New Laws Impact Boating From Coast To Coast

By Nicole Palya Wood

This past year, state legislators took to their capitals and debated many different kinds of boating bills. Here's how their decisions affect boaters around the country.

Photo of U.S. Capital at nightOne widespread theme of 2014 was the attempt to establish cohesive boating laws between the states. (Photo: Thinkstock)

On the Same Page:

One common theme across the states was an attempt to make boating laws more consistent from state to state. Whether the issue at hand was education or law enforcement, states collaborated to pool resources and achieve more cohesive policy. For instance, in Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal signed the Interstate Boating Violator Compact that creates a method for law enforcement agencies to share information with each other, and will allow Georgia to suspend privileges of boaters who've violated the boating laws or lost privileges in other member states. This reciprocal agreement between states mirrors the Wildlife Violator Compact established in 1985, which has 42 member states.

Education Requirements In California & Illinois:

In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed California's education bill (SB 941), which will require all power boaters under the age of 20 to complete a boater-safety education course by January 1, 2018. The age requirement will include those up to 25 years of age by January 1, 2019, and by 2025 all California boaters will be under the requirement. Now, California has removed itself from the list of holdout states to pass a boater-education requirement. Although all states have different policies affecting boaters, the requirement that boaters have some form of education is now more the rule than the exception. Only Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota, and Wyoming have no boater-education requirement.

Illinois' SB 3433 toughened the state's boating law and mandates that all boaters born after January 1, 1998, operating a boat with a 10-hp engine or greater, obtain a boating safety certificate approved by the state Department of Natural Resources. The new requirement will go into effect on January 1, 2016.

The California and Illinois laws create an exemption from the boater-education requirement for boaters wishing to rent boats or who are in the states for a short period of time. The New York state education law (passed in 2013) also created such an exemption.

Uniform Titling:

Although Virginia led the way in 2013, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. adopted uniform titling laws in 2014. Based on the model law drafted by the Uniform Law Commission and supported by BoatUS, these laws help create boat titles with the same protections and benefits provided to automobiles, which will also make a sale or transfer of a boat a bit smoother.

Electric-Shock Drowning:

Although several states introduced legislation attempt ing to prevent electric-shock drowning (ESD) deaths by regulating marinas, only Tennessee was successful in passing a law in 2014. The law establishes new electrical standards for marinas and requires annual electrical inspections of commercial marinas to ensure facilities are complying. The new law also carries steep fines of up to $50,000 for a marina operator whose violation has resulted in a death. Kentucky deliberated a strong bill on ESD but the measure didn't pass.


Several bills and amendments were defeated that would've allowed the Florida counties of Dade and Broward to create their own anchoring laws, outside of the state's anchoring pilot program. Up for renewal in 2015, the program operates in five pilot areas around the state to streamline and regulate anchoring areas and help keep uniform systems. The bills would've allowed these counties to create their own anchoring restrictions or eliminate anchoring areas altogether.

Mandatory Insurance:

As part of a larger bill dealing with the derelict-vessel problem in Washington state, the legislature passed a requirement that mandates all marina slip holders or non-transient mooring users to carry a minimum marine-liability insurance policy of $300,000. The policy also must cover general, legal, and pollution liability.

2015 Outlook:

Boater education will continue to be a topic of discussion in many states, particularly those that have older laws with weak or no boater safety certificate requirement. More states are raising the minimum age of boat operators as well as requiring mandatory life jackets on paddle craft.

Even though 2013 boating fatalities were the lowest in years, in 2014, there were multiple deaths from towed watersports and electric-shock drowning. As a result, expect to see bills introduced to require ground-fault interrupters on docks and at marinas, as well as criminal penalties for boat operators found to be negligent. BoatUS will continue to monitor boating legislation and regulation that effects your boating experience. 

Nicole Palya Wood is a member of our BoatUS Government Affairs team.

— Published: December 2014

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