 

Numbers must be in contrasting color to the background and be distinctly 
visible and legible.  If the background of the surface of the vessel is 
multi-colored or patterned (i.e. paisley pattern or product graphics), 
it may be necessary to block out an area in a single color to allow the 
numbers to be distinctly visible.

There must be spaces or hyphens between number and letter groupings 
equal to any letter or number other than "I" or "1".  Numbers must read 
from left to right.  These tenets are self-explanatory, and need no 
further clarification.

National standardization of examination and enforcement is vital to 
promote understanding of, compliance with, and continuity regarding the 
numbering regulations.  It is critical that all Recreational Boating 
Safety partners (Vessel Examiners, State Law Enforcement personnel, and 
Coast Guard personnel) adhere to the same criteria and apply the same 
standard when conducting vessel safety checks.

Chief, Program Operations Division
U.S. Coast Guard


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