Idaho Boating Laws – What you need to know

There is no state law that requires boat operators to be of a minimum age or requires boat operators to take a safety class or proficiency exam. 

Is there a minimum age or proficiency exam required to operate a power boat? 

There is no state law that requires boat operators to be of a minimum age or requires boat operators to take a safety class or proficiency exam.  However, some counties have enacted local ordinances that require operators to be a certain age to operate power boats. 

Here is a brief run down of county-specific ordinances involving age. (Keep in mind that there could be other county ordinances that are stricter than state law.) Make sure you check with your local marine deputies before heading out! 

Adams County 

  • Children under the age of ten cannot operate a motor driven watercraft except when they are under direct adult supervision; Anyone under the age of 14 cannot operate or allow to be operated without adult supervision if the vessel is powered by a motor rated higher than 15 horsepower. 

Benewah County 

  • Children between the ages of 10-14 cannot operate a motorboat with a motor rating of 15 horsepower or higher unless they are under direct supervision of an adult operator; Children under the age of 10 may not operate any motorboat except under the direct supervision of an adult. 

Bonner County 

  • Children under the age of 10 cannot operate a motor-driven watercraft (including Personal Watercraft) unless under direct adult supervision; Children between the ages of 10-14 cannot operate a motorboat with a motor rating higher than 10 horsepower. 

Kootenai County 

  • Adult supervision is required when an operator of a boat or other vessel is between the ages of 10-14, unless the motor is 15 horsepower or less. 

Are there special regulations for riding personal watercraft (PWC)? 

PWC’s are small, jet-propelled boats designed to carry one to three people that sit on top rather than inside the vessel. Often referred to as “jet skis,” these watercraft are considered motorboats and are subject to the same regulations as motorboats, including equipment and responsible handling. Additionally, for a life jacket to be considered “readily accessible” on a PWC, it must be worn. All riders and persons being towed must wear their life jackets at all times while the PWC is under way. 

There are no additional rules addressing PWCs, except when renting them. Idaho law requires those who rent PWCs to deliver education. Afterwards, each rider must carry the state’s verification of education card whenever operating (driving) a rented PWC. If one person out of a large group pays for the rental, he or she is legally responsible to make sure everyone else who rides also views the educational video and carries their own wallet card when they drive.  

Idaho counties have the authority to enact restrictions for personal watercraft that are more strict than state law. Examples of counties that have stricter laws than the state regarding PWC operation include Bonner and Kootenai Counties. It is your responsibility to know the rules for the county in which you plan to recreate. 

PWC manufacturers recommend that all drivers be at least 16 years old, and that all riders wear a helmet, protective shoes/clothing, and a life jacket. 

Special concerns for PWC Operators: 

  • There is a statewide no-wake zone. Slow to 5 mph within 100 feet of a dock, structure or person in the water. 
  • Wake jumping, when the craft is “airborne” close behind another boat is restricted. A safe distance is 100 feet. 
  • Towing a skier or tuber requires a manufacturer’s capacity rating for three people. 
  • It takes three to ski. The driver must have a passenger serve as the spotter and operate the skier-down flag. The PWC must have three-person seating for the operator, observer, and skier. 
  • Operating at night is prohibited without the proper combination of lights installed by the manufacturer. 
  • Yield the right-of-way to other powerboats and skiers. 

My boat is registered outside of Idaho, if I bring it to Idaho for a vacation do I need to also buy an Idaho registration sticker? 

Boat registrations from other states are valid in Idaho for 60 consecutive days.  Out-of-state boaters are required to purchase an invasive species sticker before launching in Idaho waters ($30 for motorized boats registered outside of Idaho and $7 for a non-motorized boat).  If you enter Idaho and see a sign for a boat inspection station you must pull into the station and have all boats inspected for invasive species. 

You should also be aware of Idaho’s life jacket law for children; kids 14 years old and under on board boats 19’ or less must wear the life jacket at all times while the boat is underway.  This requirement applies to both power boats and non-motorized paddle craft. 

Does my vessel need to be registered if it is powered by an electric trolling motor? 

Yes, vessels powered by electric trolling motors need to be registered in Idaho.  Adding the electric trolling motor makes the vessel a motor-driven vessel, and all motorized vessels must register. 

Are boaters required to wear life jackets? 

Kids 14 years old and under must wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket when they are aboard a boat 19 feet in length or less, whenever the boat is underway or under power. This applies to paddle craft such as canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and rafts in addition to powerboats, sailboats, personal watercraft (jet skis) and fishing float tubes. 
Idaho law requires that one properly fitting and Coast Guard approved life jacket must be on board for each person on a boat, and life jackets must be readily accessible.  Stored under the seat or in a dry bag is not considered readily accessible. Of course, just like a seat belt during an auto accident, a life jacket won’t do you much good if you don’t have it on BEFORE you fall overboard. If you have a boat 16 feet or longer you also need a Type IV floatation aid which is designed to be thrown, not worn (i.e. ring buoy or cushion). 
Paddle craft such as canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and rafts do not have to carry the Type IV floatation aid. 

What safety equipment do I need for a stand-up paddleboard? 

The U.S. Coast Guard has determined that paddleboards are vessels when used outside a marked swimming, surfing or bathing area. Before venturing out on the water with your stand-up paddleboard please remember you must have a life jacket, whistle, and an invasive species sticker. Inflatable paddleboards less than 10’ in length are exempted from the invasive species sticker requirement. Kids 14 years old and under are required to wear a life jacket on a paddleboard. Similar to power boat operators, paddleboard operators are subject to arrest for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Motorboat 16′ or longer here is the list of legally required equipment and additional boating safety information. 
Legally required equipment:

  • Certificate of Number (boat registration) on board. 
  • Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on board. 
  • Current year validation stickers displayed on each side of the vessel (in front.) 
  • Fire extinguisher (Coast Guard approved, Type B or Type ABC, and rated for marine use.) 
  • Inboard motors need to have a backfire flame arrester (and blower.) 
  • Sound producing device (horn or whistle.) 
  • A throwable cushion or ring is required on all boats 16′ and longer (must be Coast Guard approved.) 

Additional boat safety information and boating laws. 

  • A red or orange flag (commonly referred to as skier down flag ) is required to be displayed when a person or persons being towed are down in the water. The flag must be at least one foot square. 
  • Do not exceed the capacity of the boat (count the people being towed as well as the people in the boat.) 
  • Idaho law requires kids 14 years and younger to wear their life jacket on all boats 19′ and under, while underway. 
  • If the boat is equipped with a marine sanitation device, it must be Coast Guard approved. 
  • Properly working and Coast Guard approved navigation lights are required to be displayed between sunset and sunrise, and periods of restricted visibility. 
  • Towing can only be legally done if a competent observer is present on the boat in addition to the operator. 

 Life jackets must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, be in good condition, be properly sized for each person, and be readily accessible. 

Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation recommends that all boaters take a boating safety class. Some counties have local ordinances more restrictive than state law, contact your local county sheriff’s office if you are not familiar with these ordinances before you boat. 

All boat accidents that involve a missing person, injury beyond first aid, and/or damage in excess of $1,500 must be reported to the sheriff’s office – no exceptions! 

Cold water kills! Water temperatures can be very cold even in summer, wear a life jacket to prevent accidental drowning. 

Operators are subject to arrest for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Are wake surfing and teak surfing legal in Idaho? 

Wake surfing is a water sport in which a surfer trails behind a wakeboard boat, surfing the boat’s wake on a small surf board without being directly attached to the boat. The wake from the boat mimics the look and feel of an actual ocean wave. Teak surfing or platform dragging is when a person holds on to the swim platform of a boat as it drives forward and then the person is dragged through the water.

Most county sheriff departments have deemed wake surfing to be legal when done in a safe manner. Citations could be issued for not having the wake surfer wear a life jacket or for allowing passengers to hang off the side of the boat or sit in areas of the boat not meant for seating (i.e. on the back of the boat or on the gunwale). Citations could also be issued for wake surfing behind an inboard/outboard or outboard boat which exposes the surfer to the propeller. County sheriff departments will likely issue a negligent operation citation for teak surfing due to the potential exposure to propellers or poisoning from carbon monoxide.

What is “bow riding” and is it legal in Idaho? 

County sheriff departments will likely issue a negligent operation citation to operators that allow passengers to ride on the bow of a boat. Any time that a boat is in motion passengers should only be seated in those areas/locations specifically designed by the manufacturer for seating. Riding on the bow, gunwale/side, transom, engine cover, or any other part of the boat, not specifically designed for seating, greatly increases the risk of passenger injury or death. Bow riding, in particular, places passengers at high risk for falling overboard and being struck by the boat and propeller. Additionally, passengers seated on the bow greatly restrict the operator’s visibility and ability to react to potential hazards. 

How much does it cost to renew a boat registration in Idaho? 

Vessels 12 feet and under are $30. Vessels over 12 feet are $30, plus $2 per foot for each additional foot. There is also a $1.50 vendor fee included in the total cost. These fees cover one calendar year and all boat registrations expire December 31. In addition, boats registered in Idaho are required to pay an additional $10 surcharge for the Idaho Invasive Species Sticker. For convenience, this $10 surcharge for the Idaho Invasive Species Sticker is included in the annual boat registration renewal fees and a separate sticker is not required for boats registered in Idaho. 

Boat or Vessel Fee Schedule:

Boat LengthNew and Renewal FeeTotal with Vendor Fee
12 Feet and under$30.00$31.50
13 Feet$32.00$33.50
14 Feet$34.00$35.50
15 Feet$36.00$37.50
16 Feet$38.00$39.50
17 Feet$40.00$41.50
18 Feet$42.00$43.50
19 Feet$44.00$45.50
20 Feet$46.00$47.50
Add for each additional foot$2.00$47.50 + additional Footage

Am I required to carry boat insurance? 

There is no legal requirement to carry boat insurance in Idaho. Due to the inherent risks associated with boating and taking into consideration the many factors that can lead to a boat accident, boat owners are advised to consult with their insurance agent to discuss options. 

Are there speed limits on Idaho’s waterways? 

Idaho has designated a 100-foot “no-wake zone” from all docks, structures and persons in the water on public waters statewide. Some counties have passed additional speed restrictions from the shoreline, between boats and at specific sites. It is a good idea to contact your local marine deputy before boating. County-specific ordinances dealing with speed limits are posted below. (This is not an all-inclusive list. Please contact your local county sheriff’s office for more information on county ordinances/laws pertaining to boating). State law allows for exemptions when pulling a water skier. Unless otherwise marked, it is ok to travel over a no-wake zone within 100 feet from the dock or person in the water when safely pulling a water skier straight out from a dock, or when safely dropping off a water skier back to a dock, or when the “other person in the water” is the vessel’s skier.  

County-Specific Boating Laws and Ordinances 

If you would like to read the entire ordinance for the counties, just click on the county’s name. 

Adams: 35 m.p.h. during the day, 20 m.p.h. at night. This includes the Snake River from Hells Canyon Park south to Oxbow Dam, and on Oxbow Reservoir from Eagle Island to Brownlee Dam. 

Benewah: 50 m.p.h. during the day and 35 m.p.h. at night, county wide. 25 m.p.h. at all times from Cherry Bend Park to St. Maries Plywood Mill. 

Bonner: 50 m.p.h. during the day and 25 m.p.h. at night, county wide. 

Custer: Special regulations for Stanley Lake. 

Kootenai: 50 m.p.h. during the day, 20 m.p.h. at night, county wide. On the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Rivers, and Lower Twin Lakes the speed limits are 35 m.p.h. during the day and 20 m.p.h. at night. 

Valley: Valley County has established a 300-feet no wake zone for all lakes in Valley County (Payette Lake, Little Payette Lake, Lake Cascade, Deadwood Reservoir, Horsethief Reservoir and Warm Lake. 

For Additional information contact: 

Idaho Parks & Recreation Headquarters  

5657 Warm Springs Ave 
Boise, ID 83716 

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