Arizona Boating Laws – What you need to know

Arizona Boating Laws and Regulations  – Age and Operator Restrictions 

No one under the age of 12 may operate a vessel with a motor greater than 8 horsepower (which includes PWCs) unless: 

  • An emergency exists or… 
  • The child’s parent or legal guardian is on board or…
  • Another person at least 18 years of age is on board.


This guide as a reference of the Arizona Boating laws, which can be used as a quick reference to pertinent boating rules. In order to review the Arizona Boating & Water Sports Laws in their entirety, proceed to Arizona Revised Statutes Title 5 and scroll down to chapter 3.  


Person: any individual or group of individuals.  

Watercraft: any boat designed to be propelled on water by oars, paddles or wind acting upon a sail.  

Waterway: any body of water on which a watercraft may be navigated.  

Wakeless speed: a speed that does not create a wake, but in no case more than 5 mph.  

Aids to navigation: buoys, beacons or other fixed objects designed to direct navigation.  

Regulatory marker: any anchored or fixed marker on or near the water, other than aids to navigation, including markers to indicate swimming areas, speed zones, danger points, wakeless areas, keep-out areas, mooring buoys and general information.  

Sound level: the noise level measured in decibels on the “A Scale” set forth by the U.S.A. Standards Institute for sound meters.  

Watercraft Numbers  

Every watercraft, operated, moored or anchored on the waterways of Arizona must be numbered. The owner must file an application for number to the Arizona Game and Fish Department on forms provided. The number issued must be displayed on each side of the bow along with the current registration decal issued by the department.  

Personal Flotation Devices  

All watercraft must be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation devices as follows:  

A. A child twelve years of age or under on board a watercraft shall wear a United States Coast Guard approved type I, II, or III personal flotation device whenever the watercraft is underway.  

B. Boats under 16 feet and all canoes or kayaks must carry at least one device of any type for each person on board.  

C. Boats 16 feet and over must carry a wearable device (vest or jacket) for each person on board plus at least one throwing device (ring buoy or cushion).  

Any person being towed behind a watercraft must wear a buoyant belt or personal flotation device. No person shall operate a watercraft in such a manner as to show disregard for other persons or property.  

Diver Flags  

A red flag with white diagonal stripes running from staffhead to opposite lower corner shall be recognized as a diver flag, indicating there are divers below the surface.  

Muffling Devices  

All watercraft must be equipped with effective muffling equipment in good working condition and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise, unless the watercraft is competing in an approved race or has been issued a testing permit from the Department. Unless operating under such permit, no person shall operate a watercraft which emits a sound level in excess of 86 decibels on the “A” weighted scales, as measured 50 or more feet away from the watercraft.  


All watercraft 20 feet or less in length sold or manufactured in Arizona after January 1, 1971, must have a capacity plate attached and readily visible from the position normally occupied by the operator of the watercraft. No watercraft may be loaded beyond the safe carrying capacity indicated on this plate. Such plates are not required on canoes and sailboats.  

Fire Extinguishers  

All watercraft under 26 feet long and using as fuel any volatile liquid having a flashpoint of 110 degrees or less shall carry at least one Coast Guard approved Type B-I fire extinguisher if any of the following conditions exist:  

  1. Inboard engine.  
  2. Closed compartments under thwarts and seats where portable fuel tanks may be stored.  
  3. Double bottoms not sealed to the hull or which are not completely filled with flotation materials.  
  4. Closed living spaces.  
  5. Closed stowage compartments in which combustible or flammable materials are stored.  
  6. Permanently installed red fuel tanks. Fuel tanks secured so they cannot be moved in case of fire or other emergency shall be considered permanently installed.  

Watercraft from 26-40 feet shall carry:  

  • A. At least two Type B-I fire extinguishers, or;  
  • B. At least one Type B-II fire extinguisher.  

When a fixed fire extinguisher system is installed in a machinery space there shall be aboard at least one B-I Type fire extinguisher.  

All Watercraft 40-65 feet long must carry at least three Type B-I fire extinguishers, or at least one Type B-I and one B-II Type extinguisher, when there is no fixed fire extinguishing system installed in machinery spaces. When a fixed extinguisher system is installed in machinery spaces, there must be at least two B-I and at least one B-II extinguishers aboard.  

Careless Operations  

A person shall not operate a watercraft while allowing a person to ride on the gunwales, the transom, or the decked over bow of a watercraft propelled by machinery operating in excess of wakeless speed.  

No person shall operate a watercraft in such a manner as to show willful or wanton disregard for other persons or property.  

Operation Age  – At what age can I drive a boat in Arizona?

Except in case of emergency, no person under the age of twelve years may operate a watercraft propelled by a motor of greater than eight horsepower, unless the person’s parent or legal guardian or at least one person who is eighteen years of age or older is present on the watercraft. It is also unlawful for any person to allow another person under the age of twelve to operate a motor-powered watercraft, including Personal watercraft (PWC) 

Are there Arizona Boat Speed Restrictions  

No person shall operate a watercraft at a greater speed than prudent under prevailing conditions. Speed shall be controlled as to avoid a collision or creating a dangerous wake. Prohibited Operations By Incapacitated Persons No person under the influence of liquor or drugs, or who is mentally or physically incapable of operating a water craft under prevailing circumstances, shall be in physical control of any watercraft. A person found guilty of this violation could receive a fine of up to $2,500 and a jail sentence of up to six months.  

Arizona Boat Navigation Lights  

Either Inland or International Rules for Lights must be observed between sunset and sunrise when underway or adrift.  

Inland rules for lights on motorboats under 26 feet prescribe a red and green combination light forward, and a bright white light aft to show all around the horizon (360 degrees). Motorboats 26-60 feet shall display a 20-point light on the bow as close as is practical to the stem and a white 32-point light aft and higher than the bow light to show all around the horizon. Separate side lights showing red 10 points to port and green 10 points to starboard shall be used and fitted with screens to prevent them from being seen across the bow.  

International Rules for Lights on motorboats under 40 feet prescribe a red and green combination light, or separate red and green lights forward, a white 20-point light forward and three feet higher than the colored lights, and a white 12-point light aft.  

All sailboats without an auxiliary engine on board shall display separate red and green lights forward, and a white 12-point light aft.  

Manually propelled watercraft shall carry a lantern or flashlight showing a light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to avert collision. Lights are not necessary on waters where power craft are prohibited.  

A white 360 degree light must be displayed any time a watercraft is anchored in other than a special anchorage.  

Interference with Navigation Prohibited  

No person shall operate a watercraft or swim in a manner which unnecessarily or unreasonably interferes with other watercraft or with areas used for launching. Anchoring or swimming in heavily traveled channels or blocking launching areas shall constitute such interference.  


No watercraft having in tow a person or persons on water skis, surf board or similar contrivance shall be operated unless the watercraft is occupied by a least two persons: an operator and an observer.  

The observer shall display a bright or brilliant orange or red flag visible from all directions, no less than 12 x 12 inches on a side and mounted on a handle, at all times when a skier is down in the water and not actually skiing.  

No person shall operate water skis or similar contrivances in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger life or property, or in a manner contrary to that designated by regulatory markers. Water-skiing is prohibited between sunset and sunrise.  

Blocking Launching Areas  

No person shall camp or park on any boat-launching area or otherwise restrict or prevent free access to the launching area.  

Dumping Refuse, Littering  

It is illegal to dump refuse, rubbish, etc. on the waterways or shorelines of this state. Watercraft sewage systems which dump directly into the water must be sealed. Discharge of any sewage system into waterways or onto shorelines is illegal.  

Accident: Duties of Operator  

The operator of any watercraft involved in an accident which results in injury or property damage shall immediately stop such watercraft, give his name and address and the name and address of the owner to the injured party, render reasonable assistance and promptly report the incident to the nearest agency. A report must be filed directly with the Department’s Phoenix office.  


  • All peace officers of the state, counties, and cities shall enforce the provisions of this title.  
  • In the enforcement of this article an officer may issue a citation and order the operator of the watercraft ashore to correct the violation or may issue a warning order.  
  • All watercraft operators are required to stop when hailed by a peace officer.  

Violations: Penalty  

Any person who violates this title is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 and a jail sentence of six months.  

Right of Way – Navigation Rules  

  1. The operator of a watercraft under power shall yield the right of way to any craft not under power, unless the empowered craft is overtaking the powered craft.  
  2. Operators of watercraft shall yield right of way to watercraft entering its “danger zone,” which is a area from straight ahead to 112 degrees to starboard (right side), in cases where a collision might occur. (This is roughly the same angle as the green, or right side, running light.)  
  3. Watercraft may pass on either side when overtaking another, but the operator of the passing watercraft shall be responsible for any collision and for his wake. Watercraft being overtaken shall maintain course and speed. Watercraft meeting head-on shall pass portside to portside (left side) when practical to do so.  
  4. Normal traffic on waterways shall be counter-clockwise. Watercraft leaving the shoreline shall yield right of way to watercraft approaching the shoreline. 

Waterways Marking System (Regulatory Markers and Aids to Navigation)  

  1. No person shall operate a watercraft on the waters of the state contrary to the manner prescribed by lawful regulatory markers.  
  2. No person shall moor or fasten a watercraft to any regulatory marker, or remove, obstruct, or interfere with any regulatory marker.  
  3. All regulatory markers will be colored white and orange.  
  4. Geometric shapes painted on regulatory markers shall indicate: 
    •  A diamond means danger. 
    • A diamond with a cross inside means no boats allowed. 
    • Circles mean boats are subject to restrictions indicated inside the circle. 
    • A square or rectangular shape with directions inside gives specific directions, such as “marina,” etc. 
  5. On a well-defined channel, aids to navigation shall be solid colored buoys unless otherwise marked. A buoy marking the left side of a channel (looking upstream or uplake from the dam) shall be green. Buoys marking the right side of the channel shall be all red. Such buoys shall be in pairs, marking each side of the channel, except that on an irregularly defined channel they may be staggered on alternate sides of the channel. In all cases, watercraft should pass between the buoys.  
  6. A buoy with alternate red and white stripes means the watercraft should not pass between the buoy and the shore. 
  7. Navigational markers may be equipped with flashing lights.
  8. Mooring buoys shall be white with a horizontal blue band halfway between the top of the buoy and the waterline.  

Staggered Registration  

Staggered registration is similar to motor vehicle registration. Decals issued with be the color of the year of expiration and will display the month and year of expiration.  

If ownership of a watercraft changes, the new owner must notify the Department with 15 days. The owner must notify the Department within 15 days if his address changes or if a watercraft is stolen.  

No number other than the one issued by the Department may be displayed on the forward half of any watercraft. The registration certificate must be aboard when a watercraft is in use.  

If a certificate of number is lost or destroyed, a duplicate may be obtained for the Department for $2.00.  

Numbering: Exceptions  

Makeshift contrivances constructed of inner tubes or floatable materials not propelled by machinery, personal flotation equipment worn or held in hand, and other objects used for floating or swimming aids and not for navigation are exempt from registration and numbering.  

Reciprocity Non-resident-owned watercraft currently registered in another state may be operated on the waters of Arizona for a period of 90 days.  

Regulatory Waterway Markers 

  1. DANGER! Nature of danger may be indicated inside the diamond shape–e.g. rocks, reef, dams, construction or snags.  
  2. INFORMATION. Tells directions, distances, places, food, repairs, supplies and other nonregulatory messages.  
  3. CAUTION. Controlled area as indicated in circle–e.g. speed limit, no fishing, no anchoring, ski only, slow/no wake, no ski and no prop boats.  
  4. BOATS KEEP OUT! Nature of danger may be placed outside crossed diamond– e.g. waterfalls, swim areas or rapids.  
  5. DIVER’S FLAG. Caution, diver below.  
  6. OBSTRUCTION MARKER. Cardinal system–do not pass between buoy and shore.  
  8. AIDS TO NAVIGATION. Green color and odd numbers are on port side when traveling upstream. Red color and even numbers are on starboard side when traveling upstream.  


  • ALWAYS travel in a counter clockwise direction (the closest shoreline is to the right shoulder) even when a more direct route would be easier. Have a serviceable Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher (check it every day as per the instructions printed on the label) even when it’s not their boat.
  • ALWAYS have a serviceable Coast Guard approved life jacket (personal flotation device) on board for each person in the proper size–adult sizes are not acceptable for children.
  • ALWAYS have children 12-years-old and younger wearing their life jackets while the boat is moving, even when it’s hot and they’re whining.
  • ALWAYS have a sober, knowledgeable driver even when there’s nothing else to drink. Have an observer with an orange or red flag while water skiing, display the flag when the skier is in the water.
  • ALWAYS stay 60 feet or more from other boats while moving above a wakeless speed even when they’re friends and it appears to be funny.
  • ALWAYS obey regulatory buoys and know what they mean.
  • ALWAYS leave and return to the boat ramps at a very slow speed (no wake) so that they do not interfere with other boats as they launch.
  • ALWAYS operate the watercraft in a cautious manner as if their life depends on it…BECAUSE IT DOES! 

What does Arizona Boat Registration Mean? 

Registration means that a motorized boat can be used. Without it, it cannot legally be put on the water. An owner registering a boat for the first time in Arizona is always issued three things: 

  • A certificate of number (ownership document) 
  • An AZ Number 
  • A set of decals 

Certificate of Number 

This document shows that a motorized watercraft has been registered in the name of the owner. The certificate must be on the watercraft any time it is in use (underway, moored or anchored) on the waters of Arizona (whether the waters are public or private). In effect, a motorized watercraft cannot be used if it is not registered. 

AZ Number 

The AZ number is a set of numbers prefixed by the letters “AZ”, which the owner must paint or otherwise affix to the forward half of the boat on each side. In concept, they are like having license plates on your car. A motorized boat cannot be used without displaying the AZ numbers unless it is a new boat with a temporary registration issued by a watercraft dealer. 


Two decals are issued when the boat is first registered and annually thereafter, when the registration is renewed. The owner must affix these to both sides of the boat in front of the AZ numbers. They prove that the boat is currently registered. See the example below for correct location:  

Which boats must be registered in Arizona? 

All motorboats must be registered in Arizona regardless of their size, construction, or type and size of motor. This includes, for example, inflatable rafts, sailboats and canoes with motors (including electric motors). Exceptions to the registration requirement include watercraft used solely as lifeboats and those documented by the U. S. Coast Guard. 

I just bought a boat, and I plan to use it in Arizona – What do I do?  

If the boat is new, you need four things: 

  • A completed application (provided by the Game and Fish Department) for Arizona watercraft certificate of number; 
  • A bill of sale with the name of buyer and seller, hull ID number, length, manufacturer, purchase price and sales tax paid; 
  • Manufacturer’s statement of origin; and 
  • Proper registration fees. 

If the boat is used and previously registered in Arizona you will need the following: 

  • A bill of sale with the name of buyer and seller, signature of seller, hull ID number, length, manufacturer, and purchase price. A bill of sale showing sales tax paid is required in addition to the registration if the boat was purchased from a watercraft dealer. 
  • A completed application form 1532 provided by the Department. 
  • Proper registration fees, and transfer fee. 
  • No penalty fee will apply. 

If the boat is used and previously registered or titled in another state, you will need the following: 

  • Original title (if coming from a title state) or original registration (if coming from a registration state), which is signed off by the previous owner(s). 
  • If purchased by a watercraft dealer, bill of sale signed by an authorized representative showing sales tax paid in addition to the title or registration. 
  • A completed application form. 
  • Proper registration fees. 

I live in another state and would like to use my boat on Arizona waters. What are your requirements? 

Nonresident watercraft may operate in Arizona for a period of 90 days without Arizona registration, provided it is in compliance with the numbering system of the U.S. Coast Guard or their home state. If the watercraft continues to operate on Arizona waters, it must be registered with the Department before the 90-day period ends. 

What is a hull identification number? 

A hull identification number (or HIN) means a number assigned to specific watercraft by the manufacturer or by a government jurisdiction as prescribed by the U.S. Coast Guard. It is similar to a car’s vehicle identification number. All watercraft manufactured after August 1972 are required by federal law to have a 12-digit HIN. Your watercraft will require inspection if it is homemade or newer than the 1972 and does not have a conforming HIN. 

How do I place my AZ number and decals on my watercraft? 

The AZ number shall be painted on or attached to each side of the forward half of your watercraft. It shall read from left to right, be in block letters not less than three inches high, and be of a color that contrasts with the color of the hull. It shall be the only number on the forward half of your boat and should be clearly visible from 100 feet away during daylight hours. The letters AZ and the suffix shall be separated from the numerals by a hyphen or equivalent space. 

The decals shall be affixed 3 inches in front of the AZ on both sides of the forward half of the watercraft.

For additional questions specific to your individual need, please contact the:

Main Office – Phoenix
Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway
Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000

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