Water Rules & Regulations

Age Requirements to Operate a Motorboat

You can operate a motorboat (excluding Personal Watercraft) if you are:

  • Between 10 and 18 years old and have a person 18 or older on board, or if you hold a Safety Certificate
  • 18 years old or older

Boating Accidents

It is the responsibility of every boater to render all practical and necessary aid possible to other vessels requiring assistance, without endangering their vessel or their passengers. If you are involved in a boating accident you must stop and give your name, address and vessel identification to the owner of the damaged property or any injured party. If personal injury has been caused to another person, or another person has disappeared under the water, the nearest law enforcement agency shall be contacted immediately. In the event of an accident involving only property damage, if the person sustaining damage cannot be located at the scene or the other operator involved leaves the scene, the accident shall be reported to the nearest law enforcement agency immediately. If you are the owner or operator of a boat involved in a boating accident 38 in which there was an injury, death or disappearance of a person, or if property damage exceeding $1,000 to any one party has occurred, you must report the matter in writing to New York State Parks within 5 days of the accident. Failure to report an accident is a violation under NYS Law.

Accident Report forms can be found online.

Bow Riding

Bow riding is prohibited unless the vessel has an open bow designed specifically for passengers.

Boating While Intoxicated

No one may operate a vessel on the waters of NYS while impaired or intoxicated either through the consumption of alcohol or drugs. An operator with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher is considered legally intoxicated. New York law prescribes heavy fines, imprisonment, and the suspension of operator privileges for violators. In New York, if you are stopped for the suspicion of impaired operation and refuse to voluntarily submit to a breath test, your privilege to operate may be immediately suspended, pending a hearing.

Personal Watercraft (Jet Ski)

Most laws that apply to boats also apply to Personal Watercraft (PWC). There are additional restrictions placed specifically on PWC:

  • As of 1/1/04, anyone operating a Personal Watercraft, or Jet Ski, must complete a Boating Safety Course.
  • Operation of a PWC is prohibited from sunset to sunrise.
  • The operator of a PWC and all passengers must wear a Personal Flotation Device (Life Jacket). A Type III PFD is recommended.
  • If equipped, the engine cut-off lanyard must be attached to the operator.
  • Visual distress signals and a sound-signaling device (horn or whistle) must be carried.
  • The operation of a PWC is not allowed within 500 feet of a marked swim area.
  • Reckless operation, such as wake jumping, playing "chicken" and weaving in and out of congested traffic, is prohibited and constitutes a misdemeanor.

Vessel Speed

Throughout New York State, vessel speed is generally limited to 5 mph when you are within 100 feet of the shore, dock, pier, raft, float, or anchored boat. On some specific bodies of water the 5 mph limit has been extended to 200 feet, and there may be a 45 mph daytime and 25 mph night time speed limit.

Local ordinances also may further regulate the speed of boats operated within specific areas.

  • In the absence of a posted speed limit, vessels must be operated in a manner that will not endanger others.
  • A vessel must be able to stop safely within the clear space ahead.
  • A vessel operator is always responsible for any damage caused by the vessel's wake.
  • Prudent judgment requires operators to reduce speed when passing marinas, fishing vessels, workboats, or other similar areas.

Water Skiing & Towing

On the navigable waters of NYS, any vessel towing a water skier, parasail, or other similar device, must have on board, in addition to the operator, an observer who is specifically charged with watching out for the person towed. The observer must be at least 10 years of age. Waterskiing, and similar towed activities, are limited to the hours between sunrise and sunset. Anyone towed by a vessel must wear a securely fastened U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device. This includes those on water skis, inner tubes, parasails, inflatable devices, to name a few. The preferred life jacket for these activities is the type III special purpose device as it is impact rated, form fitting, and generally affords better visibility for the skier. Never use a fully inflatable life jacket. Remember the skier is considered a passenger and is to be counted against the maximum passengers allowed. Exceeding that number can be written as reckless operation.

For more information on safe water skiing contact The American Water Ski Association.