* California and federal boating laws are presented in a summarized form. The laws in their entirety can be found by consulting the California State Law. These laws are subject to change. It is the responsibility of the operator to be aware of the most current laws when using a boat.
** Certain bodies of water in California have local restrictions as to type and size of watercraft or motor horsepower, restricted use areas, boat speed, and times for use. Check with the local authorities for these additional restrictions.
This section contains information on California Boating Regulations that are in addition to the Federal Requirements. All Federal Requirements apply to California; this section lists California-specific State Requirements that are above and beyond Federal Requirements.
Persons under the age of 16 are prohibited from operating any vessel powered by a motor of 15 horsepower or more, 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 of 12-15 years of age to operate specified motorboats of 15 horsepower or more if supervised on board by a person at least 18 years of age. A violation of these provisions is an infraction. (This law went into effect on January1, 1998. )
Personal Flotation Devices:
On a motorboat, sailboat, or vessel that is 26 feet or less in length, all persons 11 years of age or less must wear a Type I, II, or III Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device while that motorboat, sailboat, or vessel is underway. (Unless the child is restrained by a harness tethered to a sailboat or is in an enclosed cabin.)
Speed Limits and Reckless Operation:
No person shall use any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.
Every owner, operator, or person in command of any vessel propelled by machinery is guilty of a misdemeanor who uses it, or permits it to be used, at a speed in excess of five miles per hour in any portion of the following areas not otherwise regulated by local rules and regulations:
- Within 100 feet of any person who is engaged in the act of bathing. A person engaged in the sport of water skiing shall not be considered as engaged in the act of bathing for the purposes of this section.
- Within 200 feet of any of the following:
- A beach frequented by bathers.
- A swimming float, diving platform, or lifeline.
- A way or landing float to which boats are made fast or which is being used for the embarkation or discharge of passengers.
The department may establish and maintain for the use of vessels on the waters of California rules of the road and pilot rules in conformity with those contained in the federal navigation laws or the navigation rules promulgated by the United States Coast Guard.
Every vessel operating in the State of California shall carry and use safety equipment in accordance with U. S. Coast Guard requirements as specified in the Code of Federal Regulations. Additionally, every vessel shall display the lights and shapes required by the navigation rules. See the Basic Boating Course for these requirements.
Personal watercraft are considered boats and subject to the same regulations.
Reckless and/or negligent operation of a PWC is prohibited. This includes:
- wake jumping within 100 feet
- spraying a vessel or person in the water
- operating in such a way as to require the PWC or vessel to swerve to avoid collision
PWCs cannot be operated between the hours of one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise. PWC operators and passengers must wear a U.S.C.G. approved life jacket.
California law requires a water-ski observer (who is not the boat operator) onboard. The observer must be at least 12 years old. Water skiers must wear a U.S.C.G. approved life jacket.
Water skiing is permitted only between the hours from sunrise to sunset. Local ordinances may further restrict hours of operation.
No person shall operate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.
The operator of a vessel involved in towing a skier must display a ski flag to indicate any of the following conditions:
- A downed skier
- A skier in the water preparing to ski
- A ski line extended from the vessel
- A ski in the water in the vicinity of the vessel
Pollution and MSDs:
No person may operate, in any lake, reservoir, or fresh water impoundment of California, any vessel which is equipped with a toilet unless such toilet is sealed or otherwise rendered inoperable - no discharge permitted. Human sewage from boats can create environmental problems including: human health hazards, unappealing sight of floating sewage, contaminated shellfish beds and decreased oxygen levels in the water.
If an accident results in loss of life, injury requiring medical treatment beyond first aid, or damage to property in excess of $500 or loss of the vessel, the owner or operator shall report the accident in writing. Report accidents to the the California Department of Boating and Waterways.
Boating While Intoxicated:
No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device if the person is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Operating with a Blood Alcohol Content of .08 or above is illegal in California.
-Additionally, persons under the age of 21 cannot operate a motorized vessel, water skies or similar device with a Blood Alcohol Content of .01 or more.
Local Rules and Ordinances:
Local jurisdictions may have additional boating laws, rules or ordinances. The operator of any vessel is obligated to know the laws.
Local rules may include horsepower or speed limits, vessel type and size restrictions, zoning restrictions or traffic patterns, additional equipment requirements or other general prohibitions.
The registration stickers shall be securely affixed on each side of the vessel three inches aft (toward the stern) of and directly in line with the registration numbers and shall be clearly visible at all times.
Dept. of Boating & Waterways
200 Evergreen Street
Sacramento, CA 95815-3888
Toll-free within CA: 888-326-2822