Surrounded by one-fifth of the planet’s fresh surface water, it’s no surprise Michigan is home to great boating and fantastic freshwater recreation opportunities. Easy access to these waters ensures they are available to all, with more than 1,300 public boat launches and 82 public harbors across the state.
Who may operate a boat?
Those less than 12 years of age:
- May legally operate a boat powered by a motor of no more than 6 horsepower without restrictions.
- May legally operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 6 horsepower, but no more than 35 horsepower, only if they:
- have been issued a boating safety certificate and have it on board and
- are directly supervised on board by a person at least 16 years of age.
- May not legally operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 35 horsepower legally under any conditions.
Those born on or after July 1, 1996, may legally operate a motorized boat over 6 horsepower only if they have been issued a boating safety certificate and have it in their possession.
Those born before July 1, 1996, may legally operate a boat without restrictions.
Who may operate a personal watercraft
Those less than 14 years of age may not legally operate a personal watercraft (PWC) (i.e., jet ski, wave runner).
Those 14 and 15 years of age may legally operate a PWC if they have obtained a boating safety certificate and are:
- Accompanied on board by their parent, legal guardian or by a person who has been designated by the parent or legal guardian and is at least 21 years of age; or
- Operating or riding the PWC at a distance of not more than 100 feet from their parent legal guardian or by a person who has been designated by the parent or legal guardian and is at least 21 years of age.
Those at least 16 years of age and born after Dec. 31, 1978, may legally operate a PWC only if they have obtained a boating safety certificate.
Those born on or before Dec. 31, 1978, may operate a PWC legally without restrictions.
All vessels must be equipped with USCG-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs), also known as life jackets. The quantity and type depend on the length of your vessel and the number of people on board and/or being towed. Michigan life jacket laws include the following:
- All vessels must be equipped with a PFD for each person on board or being towed.
- A vessel that is less than 16 feet long, or is a canoe or kayak, must have either a wearable PFD (Type I, II, or III) or a throwable PFD (Type IV) for each person on board.
- All children under 6 years of age must wear a USCG-approved Type I or II PFD when riding on the open deck of any vessel while underway.
- The USCG requires that all vessels have at least one Type I, II or III PFD that is USCG-approved, wearable and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
- In addition to the above requirements, one USCG-approved throwable device must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer and be readily accessible.
- Each person riding on a PWC or being towed behind a PWC or other vessel must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II or III personal flotation device. Inflatable PFDs are not allowed on PWC or while being towed behind PWC or other vessels.
- All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible.
Types of life jackets:
(Off-Shore Life Jacket) (22 lbs. Buoyancy) Best for open, rough or remote water where rescue may be slow in coming.
Advantages: Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in water. Highly visible color. Floats the person the best.
Sizes: Two sizes to fit most children and adults.
(Near-Shore Buoyant Vest) (15.5 lbs. Buoyancy) Good for calm, inland water or where there is good chance of fast rescue.
Advantages: Turns some unconscious wearers face-up in water. Less bulky, more comfortable than Type I PFD. Inexpensive.
Disadvantages: Not for long hours in the water. Will not turn some unconscious wearers face-up in water.
Sizes: Infant, Child Small, Child Medium, Adult.
(Flotation Aid) (15.5 lbs. Buoyancy) Good for calm, inland water or where there is a good chance of fast rescue.
Advantages: Generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear. Freedom of movement for most active water sports. Available in many styles. Freedom of movement for water-skiing, small boat, sailing, fishing, etc.
Disadvantages: Wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid going facedown. In rough water, a wearer’s face may often be covered by waves. Not for extended survival in rough water.
(Throwable Device) For calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic, where help is always nearby.
Advantages: Can be thrown to someone. Good back-up wearable PFDs. Some can be used as a seat cushion.
Kinds: Cushions, Rings and Horseshoe buoys.
Disadvantages: Not for unconscious persons. Nor for non-swimmers or children. Not for many hours in rough water.
Generally speaking, pets are welcome in Michigan state parks and campgrounds, state forest campgrounds, state-managed harbors, state-designated trails and boat launches (except for some sites during certain times of the year). Please keep in mind that pets are not allowed in designated swim areas, areas protected for endangered species, such as piping plover, and any other area marked otherwise.
The following rules apply to pets at ALL locations:
- Pets must always be on a 6-foot leash and under an owner’s immediate control.
- Always clean up after your pet. Please carry a waste bag with you at all times.
- Dogs should not be left in campers or tied up unattended to prevent barking from negatively affecting the park experience of other visitors.
- Keep pets from interacting with wildlife.
- Keep pets from disturbing visitors.
- Pets are not allowed in state buildings (ie. offices, bathrooms, showers, cabins and lodges) with the exception of the pet-friendly alternative lodging options listed below.
Michigan Pet-friendly lodging
Pet-friendly lodging is available at several locations. There is an additional fee of $10 per night/pet/cabin or $15 per night/pet/lodge. Up to two pets (cats and dogs only) are allowed. Overnight lodging options can be booked up to 12 months in advance at MiDNRReservations.com.
- Cheboygan State Park – Poe Reef cabin
- Craig Lake State Park – Teddy Lake Yurt and small cabin
- Harrisville State Park – Mini cabin #186
- Lime Island State Park – Mini cabin #4
- Little Presque Isle Cabins – Cabins #4 and #5
- Leelanau State Park – Hemlock and Cedar mini cabins
- Port Crescent State Park – Mini cabin A
- Sleepy Hollow State Park – Modern cabin and rustic cabin
- Van Riper State Park – Rustic Peshekee Cabin and Mini Cabin #2
These parks will have pet-friendly lodging soon:
- Ludington State Park – Cedar mini cabin – beginning Jan. 1, 2024 (Visitors that made 2024 reservations prior to Jan 1, 2024 and are bringing pets will pay the pet surcharge upon arrival.)
- Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – Crosscut 2, White Birch 2, Whitetail 8, Union River 8, Gitche Gumee 8, Union Bay East 4 Yurt, Union Bay West 4 Yurt, Little Union River 4 Yurt and the Kaug Wudgoo Lodge- beginning May 15, 2023 (Visitors that made reservations after May 15 and are bringing pets will pay the pet surcharge upon arrival).
Michigan Pet-friendly shoreline
Pets are allowed along the shoreline with the exception of designated bathing/swimming areas within state parks and areas signed otherwise (ie. piping plover nesting habitat). Pets must be kept on a 6-foot leash even if they are in the water. The following are some highlighted locations:
- Algonac State Park entire length of the St. Clair River.
- Baraga State Park – entire length of the Lake Superior shoreline (.25 miles).
- Bewabic State Park – entire length Fortune Lake shoreline other than the designated swim beach.
- Brighton Recreation Area
- Brimley State Park – along the Lake Superior shoreline outside of the designated swimming area.
- Burt Lake State Park – a designated animal beach is located on the south end of the park.
- Craig Lake State Park – along any of the park’s shoreline.
- Dodge #4 State Park;- section of shoreline just outside the designated swim area.
- Duck Lake State Park – entire length of the Lake Michigan shoreline (.5 miles) and Duck Lake.
- Grand Mere State Park – along the Lake Michigan shoreline (.5 mile).
- Harrisville State Park – a pet-friendly beach, open to non-campers, is located in the modern campground.
- Hoffmaster State Park – entire length of the Lake Michigan shoreline apart from the designated swim area.
- Holland State Park – Lake Macatawa day-use area directly across from the Lake Mac Campground.
- Holly Recreation Area – section of shoreline south of the designated swim beach on Heron Lake.
- Leelanau State Park – shoreline in northern park unit.
- Ludington State Park – along Lake Michigan, located between the beach house and the Big Sable River (majority of Lake Michigan shoreline closed to protect endangered piping plover habitat)
- McLain State Park – portion of Lake Superior shoreline.
- Mears State Park – southernmost section of shoreline.
- Menominee River State Recreation Area – Pets are allowed along the entire length of the Menominee River.
- Muskegon State Park – along the Lake Michigan shoreline outside of the designated swimming area (with the exception of marked piping plover nest habitat).
- Negwegon State Park – along most of the Lake Huron shoreline.
- Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – entire length of Lake Superior park shoreline.
- Port Crescent State Park – entire length of the Lake Huron shoreline (3 miles) with the exception of the designated swim beach in the modern campground.
- Rifle River Recreation Area – along the park’s lakes, river and stream, with the exception of the designated swim area.
- Saugatuck Dunes State Park – entire length of the Lake Michigan shoreline.
- Silver Lake State Park – entire length of the Lake Michigan shoreline (3 miles) and the park’s inland lake, Silver Lake, in all areas other than the designated swim beach.
- Sleeper State Park – entire length of the Lake Huron shoreline except for the designated swim beach
- Sleepy Hollow State Park – section of shoreline located 100 yards north of the Lake Ovid swimming beach.
- South Higgins Lake State Park – two pet-friendly beach areas, one along a section of shoreline in the day-use area (along the east park boundary) and a campers-only area (along the west boundary of the campground).
- Straits State Park – Lake Huron shoreline.
- Tawas Point State Park – section of shoreline available on Tawas Bay between the campground and the lighthouse – enclosed by fencing.
- Twin Lakes State Park
- Van Buren State Park – entire length of the Lake Michigan shoreline except for the designated swim area.
- Van Riper State Park – entire length of the Lake Michigamme and the Peshekee River with the exception of the designated swim beach.
- Wilderness State Park – majority of the park’s shoreline closed to pets to protect endangered piping plover habitat; however, there is a pet-friendly beach located down a small path in the picnic area (just east of the headquarters building).
- Warren Dunes State Park – north of the northernmost swim buoy at the designated swim beach (2.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline).
- Young State Park – section of shoreline available east of the boat launch.
Michigan Invasive Species Prevention
What boaters need to know:
Michigan law requires that a person remove all aquatic plants from watercraft, watercraft equipment and trailers before placing these into Michigan waters.
Prior to transporting any watercraft over land, boaters are required to do all of the following:
- Remove all drain plugs from bilges, ballast tanks, and live wells.
- Drain all water from any live wells and bilges.
- Ensure that the watercraft, trailer, and any conveyance used to transport the watercraft or trailer are free of aquatic organisms, including plants.
This means that after trailering boats, and before getting on the road, boaters must pull plugs, drain water and remove plants and debris.
Violation of the law is a state civil infraction and violators may be subject to fines up to $100.
For more information on this law, see Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994) Part 413.