Update on state boating regulations


Photo Credit: The U.S. Coast Guard

By Jonathan Sweet
November 12, 2013
Filed under Features, Top Stories

The Recreational Boating Safety Coalition does a great job tracking where legislation stands in every state across the country.

The group recently issued an update. States appear in alphabetical order.


H.B. 24 (PFD requirements), by Rep. Joe Faust, would have raised the age under which an individual must wear a flotation device from eight to 13. Outlook for passage was good since the sponsor is a member of the majority party which holds both chambers of the legislature and the office of the governor.

However, the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee did not act on the bill during a February 6 hearing. So, the bill died with adjournment.


No current legislative action


There is a grass roots effort spearheaded by various fishermen associations for mandatory boating safety education. Sen. Linda Gray, R-10th District, who has previously introduced a bill, is being approached by various groups. These groups are also directly lobbying the Governor.

Arkansas (convenes February 10 and adjourns March 11)

  • Requires boater education for all operators born after 1/1/1986.
  • 12 and Under for child life jacket use.

California (convenes January 6 and adjourns November 30)

Recent media coverage in California indicates that Sen. Mark DeSaulnier will be leading another effort to get mandatory education in the state. Coverage makes mention of this issue having been introduced in the state legislature twice before - 1999 and 2007. Along with a few other boating organization and boating safety people like NTSB, NMMA testified in support of a reasonable phased in approach for all boaters.

S.B. 427, introduced by Sen. Bill Monning, would amend Under 13 for child life jacket use wear by expanding the definition of vessel to include every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water. A public hearing was held on April 23.


No current legislative action


The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has been trying to get online education approved in Connecticut (HB 6541). However, a substitute bill, which came out of the Environment Committee, stripped the online boating education but allowed online hunting education to proceed.

DEEP also put forth a bill to overhaul its abandoned boat legislation (HB 1017) to create a more transparent system for the public which is web based and simpler to use. It has been designed to be expanded in the event of a mass displacement event and addresses emergency management.


No current legislative action


There is a bill getting some movement which would create some additional regulation for the operation of parasail businesses (mostly creates restrictions under certain weather conditions and adds an insurance provision).

There is also a DUI bill moving which would re-define "impairment" and make it clear that operating a vehicle while impaired by prescription or "designer" drugs is illegal. The department is prepared to ask that the state's BUI law be modified to stay consistent with the changes to the DUI law should they occur.

And there is a bill which would restrict boat operators from towing persons on skis or other aquaplaning devices within 150 feet of fixed objects and would require that any person under 18 who is operating a boat while towing a person to be accompanied on the boat by a person 18 or older.


Gov. Nathan Deal signed SB 136 (Boater Safety), aka the “Kile Glover Education Law” and “Jake and Griffin BUI Law,” which changes the boating under the influence and hunting under the influence legal limit from .10 to .08, increases the age for mandatory personal floatation wear to Under 13, and introduces a mandatory education requirement (integrated through a 1998 'born on' date).

He also signed HB 497 (Boater Registration) which simplifies the state vessel registration process when transferring ownership of a vessel.


Gov. Neil Abercrombie has signed a new rule that requires all boat operators to complete a boating safety course to operate a power driven vessel in Hawaii state waters. The rule was previously developed and approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) after they received testimony in support from long-time boaters as well as from boating safety instructors from the Hawaii Sail and Power Squadron.

Starting in November, 2014, all boat operators must complete a boating safety course to operate motorized vessel in Hawaii state waters. Seasoned boaters will be able to take equivalency exams if they feel they already understand the rules of the road. For new boaters, an online course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) takes just 3-4 hours of instruction to complete. Boat operators under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult 21 years or older who holds the required boater safety education certificate; The new rule, as Title 13, Section 13-244-15.5, HAR, Operation of Power Driven Vessels, gives the Department of Boating and Ocean Resources (DOBOR) two years to develop and prepare NASBLA-and-state-approved boating safety courses before it takes effect.


A regulatory initiative to change Idaho's recreational boating education law has been tabled until changes can be made in line with a "quick phase-in" program.


SB 1478, mandatory education for all boaters, is being discussed. NMMA is testifying in support with recommendations to make it more uniform with other states as well as encourage the safe use of boats by all ages.

The Illinois Boating Safety Education Coalition, which includes the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, the United States Power Squadrons, the Chicago Police Department, several yacht clubs, and others, continues to seek a sponsor for legislation for mandatory boating safety education for all boaters. Most recently, the Coalition has been seeking specific data and statistics on Illinois boating accidents.


Indiana’s Boating Law Administrator had proposed to update Indiana’s life jacket requirements for children to apply to all state waters. Currently Indiana’s legislation applies only to state/federal waters.

S.B. 434, by Sen. Allen Paul, would have done this. It was reported favorably from committee on January 28 and then withdrawn on February 7. There was no further consideration.


No current legislative action


A bill has passed both the House and Senate that would increase the time period an officer needs to acquire a chemical test for a BUI suspect from two to three hours.

A bill to lower the property tax assessed to vessels has also passed a House committee. It would lower the tax from the 30 percent value X the mill levy that is current to 5 percent by 2015. It would be at 11.5 percent in 2014.


No current legislative action


No current legislative action


L.D. 203, introduced by Rep. Richard Malaby (R), would require a person to wear a Coast Guard approved Type III personal flotation device while kayaking on open salt water on the internal waters of the state. After public hearing on April 4, committee of referral did not act on this measure.


No current legislative action


No current legislative action


Rep. Matt Lori introduced H.B. 4442, which would lower the per se BAC limit for boating under the influence from 0.10 to 0.05. The governor signed into law last spring a bill that prohibits state and local law enforcement from pulling over boaters without cause.

Michigan has a number of bills currently in the legislative process related to dredging. These vary from bills that relax or streamline permit processes to bills that change the eligibility for use of certain funds (Natural Resources Trust Fund) to allow for dredging activities.


No current legislative action


No current legislative action


H.B. 225 introduced by Rep. T.J. Berry, would have required a child younger than eight years of age to wear an approved device when on board any watercraft that is not fully enclosed. It also would have required such child protection when wading or swimming in navigable public waters more than three feet deep when not under the supervision of a lifeguard.

While this measure was filed in January, it was not referred to a committee for consideration. It died with adjournment.


No current legislative action


LB 63, introduced by Sen. Ken Schilz, would credit the state's Game Fund with one-half of the proceeds of the sales and use taxes derived from the sale or lease of motorboats. The monies would be used in a program that would control aquatic invasive species.


No current legislative action

New Hampshire

No current legislative action

New Jersey

No current legislative action

New Mexico

Several bills were under consideration this year. One would have created Homicide by Boat as a 3rd degree felony with enhancements based on BAC and previous DWI’s convictions. The second was a Boat Accident Reporting bill that would have required immediate accident reporting and would have made operator reports admissible in court along with some other measures as well.

However, they did pass a bill (S.B. 94) that will offer a “penalty assessment misdemeanor” as an option for certain boating violations (including failure to wear a PFD) that are not linked to death, disappearance, great bodily harm, etc. Due to the option of paying the penalty assessment directly and avoiding the magistrate court mandatory appearance, this is an efficiency measure for boaters, courts, and officers.

New York

The governor has signed New York’s mandatory boater education law that, like many other states, uses a born on or after date for implementation. This law takes effect May 1, 2014 and requires everyone born on or after May 1, 1996 to complete a course in boating safety. Presently only classroom-based course of instruction will meet that requirement. However that may change to permit Internet based course of instruction.

S.B. 1442 (PFD requirements) pre-filed 12/28/2012 by Sen. John Flanagan, would prohibit the owner or operator of a rowboat, canoe, or kayak from operating the vessel unless each person on board is wearing a securely fastened U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable personal flotation device of an appropriate size when such vessel is underway.

North Carolina

No current legislative action

North Dakota

HB 1141 would allow an individual at least age 16 to windsurf or board sail without wearing a life jacket; would prohibit an individual from towing another individual on water skis, surfboard or other similar device between one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise; and would allow a vessel equipped with a mirror with a wide field of vision to the rear to replace an observer while towing an individual on water skis, surfboard or similar device. Passed House 78-9. Senate Natural Resources Committee heard March 22, no action taken.


Gov. John Kasich signed HB 29 (aka the "Boater Freedom Act") which specifies that the state's law enforcement personnel may only stop a vessel if they have reasonable suspicion that the vessel or vessel's operator are in violation of marine law or otherwise engaged in criminal activity.


No current legislative action


No current legislative action


A new rule will prohibit any passengers – most frequently children -- from riding on closed bow decking with ornamental railings or railings intended for use during docking, mooring or rafting, at high rates of speed. These railings are not intended to protect a passenger from falling overboard; however, Pennsylvania had no regulations to prohibit passengers from riding in this area of the boat at high speeds.

Rhode Island

No current legislative action

South Carolina

No current legislative action

South Dakota

No current legislative action


No current legislative action


Proposals, such as HB 1395 (2011), to strengthen the state's existing boater education law are being discussed.


No current legislative action


No current legislative action


No current legislative action


No current legislative action

West Virginia

No current legislative action


No current legislative action


No current legislative action


2 Responses to “Update on state boating regulations”

  1. Philip G Coates on November 14th, 2013 6:22 pm

    Regarding the update on state boating legislation and regulations; in Massachusetts there is a proposed bill (H-664) that would require a boating safety certificate with a one time fee for all persons born after Jan1, 1988. This bill was heard before the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Ctte on Nov 6th with the Mass Marine Trades Assoc testifying in favor.


  2. Philip G Coates on November 14th, 2013 6:25 pm

    Thank you


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