Basic Safety Regulations

Just as drivers must follow certain regulations on the highway, there are basic safety rules that apply on the water to make boating safer and more enjoyable for everyone. Use the following only as guidelines. Check with your local Department of Boating and Waterways for more specific requirements.

The U.S. Coast Guard has enforcement authority on Federal waters (generally coastal waters and rivers and lakes that are in more than one state). In California, most recreational boating law enforcement is done by county sheriffs officers, cities, districts, and other agencies. Law enforcement officers can stop a voyage (the boat must return to the closest dock until the hazardous situation is corrected) if they find an especially hazardous condition. See the following examples.

1. Not enough Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
   or fire extinguishers.
2. Overloading. (Check capacity plate information.)
3. Failure to display required navigation lights.
4, Fuel leakage or fuel in the bilge. Fuel accumulation (other than fuel tanks).
5. Failure to meet ventilation requirements.
6. Failure to meet carburetor backfire flame arrestor requirements.
7. Excessive leakage or accumulation of water in the bilge.
8. Lack of fire extinguisher.

Operator Awareness
Always keep a sharp lookout for other boats, swimmers, or obstacles. Failure to keep a proper lookout is a major cause of accidents.

Consider water and existing conditions. Never load a boat with passengers or cargo beyond its safe carrying capacity. For a guide, check the manufacturer's capacity plate. (See Part L)

Reckless or Negligent Boat Operation.
California law specifies that 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.
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 alcohol or drugs. 5. Operating in a swimming area with swimmers present.
6. Excessive speed in a congested area or in fog or stormy conditions.
7. Other actions, such as speeding in confined or  restricted areas. "buzzing" or 'wetting down" others, or skiing at prohibited times or restricted areas can  also be reckless or negligent operation.

Speed Regulations
When no limits are posted, operate the boat so it will not endanger others. The boat must be able to stop safely within the clear distance ahead. When passing near marinas, fishing areas, swimming areas, a vessel servicing a buoy, or similar places, reduce speed. Skippers are responsible for damage caused by their wakes.
Speed is limited by law for certain conditions and areas. The maximum speed for motor boats within 200 feet of a beach frequented by bathers, a swimming float, a diving platform or lifeline, and a passenger landing, where boats are docked, or within 100 feet of bathers, is 5 miles per hour.
Every vessel shall, under conditions of reduced visibility, go at a moderate speed with careful regard for existing circumstances and conditions. Other actions, such as speeding in confined or restricted areas, "buzzing" or "wetting down" others, skiing at prohibited times or in restricted areas, can also be construed as reckless or negligent operation.
Note: Some states have an after sundown speed limit of 5 mph. on all bodies of water. Check with local authorities.

Restricted Areas
Some waterways limit boat size and use. Check local regulations before departing. In some cases, a launching permit may be necessary.

Riding on Decks or Gunwales
While underway in a motorboat, it is unlawful to ride on the bow, gunwale (pronounced gunnel), transom, or in any position that is obviously dangerous. If there is no railing or other deterrent, you may fall overboard. In addition to being unsafe, riding on gunwales can interfere with stability, and bow riding may restrict the operator's visibility. (These provisions do not apply to crew in the act of anchoring. mooring, tying to a dock or another vessel, or managing a sail.)

Interference with Navigation
Never obstruct a channel or fairway or interfere with the travel of other boats. Avoid anchoring in heavily traveled areas. Do not block launching areas.

Mooring to Buoys
The only buoys you are permitted to moor to are mooring buoys. Mooring to a navigation buoy, regulatory buoy or other aid to navigation or regulatory marker is illegal.

Pollution Regulations
If you have a marine head (toilet) installed in your boat, it must be U.S. Coast Guard certified and of a type authorized for the area where you will be boating. Check with the U.S. Coast Guard and state bearing officials for the latest information. These regulations do not apply to portable toilets.
It is a violation of the Federal Pollution Control Act to pump or discharge any kind of oil into navigable waters. Oil must not be dumped into the bilge of a boat. Skippers caught with oil in the bilge of their boats must be able to show how they intend to dispose of it properly. Every boat that is 26 feet or longer must display a 5" x 8" sign near the bilge pump control station staring the regulations of the Federal Pollution Control Act.
The dumping of garbage into the sea has become a worldwide problem. Plastic refuse dumped in the water can kill fish and marine wildlife, and can foul vessel propellers and cooling water intakes. Other forms of water borne garbage can litter our beaches and make people sick. Because of this, Coast Guard regulations completely prohibit the dumping of plastic refuse or other garbage mixed with plastic into the water anywhere, and restrict the dumping of other forms of garbage within specified distances from shore.
If you observe a violation, report it to the closest U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port or Marine Safety Office.

***If your vessel is 26 feet or more in length, you must affix one or more placards to the vessel where they can be observed and read by the crew and passengers.*****

Youth Operators
In California, no person under 16 years of age shall operate:
* A motorboat having propulsion of more than 15 horsepower (except for sailboats that do not exceed 30 feet or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and shore, or between two moored boats.)
* A motorboat engaged in towing a person on water skis,
aquaplane, or similar device.
* A motorboat designed to carry only one person.

Persons 12-15 years of age may operate motorboats of more than 15 hp when supervised on board by someone at least 18 years of age.

Water-skiing is prohibited from sunset to sunrise or as regulated by local law. Always watch for other boats and swimmers. You must have at least two people in the boat: the operator and someone to observe the skier. The operator must be at least 18 years old. The observer must be at least 12 years old. When water-skiing on open waters, operate in a counterclockwise direction if possible, unless prohibited by local ordinance.

                                 |  [Safety page]  [Home page]