South Dakota has acres of lakes and miles of rivers tempting boaters, from a rowboat on grandpa’s stock dam to sailing the mighty Missouri River reservoir system. Whether you are looking for the thrill of waterskiing or tubing or you are taking a leisurely evening cruise, boating in South Dakota is endless.
Do you need a Boating License in South Dakota?
Although South Dakota does not require boating education for boat operators, it is recommended that all boaters take a boater safety course that is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.
10 Things to Remember when Boating in South Dakota
- Complete proper boat registration and numbering before heading out onto the water.
No one may operate or give permission to operate a non-motorized boat over 12 feet in length or a motorboat of any length on South Dakota waters unless a valid registration decal is displayed on each side of the bow of the boat. All motorboats also must have proper numbering displayed on each side of the bow of the boat. Non-motorized boats over 18 feet in length must also display proper numbering and registration decals on each side of the bow of the boat.
- Ensure all required safety equipment are on board and in proper working order.
Safety equipment includes; lifejackets or personal flotation devices, throwable device, fire extinguishers, navigation lights, whistle or sounding devices.
- Wear your life jacket. All boats/vessels, regardless of size, need to have a properly sized lifejacket for every person on board. Boats and vessels include anything used outside of a designated swimming area to keep a person afloat. These other vessels may include, but are not limited to paddleboards, kayaks, canoes or inflatable rafts.
- Do not overload your boat. Always check the capacity plate on a vessel. This plate is usually found near the operator’s position or on the vessel’s transom. It indicates the maximum weight capacity, maximum number of people the vessel can carry safely, and maximum horsepower. On vessels under 20 feet in length without a capacity plate, you can use the following rule of thumb to calculate the number of persons that a vessel can carry safely in good weather conditions.
Number of people = vessel length (ft) X vessel width (ft) / 15.
- Operate your boat in a safe and careful manner. South Dakota law prohibits careless and reckless boat operation. Some common examples of these seen in South Dakota include; allowing occupants in a boat to ride in a manner or locations (bow/transom) that jeopardize their safety when the boat is underway; operating at unreasonable speeds near beaches, fishing boats, docks; operating in such a way that creates an undue hazard to other boats or swimmers.
- Never boat under the influence (BUI). Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. South Dakota law prohibits anyone from boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The state blood alcohol content legal limit for operating a vessel under the influence is .08. Please have a designated driver.
- Know your navigation rules. If you are operating a boat or personal watercraft on one of our water resources, it is your responsibility to know the navigation rules and to take actions necessary to avoid collisions. When boating at night, be aware of lights from other vessels on the water. There are four common lights for navigation:
- Sidelights are red and green lights visible to an oncoming boat from the side or straight ahead.
- All around white light (most common in South Dakota) is able to be seen from any direction.
- Stern light is white light that can be seen from behind the boat.
- Masthead light is a forward-shining white light located on the mast of a sailboat and required on all powerboats. (The all-around white light is commonly used in leu of the masthead and the stern light).
- Personal Watercrafts or PWC safety is important. Operators and occupants on a PWC must wear a USCG-approved PFD or lifejacket (inflatable PFD’s are not approved for PWCs).
Did you know that most PWCs do not allow “off throttle” steering? To steer a PWC, the engine must be running and you must apply the throttle. If your PWC is at idle or the engine is off, turning the steering column will not result in a change of course. Some new PWC’s do allow for off-throttle steering. Most PWCs also have an emergency ignition safety switch with a lanyard attached to it. It is illegal to operate your PWC without properly attaching the lanyard between the switch and yourself in South Dakota.
- Prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Pull your drain plugs, live wells and bait wells to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Boat drain plugs must be opened and removed except when on the water, launching or loading or while in the boat ramp parking area.
- Take a boating safety course. Although a boating safety course is not required to operate a boat in South Dakota, it is highly recommend that you complete a NASBLA/USCG approved course.
Life Jacket Loaner Program
In 2000, GFP started the first Life Jacket Loaner Program in the state of South Dakota. The program was developed as a means to not only educate the public about life jacket wear and safety, but also as a means of getting life jackets into the hands of those that needed them.
Overstating the value of life jackets is nearly impossible. Life jackets are to boats as seat belts are to motor vehicles. Life jackets are the single most important piece of equipment that any boat owner not only needs, but is required by law to have aboard his or her boat. However, like seat belts, life jackets are of little use if they are not worn.
In 2010, there were a reported 4604 boating accidents nationwide. A total of 672 deaths resulted from those boating accidents. Of those deaths, 504 were due to drowning. An overwhelming 88% of those that drowned were not wearing a life jacket. The numbers do not lie, life jackets are a critical piece of boating safety equipment and need to worn in ordered to work.
So how does the Life Jacket Loaner Program work? The answer is fairly simple. If you or someone you know if planning an outing on a lake or river and find yourselves needing and extra life jacket or two, look to the loaner program. As part of the program, GFP offers life jackets available in sizes ranging from infant all the way up to adult. All of the available life jackets are in good, clean working order and all are US Coast Guard approved. All life jackets are offered at no cost and can be loaned out for up to two weeks at a time.
The following is a listing of those GFP Wildlife Division offices that participate in the life jacket loaner program:
Please call ahead as this is a first-come, first-served program.
- Aberdeen: 605.626.2391
- Chamberlain: 605.734.4530
- Ft. Pierre: 605.223.7700
- Huron: 650.353.7145
- Mobridge: 605.845.7814
- Rapid City (Outdoor Campus West): 605.394.2310
- Sioux Falls: (Outdoor Campus East): 605.362.2777
- Watertown: 605.882.5200
- Webster: 605.345.3381
In addition, the following GFP Park offices will also being offering life jackets as part of the loaner program:
- Adams Homestead and Nature Preserve: 605.232.0873
- Farm Island Recreation Area: 605.773.2885
- Fort Sisseton State Park:605.448.5474
- Lake Herman State Park: 605. 256.5003
- Lake Vermillion Recreation Area: 605.296.3643
- Lewis and Clark Recreation Area: 605.688.2985
- Newton Hills State Park: 605.987.2263
- North Point Recreation Area: 605.487.7016
- Oahe Downstream Recreation Area: 605.223.7722
- Oakwood Lakes State Park: 605.627.5441
- Snake Creek Recreation Area: 605.337.2587
- Walker’s Point Recreation Area: 605.256.5003
- West Bend Recreation Area: 605.733.2885
To participate in the loaner program, simply call ahead to ensure availability, visit any of the listed offices during normal business hours, fill out the required loaner/waiver for, and pick up the desired life jacket for loan.
Who needs a boat number?
All motorized boats, regardless of length and construction materials, and all non-motorized boats over 18 feet in length must be licensed and numbered.
Non-motorized boats over 12 feet and under 18 feet in length must have a validation sticker, but boat numbering is optional.
Non-motorized boats 12 feet in length or less are not required to be licensed or numbered.