Arkansas Boating Laws – What you need to know

Arkansas is blessed with more than 600,000 acres of lakes and more than 90,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks. Boating is big fun, but it can be dangerous. The AGFC works to minimize accidents on the water through education and enforcement of boating regulations. Click one of the links below to get started enjoying the water the right way. 

Arkansas Boating Laws and Boater Education Requirement 

To operate any motorboat (including a PWC) legally on Arkansas waters, a person who is of legal age to operate a vessel, whether an Arkansas resident or non-resident, and who is born on or after January 1, 1986, must have:  A boating education certificate showing successful completion of an approved AGFC safe boating course or A valid boating education certificate issued by another state from a boating education course that is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). Proof of certification must be carried on board the vessel.  

Who May Operate a PWC  

  • A person under 16 years of age may not operate any PWC that is not rated to carry at least two people. The following requirements also apply to operation of a PWC.  
  • A person under 12 years of age must have a person at least 21 years of age on board who must: Satisfy the boating education requirement if born on or after January 1, 1986, and, Be in a position to take immediate control of the PWC.  
  • A person 12 through 15 years of age must have a person at least 18 years of age on board who must: Satisfy the boating education requirement if born on or after January 1, 1986, and, Be in a position to take immediate control of the PWC.  
  • A person 16 years of age or older must satisfy the boating education requirement if born on or after January 1, 1986. It is illegal for the owner or person in control of a personal watercraft to allow someone who does not meet the age or boating education requirements to operate the PWC.  
  • A PWC livery (rental agency) may not lease a PWC to a person under 18 years of age.  

Who May Operate a Motorboat Other Than a PWC  

The following requirements apply to operation of a motorboat powered by an engine of 10 horsepower or more.  

  • A person under 12 years of age must: Satisfy the boating education requirement and be under the direct visible and audible supervision of a parent, guardian, or person over 17 years of age.  
  • A person 12 years of age or older must satisfy the boating education requirement if born on or after January 1, 1986. It is illegal for the owner or person in control of a motorboat to allow someone who does not meet the age or boating education requirements to operate the vessel. 

Personal Watercraft (PWC)  

Personal watercrafts are considered an inboard vessel and comes under the same rules and requirements of any other vessel, there are specific considerations for the PWC operator. Steering and Stopping a PWC. PWC are propelled by drawing water into a pump and then forcing it out under pressure through a steering nozzle at the back of the unit. This “jet” of pressurized water is directed by the steering control— when the steering control is turned, the steering nozzle turns in the same direction. Most PWC do not have brakes. Always allow plenty of room for stopping. Just because you release the throttle or shut off the engine does not mean you will stop immediately. Even PWC that have a braking system do not stop immediately, no power means no steering control. Most PWC and other jet-drive vessels must have power in order to maintain control. If you allow the engine on a PWC or other jet-propelled vessel to return to idle or shut off during operation, you may lose all steering control. Many PWC will continue in the direction they were headed before the engine was shut off, no matter which way the steering control is turned.  

Remember that everyone on board a PWC must wear a USCG–approved personal flotation device (life jacket). Keep hands, feet, loose clothing, and hair away from the pump intake area. Before cleaning debris away from the pump intake, be sure to shut off the engine.  Know your limits, and ride according to your abilities. Make sure that the water you operate in is at least 30 inches deep. Riding in shallow water can cause bottom sediments or aquatic vegetation to be sucked into the pump, damaging your PWC and the environment. Also avoid causing erosion by operating at slow speed and by not creating a wake when operating near shore or in narrow streams or rivers. Never use your PWC to disturb, chase, or harass wildlife. 

PWC operators must obey the laws that apply to other vessels as well as obey additional requirements that apply specifically to the operation of PWC. Requirements Specific to PWC: 

  • Every person on board a PWC must wear a USCG–approved PFD.  
  • An operator of a PWC equipped with a lanyard-type ECOS must attach the lanyard to his or her person, clothing, or PFD.  
  • PWC may be operated only between one-half hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset.  
  • There are age restrictions on operators of PWC.  
  • It is illegal to operate a PWC in an unsafe or reckless manner.  

Sharing the fun of your PWC with friends is all part of the boating experience. Before you share your PWC, however, make sure that others you allow to operate it understand their responsibilities as an operator. They need to know that they have the same responsibilities as any other vessel operator, including obeying the navigation rules. In addition: Make sure that anyone you allow to operate your PWC meets the minimum age and education requirements for PWC operation in Arkansas and the local waterway you are using. Show new operators how to start and reboard the PWC while on shore or in shallow water. Explain how to steer and control the PWC.  Make sure that the operator understands how to use the ECOS and attaches the lanyard to his or her person or PFD before starting the engine. 

Engine Cut-Off Switch (ECOS) 

No person shall operate a vessel that is equipped by the manufacturer with a lanyard-type ECOS without first attaching the lanyard to their person or life jacket when the engine is engaged, unless traveling less than 5 mph. Most PWC and powerboats come equipped by the manufacturer with an important device called an emergency engine cut-off switch (ECOS). If properly worn, this is a safety device that is designed to shut off the engine if the operator is thrown from the proper operating position. The USCG requires that operators of vessels equipped with an ECOS use the device at all times. A lanyard is attached to the ECOS and the operator’s wrist or PFD. The switch shuts off the engine if the operator falls off the PWC or out of the powerboat. In many states, it is illegal to ride your PWC without attaching the lanyard properly between the switch and yourself.  

Reboarding a Capsized PWC  

You should be familiar with the proper procedure to right the PWC and to reboard from the rear of the craft. Most manufacturers have placed a decal at the rear or bottom of the craft that indicates the direction to roll your PWC to return it to an upright position.  If you roll it over the wrong way, you could damage your PWC.  

Safe navigation on Arkansas waterways is everyone’s responsibility. All operators are equally responsible for taking action to avoid collisions. Encountering Other Vessels Even though no vessel has the “right-of-way” over another vessel, there are some rules that every operator should follow when encountering other vessels. It is the responsibility of both operators to take the action needed to avoid a collision.  

Laws for Canoes, Kayaks and Paddleboards on Arkansas Waterways

Life Jackets
All vessels must have at least one United State Coast Guard-approved wearable PFD (life jacket) for each person on board. All life vests must be in good condition and of proper size

Children 12 and under must wear a life jacket, which must be securely fastened while on board any vessel.

Glass Containers Are Prohibited
Except for containers for substances prescribed by a licensed physician, no person shall possess or use glass containers on Arkansas waters within a vessel easily susceptible to swamping, tipping or rolling. For purposes of this act, “vessel” shall not include a houseboat, party barge, jon boat, runabout, ski boat, bass boat or similar craft.

However, people engaged in removing glass previously discarded by others and found within the banks of an Arkansas navigable waterway may not be charged with a violation for possessing that glass if it is being transported in a secure trash container.

Fasten Cooler Lids
All coolers, iceboxes or containers for foodstuffs and beverages must be sealed or locked to prevent their contents from spilling into the water while on board a canoe, kayak, inner tube or other vessel easily susceptible to swamping, tipping or rolling while on Arkansas waters.

Attach and Use a Litter Container
Canoes, kayaks, inner tubes and other vessels easily susceptible to swamping, tipping or rolling that are transporting foodstuffs or beverages on Arkansas waters must have a litter container that is capable of being securely closed. All litter must be contained in this container until the litter may be safely and lawfully disposed.

Use a Floating Holder for Beverages
When onboard a canoe, kayak, inner tube or other vessel easily susceptible to swamping, tipping or rolling, any beverage not contained in a sealed or locked container or litter bag must be attached to or held within a floating holder that prevents them from sinking beneath the water’s surface.

Paddling Ethics

Respect Private Property
Please respect private property along navigable streams and avoid stopping on private property unless it is an emergency. Private property may be marked by fences, signs or purple paint. Keep noise levels low and plan your stops on public land.

Share the Water
When approaching anglers or other paddlers, give them a wide berth and proceed quietly, so you don’t interfere with their recreation.

Paddling Safety

Rivers are ever-changing systems with inherent dangers. Here are some tips to help you safely enjoy your time on the water:

  • Never paddle alone.
  • Always file a float plan – tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Check weather forecasts.
  • Carry a map of the stream so you can find your location at any time.
  • Carry a hand-held Global Positioning System unit; it will help you pinpoint your position and how to get back to a launch site.
  • Wear protective footgear and carry drinking water, sunscreen and insect repellent.
  • Plan your trip so that your paddling skills are equal to the water conditions.

Encountering Vessels With Limited Maneuverability  

When operating a power-driven vessel, you must give way to:  

  • Any vessel not under command, such as an anchored or disabled vessel  
  • Any vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver, such as a vessel towing another or laying cable, or one constrained by its draft, such as a large ship in a channel  
  • A vessel engaged in commercial fishing  
  • A sailboat under sail unless it is overtaking  

When operating a vessel under sail, you must give way to:  

  • Any vessel not under command  
  • Any vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver  
  • A vessel engaged in commercial fishing  

Navigation Rules  

  • Stand-on vessel: The vessel that should maintain its course and speed  
  • Give-way vessel: The vessel that must take early and substantial action to avoid collision by stopping, slowing down, or changing course. 
  • Nighttime Navigation  
  • Be on the lookout for the lights of other vessels when boating at night. Several types of lights serve as navigational aids at night. There are four common navigation lights.  
  • Sidelights: These red and green lights are called sidelights, also called combination lights, because they are visible to another vessel approaching from the side or head-on. The red light indicates a vessel’s port (left) side; the green indicates a vessel’s starboard (right) side.  
  • Sternlight: This white light is seen from behind or nearly behind the vessel.  
  • Masthead Light: This white light shines forward and to both sides and is required on all power-driven vessels. A masthead light must be displayed by all vessels when under engine power. The absence of this light indicates a sailboat under sail.  
  • All-Round White Light: On power-driven vessels less than 39.4 feet in length, this light may be used to combine a masthead light and sternlight into a single white light that can be seen by other vessels from any direction. This light serves as an anchor light when sidelights are extinguished. 

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)  

All vessels must have at least one USCG–approved wearable PFD (life jacket) for each person on board. In addition to the above requirement, one USCG–approved throwable device must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer.  

  • Children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG–approved PFD securely fastened to their persons at all times while on any vessel. The only exception is if the child is within the enclosed area of a houseboat or cruiser, or within the area enclosed by railings on a party barge, cruiser, or houseboat, and the vessel is not underway.  
  • Each person on board a PWC must wear a USCG–approved PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for use on PWC.  
  • Each person being towed behind a motorized vessel on water skis, an aquaplane, or other device must wear a USCG–approved PFD.  
  • Besides being USCG–approved, all PFDs must be: In good and serviceable condition. Readily accessible, which means you are able to put the PFD on quickly in an emergency, and of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.  
  • Wearable Offshore Life Jackets  
  • These vests are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take awhile. They provide the most buoyancy, are excellent for flotation, and will turn most unconscious persons face up in the water.  
  • Wearable Near-Shore Vests These vests are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. A Near-Shore Vest may not turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water.  
  • Wearable Flotation Aids These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. They are not recommended for rough waters since they will not turn most unconscious persons face up.  
  • Throwable Devices come in several forms such as cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Since a throwable device is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters nor for persons who are unable to hold onto it.  
  • Wearable Special-Use Devices These vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing. To be acceptable, Special-Use PFDs must be used in accordance with their label.  

Navigation Lights  

The required navigation lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility. On Arkansas state waters, all motorboats must have lighting sufficient to make their presence and location known to any other vessels. On federal waters, the following requirements apply.  

Power-Driven Vessels when Underway if less than 65.6 feet long, these vessels must exhibit lights. Remember, power-driven vessels include sailboats operating under engine power. The required lights are: 

  • Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet long, at least one mile away—on a dark, clear night.  
  • An all-round white light or both a masthead light and a sternlight. These lights must be visible from a distance of at least two miles away on a dark, clear night. The all-round white light (or the masthead light) must be at least 3.3 feet higher than the sidelights.  

Unpowered Vessels When Underway – Unpowered vessels are sailboats or vessels that are paddled, poled, or rowed. If less than 65.6 feet long, the required lights are:  

  • Red and green sidelights visible from at least two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet long, at least one mile away. A sternlight visible from at least two miles away.  

If less than 23.0 feet long, these vessels should:  

If practical, exhibit the same lights as required for unpowered vessels less than 65.6 feet in length. If not practical, have on hand at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light 

All Vessels When Not Underway  

All vessels are required to display a white light visible from all directions whenever they are moored or anchored outside a designated mooring area between sunset and sunrise.  

Fire Extinguishers  

All vessels are required to have a Type B fire extinguisher on board if one or more of the following conditions exist: Inboard engine, closed compartments where portable fuel tanks may be stored or in which flammable or combustible materials may be stored and permanently installed fuel tanks 

Type B fires are of flammable liquids like gasoline or oil.  Approved types of fire extinguishers are identified by the following marking on the label—“Marine Type USCG Approved”—followed by the type and size symbols and the approval number.   

Extinguishers should be placed in an accessible area—not near the engine or in a compartment, but where they can be reached immediately. Be sure you know how to operate them, and inspect extinguishers regularly to ensure they are in working condition and fully charged. 

Towing Skiers 

Vessel operators towing a person(s) on water skis or a similar device have additional laws they must follow. Every vessel towing a person(s) on water skis, an aquaplane, or other device must have on board, in addition to the operator, an observer at least 12 years old and in a position to observe the progress of the person(s) being towed.  Boats equipped with a wide-angle, convex, marine rear-view mirror in a position to observe the skiers being towed are exempt from this requirement.  PWC operators may not substitute a mirror for an observer (that is, a PWC must have an observer at least 12 years old) at all times when pulling a skier.  All persons being towed behind a motorboat or motorized device on water skis, an aquaplane, or other device must wear a USCG–approved PFD (life jacket). It is illegal for vessels to tow a person(s) on water skis, an aquaplane, or other device between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise. If towing a person on skis or other device with a PWC, the PWC must be rated to carry at least three people—the operator, the observer, and the retrieved skier. 

Vessel Classification 

A vessel’s length class determines the equipment necessary to comply with federal and state laws. Vessels are divided into length classes: • Less than 16 feet • 16 feet to less than 26 feet • 26 feet to less than 40 feet • 40 feet to less than 65 feet, the length is measured from the tip of the bow in a straight line to the stern. This does not include outboard motors, brackets, rudders, bow attachments, or swim platforms and ladders that are not a molded part of the hull.  

Vessel Capacity  

Always check the capacity plate, which is usually found near the operator’s position or on the vessel’s transom. This plate indicates the maximum weight capacity and/or maximum number of people that the vessel can carry safely. It also indicates the maximum horsepower. PWC and some other vessels are not required to have a capacity plate. Always follow the recommended capacity in the owner’s manual and on the manufacturer’s warning decal.  

Fueling a Vessel  

Never fuel at night unless it is an emergency. If you must refuel after dark, use only electric lights. Try to refuel away from the water or on a commercial fueling ramp.  

Before beginning to fuel: • Dock the boat securely and ask all passengers to exit. • Do not allow anyone to smoke or strike a match. • Check all fuel lines, connections, and fuel vents. • Turn off anything that might cause a spark—engines, fans, or electrical equipment. • Shut off all fuel valves and extinguish all open flames, such as galley stoves and pilot lights. • Close all windows, ports, doors, and other openings to prevent fumes from entering the boat. • Remove portable fuel tanks and fill them on the dock.  

While filling the fuel tank: • Keep the nozzle of the fuel-pump hose in contact with the tank opening to prevent producing a static spark. • Avoid spilling fuel into the boat’s bilge or the water. • Never fill a tank to the brim—leave room to expand. • Wipe up any spilled fuel.  

After fueling: • Open all windows, ports, doors, and other openings. • Before starting the engine, sniff the bilge and engine compartment for fuel vapors.  

If your vessel is equipped with a fuel power ventilation fans system, turn it on for at least four minutes both after fueling and before starting your engine to remove gas vapors in the bilge.  

Filing a Float Plan

Before going out on a vessel, it is always a good idea to leave a float plan with a relative or friend, or at least with a local marina. A float plan should:

  • Describe the vessel, including its registration number, length, make, horsepower, and engine type.
  • State where you are going, the detailed route, your planned departure time, and your expected return time.
  • Give the name, address, and telephone number of each person on board and an emergency contact.
  •  Pre-Departure Checklist You can help ensure a good time while operating your vessel by performing this pre-departure check. 
  • Check the weather forecast for the area and time frame during which you will be boating.  
  • Make sure that the steering and throttle controls operate properly and all lights are working properly.  
  • Check for any fuel leaks from the tank, fuel lines, and carburetor.  
  • Check the engine compartment for oil leaks.  
  • Check hose connections for leaks or cracks, and make sure hose clamps are tight.  
  • Drain all water from the engine compartment, and be sure the bilge plug is replaced and secure. ✓ Check to be sure you have a fully charged engine battery and fire extinguishers.  
  • If so equipped, make sure the engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and wrist lanyard are in good order.   Make sure you have the required number of personal flotation devices (PFDs), and check that they are in good condition.  
  • Leave a float plan with a reliable friend or relative.  

U.S. Aids to Navigation System (ATON)  

Buoys and markers are the “traffic signals” that guide vessel operators safely along some waterways. They also identify dangerous or controlled areas and give directions and information. As a recreational boat or PWC operator, you will need to know the lateral navigation markers and non-lateral markers of the U.S. Aids to Navigation System.  

Lateral Markers  

These navigation aids mark the edges of safe water areas, for example, directing travel within a channel. The markers use a combination of colors and numbers, which may appear on either buoys or permanently placed markers. Red colors, red lights, and even numbers indicate the right side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream. Green colors, green lights, and odd numbers indicate the left side of the channel as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream.  

Red and green colors and/or lights indicate the preferred (primary) channel. If green is on top, the preferred channel is to the right as a boater enters from the open sea or heads upstream; if red is on top, the preferred channel is to the left.  

Nuns are red cone-shaped buoys marked with even numbers. Cans are green cylindrical-shaped buoys marked with odd numbers. Lighted Buoys use the lateral marker colors and numbers and have a matching-colored light.  

Daymarks are permanently placed signs attached to structures, such as posts, in the water. Common daymarks are red triangles (equivalent to nuns) and green squares (equivalent to cans). They may be lighted also.  

Non-Lateral Markers

Non-lateral markers are navigation aids that give information other than the edges of safe water areas. The most common are regulatory markers which are white and use orange markings and black lettering. These markers are found on lakes and rivers. Information Squares indicate where to find food, supplies, repairs, etc., and give directions and other information. Controlled Circles indicate a controlled area such as speed limit, no fishing or anchoring, ski only or no skiing, or “slow, no wake.” Exclusion Crossed diamonds indicate areas off limits to all vessels such as swimming areas, dams, and spillways. Danger Diamonds warn of dangers such as rocks, shoals, construction, dams, or stumps. Always proceed with caution.  

Mooring Buoy Mooring buoys are white with a blue horizontal band and are found in marinas and other areas where vessels are allowed to anchor.  

VHF Frequencies Broadcasting

VHF Frequencies Broadcasting NOAA Weather Reports 162.400 MHz 162.425 MHz 162.450 MHz 162.475 MHz 162.500 MHz 162.525 MHz 162.550 MHz These are the most commonly used VHF channels on United States waters.  

  • Channel 6 Intership safety communications.  
  • Channel 9 Communications between vessels (commercial and recreational), and ship to coast (calling channel in designated USCG Districts).  
  • Channel 13 Navigational use by commercial, military, and recreational vessels at bridges, locks, and harbors.  
  • Channel 16 Distress and safety calls to USCG and others, and to initiate calls to other vessels; often called the “hailing” channel. (Some regions use other channels as the hailing channel.) When hailing, contact the other vessel, quickly agree to another channel, and then switch to that channel to continue conversation.  
  • Channel 22 Communications between the USCG and the maritime public, both recreational and commercial. Severe weather warnings, hazards to navigation, and other safety warnings are broadcast on this channel.  
  • Channels 24–28 Public telephone calls (to marine operator).  
  • Channels 68, 69, and 71 Recreational vessel radio channels and ship to coast.  
  • Channel 70 Digital selective calling “alert channel.”  

Registering a Motorboat  

  • You must have an Arkansas Certificate of Number (registration) and validation decals to operate a motorboat on Arkansas public waters. The only exceptions are:  
  • Vessels that are propelled solely by sails 
  • Vessels properly registered in another state and using Arkansas waters for 90 or fewer consecutive days  
  • Vessels documented by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)  
  • The Certificate of Number must be on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the motorboat is operated. The registration number and validation decals must be displayed as follows.  
  • Number must be painted, applied as a decal, or otherwise affixed to the forward half of each side of the motorboat and placed to be clearly visible.  
  • Number must read from left to right on both sides of the motorboat. AR 3717 ZW  
  • Number must be in at least three-inch-high, bold, BLOCK letters.  
  • Number’s color must contrast with its background.  
  • Letters must be separated from the numbers by a space or hyphen: AR 3717 ZW, AR-3717-ZW, AR 999 AZZ, or AR-999-AZZ.  
  • No other numbers may be displayed on either side of the bow.  
  • Decals must be affixed on each side of the motorboat, toward the stern of the registration number, and three inches from and in line with the number.  
  • If your motorboat requires registration, it is illegal to operate it or allow others to operate your motorboat unless it is registered and numbered as described above.  
  • As of January 1, 2020, boats manufactured in 2020 and after are required to be titled through the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration Office of Motor Vehicle. (See Act 733 of the 92nd Arkansas General Assembly—Regular Session, 2019.)  The owner of a motorboat that requires registration must apply for the registration within 30 days of the date of purchase. The motorboat may be operated during this period if the owner has on board a dated proof of purchase.  A Certificate of Number is valid for three years. If you happen to replace your outboard engine the new the serial number of the engine must be provided to the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). If ownership of a registered motorboat changes, the new owner must apply to the DFA for transfer of the registration within 30 days of the ownership change. If a registered motorboat is abandoned or destroyed, the owner must notify the DFA within 15 days of the event and the Certificate of Number will be terminated. If you lose or destroy your registration card or decals, you must apply for a duplicate and submit a processing fee.  

Liability Insurance Requirement  

All motorboats powered by engines of more than 50 horsepower, and all personal watercraft (PWC), must be covered by a liability insurance policy. The policy must provide at least $50,000 of liability coverage per occurrence. It is illegal for the owner of such a vessel to operate it, or allow others to operate it, unless the vessel has the required insurance. Proof of insurance must be carried on board the vessel and be available for inspection by an enforcement officer. Registration applications for vessels requiring liability insurance must be accompanied by proof of the insurance policy.  

Hull Identification Number The Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a unique, 12-digit number assigned by the manufacturer to vessels built after 1972. These numbers: Distinguish one vessel from another. Under the Boat Identification Act, it is illegal to remove, cover, alter, mutilate, or destroy the HIN.  

Ventilation Systems

The purpose of ventilation systems is to avoid explosions by removing flammable gases. Properly installed ventilation systems greatly reduce the chance of a life-threatening explosion.  

  • All gasoline-powered vessels, constructed in a way that would entrap fumes, must have at least two ventilation ducts fitted with cowls to remove the fumes.  
  • If your vessel is equipped with a power ventilation system, turn it on for at least four minutes both after fueling and before starting your engine.  
  • If your vessel is not equipped with a power ventilation system (for example, a PWC), open the engine compartment and sniff for gasoline fumes before starting the engine.  

Backfire Flame Arrestors  

Backfire flame arrestors are designed to prevent the ignition of gasoline vapors in case the engine backfires. All powerboats except outboards that are operating on federal waters and are fueled with gasoline must have a backfire flame arrestor on each carburetor. The arrestors must be USCG–approved (must comply with SAE J-1928 or UL 1111 standards). It is also strongly recommended that these vessels be equipped with backfire flame arrestors if on state waters.  


It is strongly recommended that all vessel engines have an effective muffling system. The use of dry stack headers or pipes extending directly from the engine of a motorboat that does not have any type of muffler is prohibited except for motorboats competing in an authorized marine event.  

Sound-Producing Devices  

In periods of reduced visibility, a sound-producing device is essential. The following is required on vessels only when operating on federal waters; however, it is strongly recommended that all vessels be so equipped.  Vessels less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length, which includes PWC, must have some way of making an efficient sound signal. Examples are a handheld air horn, an athletic whistle, an installed horn, etc. Vessels that are 39.4 feet or more in length must have a sound-signaling device that can produce an efficient sound signal. The sound signal should be audible for one-half mile and should last for 4 to 6 seconds.  No vessel may be equipped with a siren, except vessels used by law enforcement officers.  

Visual Distress Signals  

Visual distress signals allow vessel operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency. Visual distress signals are classified as day signals (visible in bright sunlight), night signals (visible at night), or both day and night signals. Visual distress signals are not required on Arkansas state waters, but it is strongly recommended that you carry Visual distress signals on your vessel.  

Alcohol and Drugs

You are prohibited from operating any motorboat or other vessel, or manipulating water skis or other devices, while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or both. Arkansas law states that a person is considered to be boating while intoxicated if he or she:  

  • Has a blood, breath, or urine alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more (if under the age of 21, 0.02% is considered intoxicated) or…  
  • Is under the influence to such a degree that his or her reactions, motor skills, and judgment are substantially altered and endanger anyone.  

Arkansas law establishes the following penalties for boating while intoxicated.  

  • Upon a first conviction, a person will lose his or her driver’s license for a period of 6 months. In addition, the person may be fined up to $1,000 and jailed up to one year.  
  • In addition, the convicted person will be required to complete, at his or her own expense, an approved alcohol education or alcoholism treatment program. 
  • By operating a motorboat or other vessel on Arkansas waters, you have given “implied” consent to alcohol testing if an officer has reasonable cause to believe you are boating while intoxicated. Refusal can result in the loss of operating and driving privileges for up to six months.  

Boating Accidents  

An operator involved in a boating accident must:  Stop his or her vessel immediately at the scene of the accident and assist anyone injured or in danger from the accident, unless doing so would seriously endanger his or her own vessel or passengers and give, in writing, his or her name, address, and vessel identification to anyone injured from the accident and to the owner of any damaged property.  The operator or owner of a vessel involved in an accident must notify immediately the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission or local sheriff’s department if:  A person dies or disappears or is injured or damage to the vessel or other property is $2,000 or more. State law requires all reportable accidents to be investigated.  

Glass Containers and Trash  

The following restrictions apply to any vessel that is easily susceptible to swamping, tipping, or rolling (such as a canoe, kayak, or inner tube) and operating within the banks of Arkansas’s navigable waterways (any navigable river, lake, or other body of water).  Except for containers for substances prescribed by a licensed physician, no one may have or use glass containers within a vessel. All persons using a cooler, icebox, or other container for foodstuffs and beverages must:  

  • Ensure that the container seals or locks in the contents to prevent them from spilling into the water.  
  • Upon removing beverages from the cooler or other container, put them into or attach a floating holder or other device so that beverages cannot sink beneath the surface of the water.  
  • Carry and affix to the vessel a sturdy container or a bag of mesh construction suitable for containing their trash and capable of being securely closed.  
  • Transport all their trash to a place where the materials may be disposed of safely and lawfully.  

Arkansas Navigable Rivers or Pools Include:  

  • Arkansas River from the mouth to the Oklahoma state line  
  • Black River from the mouth to the Missouri state line  
  • Mississippi River from the Louisiana state line to the Missouri state line  
  • Ouachita River from the mouth to Blakely Dam  
  • Red River from the Louisiana state line to the Oklahoma state line  
  • White River from the mouth to Dam No. 1 at Batesville  

Aquatic Nuisance Species

Introducing non-native species into Arkansas waters can upset the balance of the ecosystem, thereby harming the environment. Aquatic nuisance species, such as zebra mussels, quagga mussels, milfoil, and hydrilla, most often spread between waterways by hitching a ride on vessels and trailers. When transplanted into new waters, these organisms proliferate, displacing native species and damaging the water resource.  


The boating laws of Arkansas are enforced by AGFC enforcement officers, sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, state police officers, Department of Parks and Tourism enforcement officers, municipal police officers, and the USCG. Officers may legally stop and board your vessel in order to check for compliance with state and federal laws. You must follow the directive of a person with law enforcement authority. 

For more information contact – ARKANSAS GAME & FISH COMMISSION –  

2 Natural Resources Drive

Little Rock, AR 72205  

1-501-223-6300 or 1-800-364-4263  

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