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How to apply for a grant of exemption from US Coast Guard regulations for boats.

Some boats simply cannot comply with U S Coast Guard safety standards because of the nature of their design or construction.  For instance Personal Watercraft (PWCs) do not meet the strict letter of the fuel and electrical system regulations. Another example is a drift boat.  Drift boats, by the nature of their use, should not have built in flotation. A drifting boat on a swift river can become a floating missile and run into people in the water, possibly killing them. So the boats are designed to sink if they swamp so they don't become a hazard. Other types of boats are granted exemptions, such as airboats, race boats, and hovercraft.  A good example is a Texas Flats Boat.

Texas Flats Boat by Dargel

This is a different from a Florida flats boats, as they have no sides to keep the water out.  They are more like a flat raft with a seat on top and a motor mount on the back.  Passengers sit on, rather than in, the boat.  So they cannot be tested for maximum weight capacity and persons capacity using the US Coast Guard's test.  They are granted an exemption from the capacity regulations based on their great stability and great amount of built in flotation.


Grants of Exemption are given to builders for a specific model of boat. They are not automatically granted to all boats of a certain type.  For instance, all drift boats are not automatically exempted from the flotation regulation.  If you are building a drift boat, you must apply for the exemption.  Each individual builder of a boat that needs an exemption must apply, and they must apply separately for each model of boat that needs the exemption.

So how does a manufacturer stay legal but not have to comply with the regulations?

The Federal Boat Safety Act contained a provision for granting exemptions.

Title 46 United States Code Chapter 43 Subchapter 4305

Sec. 4305. Exemptions

If the Secretary considers that recreational vessel safety will not be adversely affected, the Secretary may issue an exemption from this chapter or a regulation prescribed under this chapter.

The U S Coast Guard has a process through which a builder can be exempted from a regulation they cannot comply with.  This is called a Grant Of Exemption. The builder must apply in writing to the US Coast Guard explaining why they need an exemption.  This application must contain the following.

The regulation from which they want an exemption.

Why the boat cannot comply.

How the boat will have the same level of safety achieved though alternative methods, than by meeting the requirement.

All relevant drawings, photographs, tests, and any other material that supports the need for the exemption. Any other information that supports the application.

If the Coast Guard grants the exemption they will require the builder to display a label on the boat that states that the boat does not meet the requirements for the regulation from which it is exempted.

Contact the U S Coast Guard at 202-372-1077 or FAX 202-372-1908. 

Or write to:

U.S. Coast Guard
Chief, Recreational Boating Product Assurance Branch (CG-BSX-23)
Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety
2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20593-7501

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