Your State's Boating Regulations

Please review your state's boating regulations:

ABC Cover For a text only version, please follow this link.

 

 

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Changes in California Boating Law

Operator Age

No person under 16 years of age may operate a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower, except for a sailboat that does not exceed 30 feet in length or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and the shore, or between two moored boats. The new law allows persons 12-15 years of age to operate motorboats of more than 15 horsepower or sailboats over 30 feet if supervised on board by a person at least 18 years of age. A violation of these provisions is an infraction. The law went into effect on January 1, 1998

Personal Watercraft

A new law, effective January 1, 1998, prohibits personal watercraft (PWC) operators from undertaking unsafe or reckless practices, including jumping another vessel’s wake within 100 feet of that vessel, operating at a rate of speed and proximity to another vessel so that the other operator is required to swerve to avoid collision, and “spraying down” any person or vessel in the water.

The new law also requires a person operating a PWC equipped with a lanyard switch to attach the lanyard to his or her person; prohibits, on a PWC equipped with a self-circling device, the disabling of such device; and prohibits nighttime operation (from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise), even if the PWC is equipped with proper navigational lights.

Persons engaged in professional exhibitions, regattas, races, parades and other similar activities are exempted from these provisions. A violation of any of these provisions is an infraction.

Intoxicated Operation, First Conviction

Under a new law which went into effect on January 1, 1998, any person convicted of operating a motorboat under the influence of drugs or alcohol must be ordered by the court to take a boating safety course approved by the Department of Boating and Waterways.


Preparation

Education

The Department of Boating and Waterways recommends taking a boating safety class offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons, or certain chapters of the American Red Cross. For more information on Coast Guard Auxiliary and Power Squadron classes call:
Toll Free:

In addition, the Department of Boating and Waterways offers a free a home study guide, the California Boating Safety Course. To order, e-mail us at pubinfo@dbw.ca.gov with your name and address. Two people can take the coarse with each copy ordered.

Weather

Before you begin a cruise, check the local "weather and sea" conditions. Detailed information can be obtained by tuning in to local radio stations or the National Weather Radio broadcasts on frequencies of 162.400, 162.475, and 162.550 MHz in areas where available, or by consulting local newspapers.

For an image of designated storm advisory signs, please click here.

At selected locations in and near boating areas, storm advisories are displayed by flag hoists or lights. Coast Guard stations and many marinas no longer display storm advisory flags. Remaining display points are located at some park ranger stations, marinas, or municipal piers. A boater should become familiar with the display stations in the area and the meanings of the signals.

EPIRB or VHF Marine Radio Licensing Information

For information on getting a license for a VHF marine radio or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), contact the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at (800) 418-3676 for forms, or (800) 418-0220 for assistance.

Fueling

Most fires happen after fueling. To prevent fires, follow these rules:

Boat Capacity

Single-hull motorboats less than 20 feet in length which are manufactured after 1972 must display capacity and safe horsepower information. The maximum weight in persons, gear and motors is offered as a guide to boaters, and should not be exceeded. It is not a violation of federal or California state law to exceed recommended maximums. However, other states may cite an operator who exceeds capacity and horsepower limitations. Some insurance companies will not insure craft exceeding horsepower maximums and some boat manufacturers will void any applicable warranties for the same reasons.

Loading

It's the operator's responsibility that supplies be carefully loaded and all passengers be properly seated. Remember:

 

For an image of a safety checklist and float plan, please click here.

Aids to Navigation

Lateral System (Federal)

The waters of the United States are marked for safe navigation by the lateral system of buoyage. The system employs a simple arrangement of colors, shapes, numbers, and light characteristics to show the side on which a buoy should be passed when proceeding in a given direction. The characteristics are determined by the position of the buoy with respect to the navigable channels as the channels are entered from seaward.

The expression "red right returning" has long been used by the seafarer as a reminder that the red buoys are kept to the starboard (right) side when proceeding from the open sea into port (upstream). Likewise, green buoys are kept to the port (left) side. Conversely, when proceeding toward the sea or leaving port, red buoys are kept to port side and green buoys to the starboard side. Red buoys are always even numbered. Green buoys are odd numbered. Red and white vertically striped buoys mark the center of the channel.

Uniform State Waterway Marking System

Most waterways used by boaters are located entirely within the boundaries of the state. The California Uniform State Waterway Marking System has been devised for these waters. Examples of such aids are found below.

The waterway marking system employs buoys and signs with distinctive standard shapes to show regulatory or advisory information. These markers are white with black letters and have orange borders. They signify speed zones, restricted areas, danger areas, and general information.

Aids to navigation on state waters use red and green buoys to mark channel limits. Red and green buoys are generally used in pairs. The boat should pass between the red buoy and its companion green buoy.

Mooring to Buoys

Tying up to or hanging on to any navigation buoy (except a mooring buoy) or beacon is prohibited.

Aids to Navigation

In recent years, modifications to certain aids to navigation located on coastal and inland waters have been completed. These changes apply to aids used in both the lateral and state waterway marking systems.

 

For an image of the California Waterway Marker System, please click here.

For an image of the Federal Channel Marking System, please click here.

For an image of Main Channel Buoys, please click here.

Inland Rules of the Road

Navigation Rules

The inland navigational rules, commonly called the "Rules of the Road," govern the operation of boats and specify light and sound signals on inland waters in order to prevent collisions.

Existing law requires that a complete copy of the new inland navigational rules must be kept for reference on board all boats of 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) or more in length operating on inland waters. A copy of the Navigation Rules International - Inland booklet, which is published by the Coast Guard, may be ordered from: Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Attn: Customer Service, Washington, DC 20402.

There is a charge for this booklet. Please call (202) 512-1800 for availability and price.

Responsibility

Nothing in the rules of the road shall exonerate the operator of a vessel from the consequences of neglecting to comply with the inland rules of the road, or from neglecting any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

In construing and complying with the inland rules of the road, due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from the rules of the road necessary to avoid immediate danger.

Navigation Signals

The law prescribes signals for vessels in sight of each other to indicate the intended course of a vessel when necessary for safe navigation.



Motorboats should not use cross signals, that is, answering one blast with two blasts or two blasts with one blast.

Meeting or Crossing Situations

When motorboats are in sight of one another and meeting or crossing at a distance within half a mile of each other, each vessel shall indicate its intended maneuver with the following signals: one short blast - I intend to leave you on my port side, or two short blasts - I intend to leave you on my starboard side, or three short blasts -I am operating astern propulsion. Upon hearing the one- or two-blast signal, the other vessel shall, if in agreement, sound the same signal and take steps to effect a safe passing. If the proposed maneuver is unsafe, the danger signal (five or more short and rapid blasts) should be sounded and each vessel shall take appropriate action until a safe passing agreement is made.

When meeting head-on, or nearly so, either vessel shall signal its intention with one short blast which the other vessel shall answer promptly. Both vessels should alter their course to starboard (right) so that each will pass to the port (left) side of each other.
 
 

When crossing, the vessel which has the other on the starboard side shall keep out of the of the way holds course way and avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel. The give-way vessel, the vessel directed to keep out of the way, shall take early and substantial action to keep well clear of the other vessel (stand-on vessel). This latter vessel should hold course and speed. However, it may, as the stand-on vessel, take action to avoid collision by maneuvering as soon as it becomes apparent that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action.

Overtaking Situations

When two motorboats are running in the same direction and the vessel astern desires to pass, it shall give one short blast to indicate a desire to pass on the overtaken vessel's starboard. The vessel ahead shall answer with one blast if the course is safe.
 
 

If the vessel astern desires to pass to port of the overtaken vessel, it shall give two short blasts. The vessel ahead shall answer with two short blasts if the course is safe. If it is unsafe to pass, the vessel being overtaken should answer with the danger signal (five or more short and rapid blasts).

A vessel approaching another vessel from the stern and overtaking it shall keep out of the way of the overtaken vessel. The vessel being overtaken shall hold its course and speed.

Other Situations

Rules for Sailing Vessels

The windward side shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried or, in the case of a square-rigged vessel, the side opposite to that on which the largest fore-and-aft sail is carried. The international rules for sailing are the same as the above.

Fog Signals

The law also prescribes signals to identify vessels navigating in or near areas of restricted visibility.

Upon hearing a fog signal apparently forward of the beam, the operator should reduce speed to the minimum at which the boat can be kept on course, unless it has been determined by radar or other means that the risk of collision does not exist. If necessary, the operator should use reverse propulsion. In any event, navigate with extreme caution until any danger is over.

Motorboats:

 

Sailboats or Vessels Not Under Command, Restricted in Ability to Maneuver, Towing or Pushing Another Vessel, or Engaged in Fishing with Nets or Trawling:

 

Boats at Anchor:

 

Operational Law

Peace Officers

Every peace officer of the state, city, county, harbor district, or other political subdivision of the state is empowered to enforce California Boating Law. Such officers have the authority to stop and board any vessel subject to the state boating law.

Peace officers are also authorized to order the operator of an unsafe vessel to shore. A vessel can be ordered to the nearest safe moorage if an unsafe condition is found that cannot be corrected on the spot and where, in the judgment of the officer, the continued operation of the vessel would be especially hazardous.

Any vessel approaching, overtaking, being approached, or being over-taken by, a moving law enforcement vessel operating with a siren or an illuminated blue light, or any vessel approaching a stationary law enforcement vessel displaying an illuminated blue light, shall immediately slow to a speed sufficient to maintain steerage only, shall alter its course, within its ability, so as not to inhibit or interfere with the operation of the law enforcement vessel, and shall proceed, unless otherwise directed by the operator of the law enforcement vessel, at the reduced speed until beyond the area of operation of the law enforcement vessel.

Trailering

It is against the law to tow a trailered vessel containing a passenger, except when engaged in launching or retrieving a vessel.

Stolen Vessels

If a numbered vessel is stolen, the owner or legal owner should notify the local law enforcement agency as soon as possible. The owner shall also notify the local law enforcement agency if the vessel reported stolen is recovered.

County and City Laws

In addition to state law, many counties, cities, and districts have special laws or ordinances which restrict activities in certain areas, prohibit certain acts at certain times, or establish additional requirements. These ordinances may regulate speed, set aside certain areas or hours for special purposes and prohibit acts which would be contrary to public interest.

Boaters must comply with these local rules as well as with the state laws. Check with your local waterway operator for special laws or ordinances in your area.

Age Restrictions

No person under 16 years of age may operate a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower, except for a sailboat that does not exceed 30 feet in length or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and the shore, or between two moored boats. The law allows persons 12-15 years of age to operate motorboats of more than 15 horsepower or sailboats over 30 feet if supervised on board by a person at least 18 years of age. A violation of these provisions is an infraction.

Speed

Speed is limited by law for certain conditions and areas. The maximum speed for motorboats within 100 feet of a bather (but not a water skier) and within 200 feet of a bathing beach, swimming float, diving platform or life line, passenger landing being used, or landing where boats are tied up is five miles per hour.

A safe speed should be maintained at all times so that: a) action can be taken to avoid collision and b) the boat can stop within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

In restricted visibility, motorboats should have the engines ready for immediate maneuvering. An operator should be prepared to stop the vessel within the space of half the distance of forward visibility.

Reckless or Negligent Boat Operation

No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. Examples of such operation include, but are not limited to:

  1. Riding on the bow, gunwale, or transom of a vessel under way, propelled by machinery, when such position is not protected by railing or other reasonable deterrent to falling overboard; or riding in a position or manner which is obviously dangerous. These provisions shall not apply to a vessel's crew in the act of anchoring, mooring or making fast to a dock or another vessel, or in the necessary management of a sail.
  2. Maneuvering towed skiers, or devices, so as to pass the towline over another vessel or its skier.
  3. Navigating a vessel, skis, or other devices between a towing vessel and its tow or tows.
  4. Operating under the influence of intoxicants or narcotics,

Other actions, such as speeding in confined or restricted areas, "buzzing" or "wetting down" others, or skiing at prohibited times or in restricted areas can also be construed to be reckless or negligent operation.

"Hit and run"--Any person involved in a boating accident resulting in injury, death or disappearance, who is convicted of leaving the scene without furnishing appropriate information to others involved or to any peace officer at the scene and/or rendering any reasonable assistance to any injured person, is liable for a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to one year, or both.

Intoxicated Boat Operation

Alcohol is a factor in 39 percent of all fatal motorboat accidents in California. Please do not drink and operate a boat! State law specifies that:

  1. No person shall operate any vessel, water skis or similar device while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, or who is addicted to any drug.
  2. No person 21 years of age or older shall operate any vessel, water skis or similar device who has.08% or more, by weight, of alcohol in their blood. A level of at least .05% but less than .08% may be used with other evidence in determining whether the person was under the influence of alcohol. No person under 21 years of age may operate a vessel, water skis or similar device who has .01% or more, by weight, of alcohol in their blood.
  3. A person who has been arrested for operating a mechanically propelled vessel "under the influence" may be requested to submit to a chemical test to determine blood alcohol content. Refusal may result in increased penalties upon conviction. A person convicted of intoxicated boat operation could receive up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
  4. If you are convicted of operating a vessel while intoxicated, the Department of Motor Vehicles may suspend or revoke your vehicle driver's license. Depending upon the number and type of vehicle and or vessel violations accumulated, this suspension or revocation could be for up to 5 years, and could also result in fines of up to $1,000.

Court-Ordered Boating Education

A person convicted of a moving violation, such as reckless or negligent operation, speeding, or operating a vessel under the influence of drugs or alcohol, may be ordered by the court upon a first conviction, and must be ordered by the court upon a subsequent conviction within seven years of a previous conviction, to complete and pass a boating safety course.

Personal Watercraft Operation

"Personal watercraft" means a vessel less than 12 feet in length, propelled by machinery, that is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel.

Personal watercraft (PWC) are subject to the same laws governing the operation of motorboats of the same size. For proper display of registration numbers and stickers, see the Registration section of this page. For more information, see the Department of Boating and Waterways publication, Safe Boating Hints for Personal Watercraft.

Lanyard/Self-Circling Device--The law requires a person operating a personal watercraft equipped with a lanyard cutoff switch to attach the lanyard to his or her person. Operating a personal watercraft equipped with a self-circling device is prohibited if the self-circling device has been altered.

Nighttime Operation Prohibited--The law prohibits the operation of a personal watercraft at any time between the hours from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise.

Operator Age--It is an infraction for a person under 16 years of age to operate a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower, including personal watercraft. Any person who permits a person under the age of 16 to do so is guilty of an infraction. A person 12-15 may operate a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower if supervised by a person on board who is at least 18 years of age.

Reasonable and Prudent Operation- California law holds that no person shall operate any craft in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person. Some examples are:

Water-Skiing

When using a boat to tow a person on water skis or an aquaplane, there must be in the boat, in addition to the operator, one other person who can observe the person being towed. The observer must be at least 12 years of age.

The towing of water-skiers from sunset to sunrise is prohibited by state law. Local laws may also restrict skiing at certain times during the day and in certain areas.

Water skis and aquaplanes must not be operated in a manner to endanger the safety of persons or property. Passing the towline over another vessel or skier is prohibited. Towing a skier or navigating between a vessel and its tow is prohibited. Towing a skier does not give the operator of the vessel any special privileges. The rules of the road must be observed.

It is mandatory for the operator of a vessel involved in towing a skier to display, or cause to be displayed, a red or orange water-ski flag, to indicate:

The flag must be no less than 12 inches on each side and be in the shape of a square or rectangle. The display of the ski flag does not in itself restrict the use of the water, but when operating in the area, boaters should exercise caution.

Skiers being towed are considered to be persons on board for personal flotation device requirements. For more information on water-skiing, send for the free pamphlet titled "Safety Hints for Water-Skiing" from the Department of Boating and Waterways.

As noted in the "Age Restrictions" section, it is illegal for a person under 12 years of age to operate, or for any person to allow a person under 12 to operate, a motorboat towing a person on water skis or similar device.

For an image of diving safety flags, please click here.

Accident Reporting

Boat operators involved in an accident must provide their name, address and vessel registration number to other involved parties, provide assistance-  to any injured persons and, in case of a death or disappearance, report the accident without delay to law enforcement officials.

Boat operators or owners must also make a written report of a boating accident to the Department of Boating and Waterways when:

This report must be made within 48 hours of the accident in cases involving a disappearance, death that occurs within 24 hours of the accident, or injury that requires medical treatment beyond first aid. In all other incidents where a written accident report is required, the report must be made within 10 days of the accident.

An accident report form is contained in this document and may be used for such reports. Forms are available through most sheriff's and harbormaster's offices and many police departments. They may also be obtained by writing to the Department of Boating and Waterways, 2000 Evergreen Street, Sacramento, CA 95815-3831. Failure to comply with the above requirements is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment up to six months or both.

Radio Procedures-Marine and Emergency Distress

 

SPEAK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY - CALL:
A. If you are in distress (i.e., when threatened by grave and imminent danger) or are observing another vessel in distress, transmit the International Distress Call on Channel 16 "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY THIS IS (state vessel's name and assigned call letters, repeated 3 times)".

If aboard a vessel in trouble state:

  1. WHO you are (your vessel's call letters and name).
  2. WHERE you are (your vessel's position in latitude/longitude or true bearing and distance in nautical miles from a widely known geographical point; local names known only in the immediate vicinity are confusing).
  3. WHAT is wrong.
  4. Kind of assistance desired.
  5. Number of persons aboard and the condition of any injured.
  6. Present seaworthiness of your vessel.
  7. Description of your vessel length, type, cabin, masts, power, color of hull, superstructure, and trim.
  8. Your listening frequency and schedule.

 

If observing another vessel in distress give:

  1. Your position and, if possible, the bearing and distance of the vessel in difficulty.
  2. Nature of distress.
  3. Description of the vessel in distress (see Item 7 above).
  4. Your intentions, course, and speed, etc.
  5. Your radio call sign, name of your vessel, listening frequency, and schedule.

 

NOTE: The international sign for an aircraft that wants to direct a surface craft to a vessel in distress is: Circling the surface craft, opening and closing the throttle or changing propeller pitch (noticeable by change in sound) while crossing ahead of the surface craft, and proceeding in the direction of the vessel in distress. If you receive such a signal, you should follow the aircraft. If you cannot do so, try to inform the aircraft by any available means. If your assistance is no longer needed, the aircraft will cross your wake, opening and closing the throttle or changing the propeller Pitch. If you are radio equipped, you should attempt to communicate with the aircraft on Channel 16 when the aircraft makes the above signals or makes any obvious attempt to attract your attention. In the event you cannot communicate by radio, be alert for a message block dropped from the aircraft.

B. If you need INFORMATION OR ASSISTANCE FROM THE COAST GUARD (other than in a distress), call COAST GUARD on Channel 16 (The Distress and Calling Frequency). In this situation you will normally be shifted to a common working frequency (21, 22, or 23) allowing the DISTRESS frequency to remain open.

RADIO CHECKS: Do not use Channel 16 to call the Coast Guard merely for a radio check. Such use is prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission. NOTIFY THE COAST GUARD PROMPTLY AS SOON AS THE EMERGENCY TERMINATES.

Required Equipment

Recreational vessels are required to carry specified safety equipment which may vary according to type of propulsion, type of construction, area and time of use, and number of people aboard. Unless otherwise noted, all required equipment that is Coast Guard approved must be kept in good, serviceable condition, be readily accessible, and be of the proper type and/or size. Recreational vessels may carry extra equipment that is not Coast Guard approved-provided that the minimum requirements for approved equipment are satisfied. For equipment purposes, sailboats, canoes, rowboats, and inflatable rafts equipped with motors are considered to be "motorboats". Requirements vary considerably for commercial vessels and vessels engaged in racing.

Sailboats and Manually Propelled Vessels

 

Personal Flotation Devices: Requirements for federally navigable waterways- Vessels less than 16 feet in length, and all canoes and kayaks, regardless of length, must carry one Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard- approved personal flotation device for each person on board. They must be readily accessible and of a suitable size for the intended wearer. For state requirements see "Personal Flotation Devices (PFDS) ".

Vessels 16 feet and over, except canoes and kayaks, must have one Type I, II, III, or V Coast Guard-approved wearable device for each person aboard, plus at least one Type IV throwable device. The throwable device must be kept where it is immediately available. Wearable devices must be of a suitable size for the intended wearer.

Navigation Lights: All vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during times of restricted visibility. In inland and international waters, sailing vessels under sail alone shall exhibit navigation lights. The tricolored lantern and the all-round green and red lights should never be used together.

A sailing vessel of less than 23 feet (7 meters) in length shall, if practicable, exhibit those lights prescribed, or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision. A vessel under oars may display those lights prescribed for sailing vessels or have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

Sound Signaling Devices: A vessel of less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) is not required to carry a whistle or bell, but must be able to provide some other means of making an efficient sound signal.

Visual Distress Signals (Coastal Waters Only): Boats less than 16 feet, manually propelled craft of any size, sailboats under 26 feet--of completely open construction and not equipped with propulsion machinery, and boats competing in an organized marine parade, regatta, race, or similar event are only required between sunset and sunrise to carry aboard devices that are suitable for night use.

Motorboats Less Than 16 Feet in Length

 

Personal Flotation Device:  One Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device must be carried for each person on board. They must be readily accessible and of a suitable size for the intended wearer. For state requirements see "Personal Flotation Devices (PFDS) ".

Fire Extinguisher: One Type B-I Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher must be carried when no fixed fire extinguishing system is installed in machinery spaces. Extinguishers are not required for outboard motorboats less than 26 feet in length and of open construction. No portable extinguish- ers are required if an approved, fixed fire extinguishing system is installed in machinery spaces.

Backfire Flame Arrestor: A Coast Guard-approved backfire flame arrestor is required for inboard gasoline motors which are not exposed to the atmosphere above the level of the gunwale.

Muffling System: An effective muffling system is required for the exhaust of each internal combustion engine. Unmodified outboards usually meet legal requirements.

Ventilation System: See "Ventilation Systems".

Sound Signaling Devices: A vessel of less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) must be able to provide a means of making an efficient sound signal but is not required to carry a whistle or bell.

Visual Distress Signals (Coastal Waters Only): Boats less than 16 feet of completely open construction and not equipped with propulsion machinery, and boats competing in an organized marine parade, regatta, race, or similar event are only required between sunset and sunrise to carry aboard devices that are suitable for night use.

Navigation Lights: Navigation lights must be kept in serviceable condition and displayed between sunset and sunrise and at times of restricted visibility. For motorboats operating during these times.

Motorboats 16 Feet to Less Than 26 Feet

 

Personal Flotation Devices: One Type I, II, III, or V Coast Guard-approved wearable personal flotation device must be carried for each person aboard. They must be readily accessible and of a suitable size for the intended wearer. In addition, the vessel must carry an approved Type IV throwable device which should be immediately available.

Fire Extinguisher: One Type B-I Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher must be carried when no fixed fire extinguishing system is installed in machinery spaces. Extinguishers are not required for outboard motorboats less than 26 feet in length and of open construction. No portable extinguishers are required if an approved fixed fire extinguishing system is installed in machinery spaces.

Backfire Flame Arrestor: A Coast Guard-approved backfire flame arrestor is required for inboard gasoline motors which are not exposed to the atmosphere above the level of the gunwale.

Muffling System: An effective muffling system is required for the exhaust of each internal combustion engine. Unmodified outboards usually meet legal requirements.

Ventilation System:See "Ventilation Systems".

Sound Signaling Devices: A vessel of less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) must be able to provide a means of making an efficient sound signal but is not required to carry a whistle or bell.

Visual Distress Signals (Coastal Waters Only): All boats 16 feet or more in length must carry devices aboard at all times. Boaters must carry: EITHER a) devices that are suitable for day use and devices suitable for night use, OR b) devices that can be used for both day and night use.

Navigation Lights: Navigation lights must be kept in serviceable condition and be displayed between sunset and sunrise and at times of restricted visibility. For motorboats operating during these times, see "Running Lights."

Motorboats 26 Feet to Less Than 40 Feet

 

Personal Flotation Devices: One Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard-approved wearable personal flotation device must be carried for each person aboard. They must be readily accessible and of a suitable size for the intended wearer. In addition, the vessel must carry an approved Type IV throwable device which should be immediately available.

Fire Extinguisher: Two Type B-I or one Type B-II Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher must be carried when no fixed fire extinguishing system is

Backfire Flame Arrestor: A Coast Guard-approved backfire flame arrestor is required for inboard gasoline motors which are not exposed to the atmosphere above the level of the gunwale.

Muffling System: An effective muffling system is required for the exhaust of each internal combustion engine. Unmodified outboards usually meet legal requirements.

Ventilation System: See Ventilation Systems.

Sound Signaling Devices: A vessel of less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) must be able to provide a means of making an efficient sound signal but is not required to carry a whistle or bell.

Visual Distress Signals (Coastal Waters Only): All boats 16 feet or more in length must carry devices aboard at all times. Boaters must carry: EITHER a) devices that are suitable for day use and devices suitable for night use, OR b) devices that can be used for both day and night use.

Navigation Lights: Navigation lights must be kept in serviceable condition and be displayed between sunset and sunrise and at times of restricted visibility. For motorboats operating during these times, see "Running Lights."

Motorboats 40 Feet to 65 Feet in Length

 

Personal Flotation Devices: One Type I, II, III or V Coast Guard-approved wearable personal flotation device must be carried for each person aboard. They must be readily accessible and of a suitable size for the intended wearer. In addition, the vessel must carry an approved Type IV throwable device which should be immediately available.

Fire Extinguisher: Three B-I or one B-I and one B-II Type Coast Guard- approved fire extinguishers must be carried when no fixed fire extinguishing system is installed in machinery spaces. With a fixed system in the machinery space, two Type B-I or one Type B-II extinguisher must be carried.

Backfire Flame Arrestor: A Coast Guard-approved backfire flame arrestor is required for inboard gasoline motors which are not exposed to the atmos phere above the level of the gunwale.

Muffling System: An effective muffling system is required for the exhaust of each internal combustion engine. Unmodified outboards usually meet legal requirements.

Ventilation System: See "Ventilation Systems".

Sound Signaling Devices: Vessels 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) or more in length are required to carry a whistle and a bell.

Visual Distress Signals (Coastal Waters Only): All boats 16 feet or more in length must carry devices aboard at all times. Boaters must carry: EITHER a) devices that are suitable for day use and devices suitable for night, OR b) devices that can be used for both day and night use.

Navigation Lights: Navigation lights must be kept in serviceable condition and displayed between sunset and sunrise and at times of restricted visibility. For motorboats operating during these times, see "Running Lights."

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDS)

The minimum requirements are:

Under state law, it is an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $250, to operate a vessel that is 26 feet or less in length unless every child six years of age or younger on board is wearing a Type I, II or III Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (life jacket). The law does not apply to:

Inflatable PFDs - The U.S. Coast Guard approved inflatable PFDs in 1996. Only certain brands are U.S. Coast Guard approved, so check the label. While activation upon impact is not a required feature, inflatables must be equipped, at a minimum, with both manual (pull) and oral inflation systems. They are only approved for adults, and must be wearable, not throwable-type PFDs. Inflatables are not recommended for non-swimmers and are not intended for use while water-skiing or on personal watercraft.

In addition to the above requirements, all boats, powered or nonpowered, must carry at least one wearable Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for every person aboard. PFDs bearing Coast Guard approval are identified by Types I, II, III, IV, or V. Coast Guard approval is shown b a stencil marking or tag on the PFD. This tag or marking shows the name and address of the manufacturer and the Coast Guard approval number. I also shows the amount of flotation in the device and the PFD Type (I, II, III IV, V). Failure to have a sufficient number of approved devices aboard constitutes a violation of state and federal law.

Image of PFD types and descriptions.

California Boating Law requires that all Type I, II, and III PFDs must be readily accessible and all Type IV (throwable) PFDs must be immediately available. All PFDs must be kept in serviceable condition. If the PFD's badly torn, damaged, rotted, punctured or otherwise unserviceable, it no longer meets legal requirements and should be replaced.

Persons being towed on skis or other contrivances are considered to be "persons on board". If the skier is not wearing an approved device, one must be in the boat. Except for some Type V PFDS, and the requirements for children under 7, California Boating Law does not require wearing life jackets while under way. However, it is highly recommended that all persons, especially non-swimmers, wear life jackets. All wearable life jackets must be of suitable size.

Non-approved devices such as ski belts may be carried aboard as excess equipment only. Buoyant cushions should never be worn on the back when in use. For further details concerning the types and designs of PFDS, send for the free pamphlet titled "Safe Boating Hints For Personal Flotation Devices" from the Department of Boating and Waterways.

Fire Extinguishers

Motorboats are required to carry readily accessible fire extinguishers accepted for marine use by the Coast Guard. The size and number of extinguishers accepted for use on motorboats depend on the size of the boat and whether or not there is a fixed extinguishing system installed aboard your boat. Fire extinguishers are not required for outboard pleasure boats less than 26 feet in length, not carrying passengers for hire, without permanently installed fuel tanks and which do not have spaces in which explosive or flammable gases or vapors can collect. (See Table A for specific requirements.) The minimum size approved for use aboard pleasure boats is the B-I size extinguisher.

All extinguishers must be readily accessible (preferably not stowed next to common fire sources), and they must be kept in a serviceable condition.

For an image of fire extinguisher types, please click here.

REMEMBER, the number required by law is only the minimum. Extra extinguishers provide additional safety.
An extinguisher is suitable for marine use when it bears either:
A label that includes Coast Guard approval numbers, "Marine Type USCG," or both markings.
A label that states the extinguisher is listed with Underwriters Labora- tories(UL) and is suitable for marine use. It must be of the type and size described in Table B. UL-listed extinguishers must bear a UL rating of 5-B:C or higher. (All recently manufactured UL marine-type extinguishers will bear both the UL and Coast Guard label markings.) All carbon tetrachloride extinguishers and others of the TOXIC vaporizing-liquid type, such as chlorobromomethane, are not approved and are not accepted as required fire extinguishers on any motorboats.

For further details concerning the types and designs for approved fire extinguishers, send for the free pamphlet titled "Safe Boating Hints for Fire Extinguishers" from the Department of Boating and Waterways.

Muffling Systems

Any motorboat operated on the inland waters of this state must be muffled or otherwise prevented from exceeding the following noise levels when recorded at a distance of 50 feet.

Authorities generally agree that unbaffled exhaust pipes (stacks) and most water-injected pipes do not meet any of the above noise level requirements.

Ventilation Systems

All motorboats or motor vessels, except open boats, made after 1940 and using gasoline as a fuel must have at least two ventilator ducts fitted with cowls or their equivalent for the efficient removal of explosive or flammable gases from the bilges of every engine and fuel tank compartment. If engine and fuel tank compartments are closed and separated, two such ventilation systems are required.

There must be at least one exhaust duct installed so as to extend from the open atmosphere to the lower portion of the bilge and at least one intake duct installed so as to extend to a point at least midway to the bilge or at least below the level of the carburetor air intake. The cowls must be located and trimmed for maximum effectiveness so as to prevent displaced fumes from being recirculated.

Boats built after July 31, 1980 that have a gasoline engine for electrical generation, mechanical power, or propulsion must be equipped with an operable ventilation system. A compartment containing a permanently installed gasoline engine must either be open to the atmosphere or ventilated by an exhaust blower system. The intake duct for an exhaust blower must be in the lower one-third of the compartment and above the normal level of accumulated bilge water. A combination of more than one exhaust blower may be used to meet specified requirements.

Boats equipped with outboard motors or inboard motors, not enclosed and of "open" construction, are exempt from ventilation requirements.

Backfire Flame Control Devices

Backfire flame control devices are designed to prevent open flame from leaving the carburetion system in the event of a backfire.

Vessels equipped with gasoline engines, except outboard motors, must have a backfire flame control device installed on the engine. These can be either:

Marine Sanitation Devices

Federal law forbids the dumping of sewage, treated or untreated, or any waste derived from sewage, into the lakes, reservoirs, or fresh water impoundments of this state.

Federal regulations and equipment standards established jointly by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard govern the use of marine sanitation devices (MSDs). For a pamphlet on the federal MSD regulations, including a list of those coastal harbors whose waters have been declared as "no-discharge" areas, write to the Depart- ment of Boating and Waterways.

State law provides that it is a misdemeanor to disconnect, bypass, o operate an MSD so as to discharge sewage into the waters of this star unless expressly authorized or permitted by law. In no-discharge areas a) no person shall disconnect, bypass, or operate an MSD so as t potentially discharge sewage, and b) no person shall occupy or operate vessel in which an MSD is installed unless the MSD is properly secured A first violation is an infraction and any subsequent violation is misdemeanor. State and local peace officers may enforce state law relating to MSDs and may inspect vessels if there is reasonable cause t suspect noncompliance with those laws.

Oily Waste Discharge Placard

Federal law requires all boats 26 feet or longer to display an Oily Waste Discharge Placard in the engine compartment or near the fuel tank. For more information, call the U.S. Coast Guard toll-free boating safety information line, (800) 368-5647.

Marine Pollution Placard

Federal law now requires all boats 26 feet or more in length, when operating in waters under federal jurisdiction, to display an informational placard on the subject of the federal marine pollution prevention laws. Under the Marine Pollution (MARPOL) International Convention To Prevent Pollution From Ships, the discharge into the navigable waters of the U.S. of the following is prohibited:

The required placard details these prohibitions. The placard must be displayed in a prominent location where the crew and passengers can read it, must be at least 9 inches wide by 4 inches high, and must be made of durable material bearing letters at least 1/8 inch high. The placards can be purchased at marine supply dealers, or a free placard can be obtained by writing to the Department of Boating and Waterways, 2000 Evergreen Street, Sacramento, CA 95815-3831, or by calling (916) 263-1331.

Waste Management Plan

All U.S. vessels 40 feet or more in length and equipped with a galley and berthing must, in addition, carry a Waste Management Plan, if the vessel operates beyond 3 miles from shore. The Waste Management Plan must be in writing, must designate the person who is in charge of carrying out the plan, and must describe procedures for collecting, processing, storing and properly disposing of garbage in keeping with the prohibitions described above.

For an image of marine pollution regulations, please click here.

Running Lights - Inland and International

Operating a boat at night without lights is not only dangerous, it is against the law. Running lights make it possible for boat operators to properly interpret and react to the movements of other boats in darkness. If a boat is used exclusively in the daylight hours, and not during periods of restricted visibility, running lights are not required.

All vessels must show required running lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility. Light requirements vary, based on vessel length and propulsion type. In most cases, requirements for a particular vessel are the same under both inland and international rules.

Power-Driven Vessels: A recreational powerboat under way is required to display a masthead light forward, red and green sidelights and a stern light, as indicated in Figure 1. A recreational powerboat under 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) may instead display a 360' all-round stern light and combination red and green sidelights.

Sailing Vessels and Vessels Under Oar: A sailing vessel operating under power of sail only must exhibit sidelights and a stern light. A Sailing vessel of less than 23 feet (7 meters) in length must, if practicable, exhibit sidelights and a stern light or a lighted lantern showing a white light which must be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision. A sailing vessel operating under machinery power only, or under power and sails, is considered a power-driven vessel, and must display the proper lights for a powerboat.

A vessel under oars may: a) display those lights prescribed for sailing vessels, or b) have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which must be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

Boaters operating at night should be aware that there are other possible combinations of lights; the ones presented above are the most common.

For an image of running lights, please click here.

Anchor Lights

An anchor light is an all-round white light exhibited where it can best be seen and is visible for two miles.
Power-driven vessels and sailing vessels at anchor must display anchor lights. Exceptions are: a) vessels less than 23 feet (7 meters) in length are not required to display anchor lights unless anchored in or near a narrow channel, fairway or anchorage, or where other vessels normally navigate, and b) vessels less than 65 feet 7 inches (20 meters) in inland waters when at anchor in a special anchorage area designated by the Secretary of Transportation are not required to exhibit an anchor light.

Visual Distress-Signaling Devices

Vessels operating on coastal waters must carry the required number of approved visual distress-signaling devices selected from the table below.

Coastal waters include: a) territorial seas and b) those waters directly connected to the territorial seas (bays, sounds, harbors, rivers, inlets, etc.) where any entrance exceeds 2 nautical miles between opposite shorelines to the first point where the largest distance between shorelines narrows to two miles. The carriage requirements for vessels operating on coastal waters are:

1. All boats 16 feet or more in length must carry devices aboard at all times. Boaters must carry: EITHER a) devices that are suitable for day use and devices suitable for night use OR b) devices that can be used for both day and night use.
2. Boats less than 16 feet; manually propelled craft of any size; sailboats under 26 feet of completely open construction and not equipped with propulsion machinery; and boats competing in any organized marine parade, regatta, race, or similar event are only required between sunset and sunrise to carry aboard devices that are suitable for night use.


 

VISUAL DISTRESS REQUIREMENTS Boaters may select a group or any combination as long as it meets the specific requirement for their boat.  

Device Number  

160.021 
160.022  
160.024  
160.036  
160.037  
160.057  
160.066  
160.072  
160.013 

Device description  

Hand red flare, distress signals  
Floating orange smoke distress signals  
Pistol-projected parachute red flare  
Hand-held rocket-propelled parachute red  
Hand-held orange smoke distress signals  
Floating orange smoke distress signals  
Distress signal for boats, red aerial flare  
Distress signal for boats, orange flag  
Electric distress light for boat

Accepted Use  

Day and night  
Day only  
Day and night  
Day and night  
Day only  
Day only  
Day and night  
Day only  
Night only 

Number Required  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


All visual distress-signaling devices must be Coast Guard-approved, be readily accessible, and in serviceable condition. Devices carried aboard beyond the date stamped on each device will not meet legal minimum requirements.

For an image of recognized distress signals, please click here.

Recognized Distress Signals

The following are some of the signals that are recognized as indicating distress and need of assistance. On coastal waters, boaters must carry Coast Guard-approved visual distress-signaling devices.

Registration

California law requires current registration of most vessels. This includes vessels that are moored, whether or not they are used. All vessels must be registered and numbered except:

  1. Boats propelled manually.
  2. Boats eight feet or less in length propelled solely by sail.
  3. Certain vessels owned by public agencies.
  4. Vessels documented by the Coast Guard.
  5. Foreign vessels temporarily using waters of this state.
  6. Ship's lifeboats used solely for lifesaving purposes.
  7. Vessels having valid registration in the state of principal use and not remaining in California over 90 consecutive days.
  8. Sailboards.

How to Register

Application to register a vessel may be made at any office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Upon receipt of the required application and fees, DMV will issue a Certificate of Number, a Certificate of Ownership, and a set of registration stickers. The boat registration number is the number (beginning with CF) shown on the certificates.

Upon registration your vessel may be subject to Use Tax based on the purchase price if it is acquired out-of-state and brought into California within 90 days of purchase or from a private party. For additional information regarding Use Tax, contact your local Board of Equalization or DMV office.

The Certificate of Ownership is your evidence of title to the vessel and, therefore, should be kept in a safe place. Certificates issued will also contain the boat's identifying number (known as the hull identification number), which is the number permanently marked on the transom by the manufacturer or builder, or the number assigned by DMV and marked on the transom by the owner. The reverse side of the Certificate of Ownership is an application for transfer of ownership.

The Certificate of Number, or temporary Certificate of Number, must be available for inspection on the vessel whenever it is being used on the water. Proper display of the current registration stickers on the vessel next to the CF number is required to permit enforcement officers to determine, without boarding, that the vessel is currently registered.

Registration Fees

*The VLF or Vehicle License Fee is part of the annual fee due upon initial registration and registration renewal. The formula for VLF assessment is established by the legislature and is based upon the vehicle's purchase price. An eleven-year depreciation schedule is used to calculate the VLF.

Although DMV is responsible for collection of biennial vessel registration fees, boat owners may still be subject to annual local county taxes. Boats are subject to personal property taxes assessed by the assessor in the county where your boat is principally located. Failure to pay personal property taxes assessed on a boat may result in the nonrenewal of the boat's registration. Questions concerning taxes on boats should be directed to the assessor of that particular county.

Display of Numbers and Stickers

Numbers and stickers issued at the time of registration must be placed on each side of the forward half of the vessel, usually on the bow, in the manner indicated below. If placement of a number on a flared bow would result in difficult reading, the number should be placed on some other part of the forward half of the vessel where it can be easily read.

For personal watercraft, the numbers and stickers must also be affixed on each side of the forward half of the vessel on a non-removable portion of the hull.


 
 

On inflatable boats or vessels so configured that a number will not properly adhere or cannot be clearly seen, the number should be painted on or attached to a backing plate along with the registration sticker. The number must be visible from each side of the vessel. No other numbers, letters, or devices may be placed in the vicinity of the state-assigned number.

To separate the numerals from the letters, spaces the width of the letter "C" or hyphens may be used between the prefix and the number, and between the number and the suffix. Letters and numerals must be at least three inches high, of block character, and of a color which will form a good contrast with the color of the hull or backing plate. In determining height and contrast, any border, trim, outlining, or shading around the number shall not be considered.

Notification Requirements

The owner is required to notify DMV in writing whenever any of the following takes place:

  1. The vessel has been destroyed or abandoned. This notice must be given within 15 days and be accompanied by the Certificate of Number and Certificate of Ownership.
  2. The owner's address has been changed. This notice must be given within 15 days.
  3. The vessel is sold. This notice must be provided within five calendar days and must include date of sale, a description of the vessel and name and address of the new owner.

Registration forms may be obtained from any local DMV office or authorized registration agent or by writing: Department of Motor Vehicles Registration Processing Units P.O. Box 942869 Sacramento, CA 94269-0001


 

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