Kansas Boating Laws – What you need to know

KDWPT Officers are responsible for patrolling the waters of Kansas, conducting boat accident investigations, boat safety inspections, Boating Under the Influence (BUI) checks, safety programs, education classes, and many other boating-related activities. 

Boating Education 

Any person under the age of 21 who wishes to operate a vessel designed to be propelled by a motor or sail (motorboat, PWC, sailboat, sailboard) without being under direct and audible supervision must complete an approved boater education course. 

Direct and audible supervision is defined as a person on board the same vessel and in sufficiently close proximity of the operator’s station to enable such person to quickly and safely assume control of such vessel if needed. (KSA 32-1125e) The supervising adult must be at least 18 years of age and either have completed a boater education course or be exempt because they are over the age of 21. No one under the age of 12 may operate a motorized vessel without direct and audible supervision regardless of boater education certification. There is no minimum age to operate a sailboat if the operator has successfully passed an approved boating education course. 

You can meet Kansas’ Boater Education requirement by taking and passing an approved boating education course via classroom, online, or internet-assisted home study. 

PWCs and Motorboats 

This includes any vessel powered by a motor, including a trolling motor. Anyone between the ages of 12 and 20 must complete an approved boater education course in order to operate these vessels without being under direct and audible supervision (see definition above). No person under the age of 12 may operate a motorized vessel without being under direct and audible supervision even if they have completed an approved boater education course. 


Anyone 20 years of age and under must complete an approved boater education course in order to operate a sailboat without being under direct and audible supervision (see definition above). There is no minimum age to operate a sailboat if the person has completed an approved boater education course. 


Taking a formal boating education course is not required to operate a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard in the state of Kansas, 

Personal Watercraft (PWC) 

PWCs are Class A boats and must comply with all boating laws, registration procedures, operation and equipment requirements in addition to the regulations specific to PWCs. Any person between the ages of 12 and 20 who wishes to operate a PWC without being under direct and audible supervision must complete an approved boater education course. 

Direct and audible supervision is defined as a person on board the same vessel and in sufficiently close proximity of the operator’s station to enable such person to quickly and safely assume control of such vessel if needed. (KSA 32-1125e) The supervising adult must be at least 18 years of age and either have completed a boater education course or be exempt because they are over they age of 21. No one under the age of 12 may operate a motorized vessel without direct and audible supervision regardless of boater education certification. 

  • Every person on board a PWC is required to wear a Type I, Type II, Type III, or Type V USCG approved floation device. Inflatable life jackets are not allowed. 
  • Each person operating a PWC equipped with a lanyard engine cut-off shall attach the lanyard to the operator’s person, clothing, or life jacket. 
  • PWCs are not legal to operate between sunset and sunrise. 
  • PWC shall be operated at no wake speeds (5 mph or less) within 200 feet of any dock, boat ramp, swimmer, bridge, moored or anchored boats, sewage pump-out facilities, a boat storage facility, concessionaire’s facility, or non-motorized watercraft. 
  • A person shall not operate a PWC unless facing forward. 
  • If you use a PWC to tow a skier or person on a tube, the PWC has to be equipped with mirrors or you will need a spotter over the age of 12. The person being towed counts towards the capacity of the PWC. (If you have a spotter and are pulling one person, you would need a PWC rated for three (3) people.) 
  • Maneuvers which unreasonably endanger others are not permitted. This includes, but is not limited to, wake jumping and weaving through vessel traffic. 

Water Skiing & Towing 

  • Boats/PWCs must be equipped with a wide-angle mirrow or an observer over the age of 12 
  • The person(s) you are towing with your boat/PWC count towards the capacity of your vessel 
  • Legal skiing/towing hours are from 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset 
  • The operator or observer shall immediately display a bright orange or red flag not less than 12″ square immediately after the person(s) being towed are in the water, either getting ready to be towed or after falling and waiting to be retrieved 

Kansas Boat Registration – Boat Numbers and Decals 

Just as you must have a vehicle registration for your car, all vessels powered by gasoline, diesel, electric motors, or sail must be registered and numbered in Kansas. Sailboards and personal watercraft (PWC) are considered vessels. 

After registering your boat you will be given an assigned number and expiration decals that will need to be affixed to your boat. Your assigned number must be painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward top half of the boat. Numbers must be vertical block letters at least three inches tall that read from left to right. They must contrast with the background color and be distinctly visible and legible. Hyphens or spaces equal to one letter width must separate letter and number groupings. 

A registration decal will also be issued. This expiration decal remains on your boat for the duration of the three-year registration period. Registration decals are displayed in line with the assigned number on each side of the boat. 

Life Jackets (PFDs) 

Kansas law requires that all boats have one Type I, Type II, Type III, or Type V PFD of proper size, in serviceable condition, not in an enclosed compartment and readily accessible for each person on board. Anyone 12 years old and younger must wear a life jacket at all times when on board a boat or being towed behind the boat on skis or a tube. 

  • Boats 16 feet and longer, except canoes and kayaks, also must carry one Type IV throwable flotation device that is in serviceable condition and not in an enclosed compartment. 
  • It is recommended that any person being towed on water skis, kneeboards, or similar devices should wear a properly fitting life jacket. 
  • Each person operating or riding a PWC MUST WEAR a properly fitting life jacket. 

What is meant by serviceability? 

Serviceability means that fastening hardware is not broken and operates correctly, the webbing or straps are not ripped torn or missing. Fabric tears have not resulted in loss of buoyant material and that the buoyant material has not hardened or been contaminated by oil or other liquids. The flotation device must be structurally sound and free of rotted or corroded components. 

What is meant by readily accessible? 

Readily accessible means the life jackets and flotation devices are plainly visible to the passengers, in an area that can be reached in an emergency without opening a compartment, wrapping material or reaching under part of the boat’s hull to get them. 

Sound Producing Devices 

A sound producing device can be a whistle or horn. All motorboats are required to carry a mechanical sound producing device such as a horn or whistle that is audible up to one mile. Vessels 40 feet and longer are also required to carry a bell made of proper material to sound a tone that may be heard during inclement weather. 

PWCs are considered a motorboat and must carry a sound producing device. 

Fire Extinguishers 

Every motorboat, unless exempt, must have the correct number, size and type of Coast Guard approved fire extinguishers. 

Proper Type of Fire Extinguishers 

Type B–this type of fire extinguisher is for flammable liquids, such as oil or gasoline. Fire extinguishers must say “Marine Type USCG Approved” to be valid. 

Length of Boat Requirements 

Less than 16 feet–at least one type BI fire extinguisher if the boat has one or more of the following: 

  • an inboard engine 
  • closed compartments where fuel tanks may be stored (live wells, storage, etc) 
  • double bottom construction not sealed to the hull or not completely filled in with flotation materials 
  • closed compartments in which combustible or flammable materials are stored 
  • permanently installed fuel tanks 

16 feet to less than 26 feet–at least one type BI fire extinguisher 

26 feet to less than 40 feet–two type BI or one type BII 

Over 40 feet–at least three type BI, or one type BI and one type BII 

Motorboats with USCG approved built-in or affixed fire extinguishers are exempt from having a fire extinguisher in the motor area. They are required to have one BI or one BII fire extinguisher in the living space or galley. 

Navigation Lights 

All boats must use navigation lights while operating on Kansas waters between sunset and sunrise. 

It is illegal to operate a PWC on Kansas waters between sunset and sunrise, regardless of ability to use navigation lights. 

  • Motorboats less than 40 feet long must have navigation lights shown in figures 1, 2, or 3. Motorboats 40-65 feet long must use lights shown in figure 1 or 2. 
  • Sailboats under sail must have navigation lights shown in figures 4, 5, or 6. Sailboats under power must conform to motorboat navigation light requirements. 
  • Manually propelled boats shall carry, ready at hand, a flashlight or lantern showing a white light exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision. 
  • Boats at night MUST display an all-round white anchor light unless anchored in a designated mooring area. 

Back Flame Arrestor 

Inboard, fuel-powered engines must be equipped with a backfire flame arrestor on the carburetor. The flame arrestor must meet USCG approval. 


All closed-construction , fuel-powered motorboats must have ventilators to remove explosive vapors from engine and fuel tank compartments. 

Be sure that the boat is well ventilated before starting, especially after fueling. Gasoline vapors are heavier than air and accumulate in the bottom of the boat, creating a dangerous condition. 

Marine Sanitation Devices 

Human sewage from boats is a source of pollution that poses environmental and health problems. It is important that you dispose of your sewage properly while boating. It is unlawful to place, leave, or discharge sewage into waters of this state.  

If you have a recreational vessel with installed toilet facilities, it must have on board an operable marine sanitation device (MSD) that is self contained and incapable of discharging directly into the water. Any MSD with a “Y” valve that could direct waste overboard must be secured so that the valve cannot be opened. 

Visual Distress Signals 

Vessel operators use Visual Distress Signals (VDSs) to signal for help during 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. VDSs are either pyrotechnic (smoke and flames) or non-pyrotechnic (non-combustible). All Visual Distress Signals must be in serviceable condition, readily accessible, and certified as complying with U.S. Coast Guard requirements. 

  • Kansas does not require Visual Distress Signals when operating on state waters, however, they are recommended safety equipment. 


The exhaust of every internal combustion engine used on any motorboat on Kansas waters shall be effectively muffled. The muffler system shall be in good working order and in constant operation. The sound emitted from the engine should not exceed 92 decibels on the “A” weighted scale, when subjected to a stationary sound level test. 

Motorboat Sound Muffling; K.S.A 32-1120 

Alcohol and Boating – Simple Facts about Boating and Alcohol Use in Kansas 

Although it is not illegal to have or consume alcohol on a boat in the State of Kansas, it is illegal to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a vessel on Kansas water. It is also illegal to water ski or tube while under the influence. Any person who operates or attempts to operate a vessel has given consent to an alcohol and/or drug test by KDWPT Law Enforcement Officers. Failure to submit to a test will result in loss of boating privileges for three months, and a conviction of boating under the influence is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment and the loss of boating privileges. Successful completion of an approved Boating Education Course may also be required. 

Many factors contribute to the way alcohol affects a person on the water, such as the sun, wind, glare off the water, dehydration, and motion of the waves, causing a person to become intoxicated 3 times faster than on shore. 

Just like on land, having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher is considered legally intoxicated. Anyone under the age of 21 is considered to be legally intoxicated if their BAC is .02% or higher. 

Always designate a sober, experienced boat operator to make your day on the lake the safest it can be! 

Accident Reporting – In Case You Are Involved in a Boating Accident 

  • An operator involved in a boating accident must immediately stop their vessel and assist anyone injured, unless doing so would seriously endanger their own vessel or passengers. 
  • Provide your name and address to any injured person or owner of property that is damaged in the accident. 
  • You must notify Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism immediately. Contact the Pratt Office at 620-672-5911 or your local authorities. 

Registering Your Boat 

All vessels powered by motor (gasoline, diesel, or electric), or sail, must be registered and numbered. The State of Kansas does not, however, title watercraft nor does it register or title motors. 

Nonresidents using motorboats and sailing boats that are properly registered in another state may use their boats for up to 60 consecutive days without registering their boats in Kansas. Both in-state and out-of-state boats must have their Certificate of Number on board at all times. Boats that are required to be registered must be properly registered before they are operated. 

Renewing registrations and the owner of the boat has not changed can be renewed online or in person at a State Park, a Regional Office, or one of our Boat Registration Agents. A registration can be also be renewed by mailing in the renewal notice and $42.50 to the Pratt operations office. 

New owners can register their boat online or in person at a State Park, a Regional Office, a Boat Registration Agent or by filling out the Application for Certificate of Number Kansas Boating Act Form and mailing it with proper paperwork and the $42.50 registration fee to: 

KDWPT Pratt Operations Office 
ATTN: Boat Registration 
512 SE 25th Ave. 
Pratt, KS 67124  

Please provide a printed photo or pencil tracing of the HIN when registering your boat (New Owner). 

All boats manufactured after 1972, should have a Hull Identification Number (HIN) and this HIN will be identified during the boat registration process. The Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a 12-character number that uniquely identifies a boat and is formatted according to US Coast Guard standards. 

Hull Identification Numbers (HIN) are typically located: 

  • On sport and fishing boats, they can be found on the back right outside corner. 
  • On pontoons, they can be found on the right side of the frame above the pontoon, but below the deck. 
  • On personal watercrafts, they can be found under the seat as well as on the lip of the footrest. 

Vessels manufactured before 1973 often do not have a HIN, so KDWPT will assign one if necessary.   

NOTICE TO ALL BOAT OWNERS: To avoid personal property tax penalties, please be certain to list your watercraft each year with the county appraiser on or before March 15th. 

Aquatic Nuisance Species – PROTECT KANSAS WATERS 

Help stop aquatic nuisance species… 

  • CLEAN – DRAIN – DRY: Boats & Equipment – Every Lake & River, Every Time 
  • DON’T MOVE LIVE FISH: Between Bodies of Water or Up Streams 
  • DON’T DUMP BAIT IN THE WATER OR DRAINAGE DITCHES: Discard It on Dry Land or in Approved Receptacle 


Aquatic nuisance species are animals and plants not native to Kansas that can threaten lake and river ecology, harm native or desirable species, and interfere with our economy. They often hitchhike with unsuspecting people. They can: 

  • Diminish food supplies and degrade habitat for other species; 
  • Reduce numbers and variety of desirable fish; 
  • Reduce fishing and other recreational opportunities; 
  • Lower property values and decrease quality of municipal water sources; 
  • Foul water lines, clog intakes, burn out pumps, damage power generating facilities, and decrease water system efficiency; and 
  • Increase the risk of flooding due to overcrowded biomass and clogging of lake outlets 

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