Minnesota Boating Laws – What you need to know

In Minnesota, no one under the age of 12 may operate a watercraft with a motor greater than 25 horsepower unless there is a competent adult on the boat who is at least 21 years of age and is within immediate reach of the controls of the motor. 

Note: No one under the age of 12 may operate a boat greater than 75 horsepower under any circumstances. 

Operators who are between the ages of 12 and 17 years (inclusive) may operate a boat with less than 25 horsepower without restriction. They may only operate a boat which has a motor greater than 25 hp if they have obtained their Watercraft Operator’s Permit; or if they are under the direct supervision of a person onboard that is at least 21 years old and within immediate reach of the controls of the motor. 

Personal Watercraft (PWC) 

No one under the age of 13 years may operator a personal watercraft (PWC). Operators who are currently 13 years of age must be under the direct supervision of a person onboard who is at least 21 years old. 

Note: If they have obtained their Watercraft Operator’s Permit direct supervision is not required but they must have someone who is at least 21 years of age observing them at all times. 

For all those between the ages of 14 and 17 years wishing to operate a PWC, they must either be under the direct supervision of a person onboard who is at least 21 years of age; or have obtained a Watercraft Operator’s Permit. 

Education Requirement 

Boater Education is required for all persons between 12 and 17 years of age who operate a powered watercraft on Minnesota waters.   

  • You can obtain an operator’s permit by successfully completing the Minnesota, NASBLA-approved boating safety course. It is available at mndnr.gov/boatingcourse.
  • If you are age 12–17, visiting Minnesota, and already possess a valid watercraft operator’s certificate/permit issued by your home state, you don’t need to obtain another one from Minnesota.
  • If you do not have a certificate from your state, you may obtain one from Minnesota by successfully completing the DNR’s boating safety course.
  • We recommend that adults take the Minnesota boating course to enhance their knowledge and safety.
  • Many boat insurance companies offer discounts to boat owners who have taken an approved boating safety course.  


LESS THAN 12 YEARS• 25 hp or less—no restrictions.
• More than 25 through 75 hp—must have someone at least 21 years old on board within immediate reach of the controls.
• More than 75 hp—not allowed to operate even with an adult on board.
OPERATOR AGE RESTRICTIONS 12–17 YEARS• 25 hp or less—no restrictions.
• More than 25 hp—must either have:
– a watercraft operator’s permit, or
– someone at least 21 years old on board and within immediate reach of the controls. 


The following are life jacket requirements in Minnesota: 

  • State law requires children under 10 years old to wear a properly fitted life jacket while a boat is underway. Underway means not securely fastened to a permanent mooring or tied to a dock.
  • A readily accessible and wearable life jacket is required for each person onboard a boat, this includes canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, paddleboats and waterfowl boats.
  • One Type IV throwable is required on boats 16 feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) and must be immediately available.
  • Personal watercraft operators and passengers must each wear a life jacket.  

Minnesota law requires a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket to be worn by children less than 10 years old when aboard any watercraft while underway. Underway means not attached to a permanent mooring or tied to a dock. There are exceptions to the wear law for:  

  • children who are below the top deck or in an enclosed cabin.
  • children aboard passenger vessels being operated by a licensed captain.
  • children on a boat that is anchored for the purpose of swimming or diving.  

Some infants are too small for any life jacket, even though the label may say 0–30 pounds. In general, babies under 6 months or 16 pounds are too small for a life jacket to be effective due to the size of their head compared to their body. If your infant is under 6 months old or 16 pounds, please wait until the baby is a little older before taking them boating.  Check the label on the life jacket to make sure it is a U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation device and how to safely use it.  


There are four types of wearable life jackets approved for use on recreational boats:  

Off-Shore Life Jacket (Type I) is a vest or yoke-type device generally found on commercial craft. It is designed to turn most unconscious persons from a face downward to a face up position in the water.  

Near-Shore Buoyant Vest (Type II) usually looks like a horse collar and is worn like a bib. It has an unconscious turning ability similar to the Type I, but it will not turn as many persons under the same conditions.  

Flotation Aids (Type III) are usually foam-filled and come in several colors and styles, including full-sleeved jackets. Type III devices may also include inflatable life jackets. Type IIIs are not designed to turn an unconscious victim, but they do provide protection against exposure to cold water.  

Special Use Devices (Type V) are designed and approved for use during particular activities. Type Vs include some inflatable life jackets, duck hunting flotation coveralls, and flotation aids made for sailboarding and whitewater rafting. The label will indicate any restrictions that apply to the particular device. Some Type Vs must be worn to be counted in the total number of life jackets on board your boat.

Inflatable Life Jackets are U.S. Coast Guard approved for boaters 16 years and older. Inflatables have the advantage of being comfortable and easy to wear. Once inflated, the flotation is equal to or greater than traditional life jackets.  Inflatables do have some disadvantages:  

  • Must be inflated to provide flotation.
  • Do not provide as much cold water protection.
  • Require regular maintenance and rearming after inflation.  

Some inflatable life jackets are required to be worn in order to be counted as one of your U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable flotation devices—check the label for indication. Inflatables are not approved for use on personal watercraft or while waterskiing or similar sports. Always read the label for intended use and follow any restrictions. Before purchasing, make sure that “U.S. Coast Guard Approved” is visible somewhere on the package or on the device itself.  

Throwable Flotation Devices (Type IV)—buoyant cushion, ring buoy or horseshoe buoy—are designed to be thrown to a victim in the water, rather than worn. Cushions should be checked often to see if they are in serviceable condition. One Type IV throwable is required on boats 16 feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) and must be immediately available.  


  • The life jacket must be of the appropriate size for the intended wearer.
  • “Readily accessible” means easily retrievable within a reasonable amount of time in an emergency. Life jackets in sealed bags, under heavy objects or in locked containers are not accessible.  
  • “Immediately available” means Type IV throwable devices must be easily reached in time of an emergency. Generally this means in the open, not in a container.
  • A label stating “U.S. Coast Guard approved” must be printed on or attached to the device and you must follow all restrictions on it.
  • All life jackets must be in serviceable condition, meaning free of tears, rot, punctures and waterlogging. All straps, zippers and buckles are present and in good shape.
  • A U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket must be worn by a person being towed on any device, or be carried in the towing watercraft.
  • A U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type V device may be substituted for any other approved device if it meets the same requirements and is noted on the Type V device (i.e. “Equivalent to an approved Type III device”).  

What are the Minnesota WHISTLES and or HORNS REQUIREMENTS? 

  • Motorboats 16 feet to less than 26 feet long must be equipped with a hand-, mouth-, or power-operated whistle or horn capable of producing a continuous sound for two seconds and audible for at least one-half mile.
  • Motorboats 26 feet to less than 40 feet long must be equipped with a hand- or power-operated horn or whistle capable of producing a continuous sound for two seconds and audible for at least one mile.
  • Motorboats 40 feet or longer must be equipped with a power-operated horn or whistle capable of producing a continuous sound for at least two seconds and audible for at least one mile.
  • The only boat that can carry a siren is a government patrol craft.  


Most motorboats 16 feet or longer will likely be equipped with the correct navigation lights by the manufacturer. Only U.S. Coast Guard-approved lights will meet the following requirements.  

Motorboats less than 65 feet long while underway, including sailboats operating under engine power, require lights that are:  

  • Either separate 112.5˚ red and green side lights or a combination 225˚ red and green bow light.
  • A 225˚ masthead white light on the forward half of the boat, placed at least 3 feet above the red-green lights, showing 112.5˚ to each side and visible for 2 miles.  Less than 65 feet long.  
  • On boats 40 to 65 feet long, this light must be at least 9 feet above the gunwale.
  • A 135˚ white light on the stern half of the craft showing 67.5˚ to each side.  This light may be carried off the center line.
  • When at anchor, only one 360˚ white light is necessary.  


Motorboats less than 40 feet long while underway, including sailboats operating under engine power, may follow the lighting requirements below or the requirements listed in the previous section:

  • Either separate 112.5˚ red and green side lights or a combination 225˚ red and green bow light.
  • A 360˚ white stern (rear) light. When at anchor, only the 360˚ white light is necessary.  


  • Must at least carry a white lantern or flashlight.
  • Light should be strong enough so that other boats around the horizon can see it at least 2 miles away.
  • Light must be displayed in sufficient time to avoid a collision with another watercraft.  
  • Canoes, sailboats, etc., that are operating under power must follow the lighting rules for motorboats.


  • White lights must be visible for 2 miles on a dark, clear night (with one exception under the International Rules).
  • Combination or side lights must be visible for 1 mile.
  • Combination or side lights must shine red to port (left side) and green to starboard (right side).
  • Combination lights must be attached so the light shows from directly ahead to 22.5˚ to the rear of the beam (midpoint of the boat) on the respective side.
  • Lights may be detachable and need only be displayed from sunset to sunrise.  


All fire extinguishers must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved, fully charged, and readily accessible. Motorboats carrying or using fuel or other flammable fluid in an enclosure are required to have a Type B, U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher(s) on board. Fire extinguishers are required as follows:  

For boats under 26 feet with enclosed engine, fuel tanks or other spaces:  

• One size B-I fire extinguisher required.  

For boats 26 feet up to 40 feet:  

• Two size B-I or one size B-II fire extinguisher(s) required For boats 40 feet up to and including 65 feet: • Three size B-I or one size B-II and one size B-I fire extinguishers required.  

For boats over 65 feet:  

• Three size B-II fire extinguishers required.  


  • When a motorboat is equipped with a U.S. Coast Guard-approved fixed fire extinguishing system in the engine compartment, one less B-I extinguisher is required.
  • Enclosed engines and fuel tanks are generally found on inboards or stern drives and also on larger outboard boats with built-in fuel tanks. 
  • Open outboard boats with unenclosed portable fuel tanks and no floorboards, decking, a cabin or other spaces that could trap fuel vapor are not required to carry an extinguisher. However, it is a good idea to carry one.
  • 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.  


Motorboats carrying or using any fuel that has a flashpoint of 110 degrees or less (gasoline) in any compartment must be equipped with an efficient ventilating system to remove combustible gases.  This system must consist of at least one intake duct that extends from the deck below the level of the carburetor air intake (or halfway to the bilge) and an exhaust duct that extends from the deck to the lowest portion of the bilge. The cowls of these ducts must be properly trimmed for maximum ventilation. A power-operated bilge blower is highly recommended and it should be run at least four minutes before starting the engine.  


Gasoline engines, other than outboard motors, must be equipped with a U.S. Coast Guard-approved backfire flame arrestor on the carburetor. 


Personal watercraft (PWC) are also known as Jet Skis or Wave Runners. Personal watercraft is defined by law as a motorboat that is:  

• Powered by an inboard motor powering a water jet pump or by an outboard or propeller-driven motor. • Designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing, or kneeling on the craft, rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside a motorboat.  

All personal watercraft are considered motorboats and therefore, any regulations that govern other motorboats (such as fishing boats, cabin cruisers, etc.), also govern personal watercraft.  Personal Watercraft Laws In summary, the law requires that:  

  • Anyone operating or riding on a personal watercraft must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket that is compatible with that activity (check the label).
  • Personal watercraft must travel at slow no-wake speed (5 mph or less) within 150 feet of nonmotorized boats, shore (unless launching or landing skiers directly to or from open water), docks, swim rafts, swimmers, or any moored or anchored boat.
  • Operation of personal watercraft is allowed only from 9:30 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset.
  • If you tow a person on water skis, or any other device, there must be an additional person on board the personal watercraft to act as an observer. (The observer does not have to be facing backward.)
  • Factory-installed or factory-specified wide-field rearview mirrors are allowed instead of an observer when pulling a skier or other device (tube, kneeboard, etc.).
  • After-market mirrors, stick-on mirrors, motorcycle mirrors, etc., do not qualify for the observer exemption.
  • The skier/knee-boarder etc. must also be wearing a life jacket or there must be one on board the personal watercraft for the skier.
  • If the machine is equipped by the manufacturer with a lanyard-type engine cutoff switch, it must be attached to the person, life jacket or clothing of the operator when underway.  
  • You may not operate a personal watercraft if any part of the spring-loaded throttle system has been removed or tampered with so it interferes with the return-to-idle system.
  • You may not chase or harass wildlife.
  • You may not travel through emergent or floating vegetation at greater than slow no-wake speed.
  • You may not operate a personal watercraft in a manner that unreasonably or unnecessarily endangers life, limb or property.
  • You may not weave through congested watercraft traffic, or jump the wake of another watercraft within 150 feet of the other watercraft. This includes other personal watercraft.
  • A personal watercraft rules decal issued by the DNR needs to be on the craft in full view of the operator.
  • You may not operate a personal watercraft while facing backward.
  • It is unlawful for the owner of the personal watercraft to permit its operation in violation of the age restrictions (see next page).
  • Some lakes have additional restrictions, see mndnr.gov/boatingsafety and click on local water restrictions.
  • A person on a waterjet propelled accessory to a personal watercraft is operating a personal watercraft and must follow all regulations.  


LESS THAN 13 YEARS• Cannot operate—even with an adult on board.
13 YEARS• must have either someone at least 21 years old on board, or
• a watercraft operator’s permit and be in visual supervision by someone at least 21 years old.
14–17 YEARS• must have either a watercraft operator’s permit, or
• someone at least 21 years old on board.  


Canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are all considered watercraft in Minnesota. Paddling Safety: 

  • Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  • Keep your balance. Stay low, move slow.
  • Check your equipment and your skills before attempting a paddling trip.
  • Check river levels at mndnr.gov/watertrails
  • Be a competent swimmer.
  • Tell someone where you are going, when you are coming back and when to call for help.
  • Paddle with a friend. Safety increases with numbers.
  • Be aware of hazards like dams, rapids, current and big waves.
  • Dress for the weather and water temperature. Be prepared for cold water immersion.
  • Avoid paddling under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Learn how to get out of, hang on to and re-enter your capsized watercraft.
  • Take the free BoaterExam Paddle Sports Safety Course online or other paddling safety courses through the American Canoe Association.
  • Wear bright clothes, carry a whistle and a white light.   


  • Nonmotorized craft over 10 feet require registration in Minnesota.
  • A U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket is required for each person on board a watercraft.
  • Children under 10 years old are required to wear a life jacket. 



  • When overtaking another watercraft going in the same direction, the craft being overtaken must maintain course and speed.
  • The passing watercraft must keep a sufficient distance to avoid collision or endangering the other craft from its wake.  


  • When two watercraft approach each other “head-on,” each must alter course to the right to avoid collision.
  • If the two watercraft are far enough to the left of each other, no change in direction is needed for safe passage. Both watercraft will maintain their course and speed to pass clear of each other.
  • Keep to the right in narrow channels.  


If two watercraft approach each other at a right angle, the watercraft to the right shall have the right-of-way.  

Nonmotorized Craft

Nonmotorized craft (sailboats, canoes, etc.) have the right-of-way over motorized craft in all situations, except when the nonmotorized craft is overtaking or passing.  

Commercial Vessels – Small craft shall not insist on the right-of-way when in the path of large commercial vessels, which are limited in maneuverability.  


When approaching and passing a law enforcement watercraft with its emergency lights activated, the operator of a watercraft must safely move the watercraft away from the law enforcement watercraft and maintain a slow no-wake speed while within 150 feet of the law enforcement watercraft.  


Waterway markers show navigable channels, denote unsafe areas, direct traffic, control speed, protect resources and serve other functions. Official markers are usually placed by the U.S. Coast Guard, state, county or local governmental unit. Private markers of any type may not be placed in the water overnight without a permit from the county sheriff. If a buoy or sign is lighted, it will usually display the color and flash characteristics. 

Channel Marker Buoys  

  • All-green and all-red companion buoys indicate that the boating channel is between them. 
  • Red buoy is on the right side of the channel when facing upstream.  

Signs can be substituted. For example, a green square sign is the same as a green buoy and red triangular sign is the same as a red buoy—these are often called “daymarks.” They can be used to mark each side of a channel, which is common on the Mississippi River below the Twin Cities. A red-white octagonal sign can be used to mark the center of a channel.  

Red and white and black and white buoys  

  • Red-white striped buoys (usually with a red topmark) indicate the center of a channel and should be passed closely on either side.
  • Black and white striped buoys (formerly red-white striped) indicate there is a shoreward obstruction and that you should not pass between it and the nearest shore.  


Boats Keep Out  

A white buoy or sign with an orange diamond and cross means that boats must keep out of the area. Black lettering on the buoy or sign gives the reason for the restriction, for example, SWIM AREA.  


A white buoy or sign with an orange diamond warns boaters of danger—rocks, dams, rapids, etc. The source of danger will also be lettered in black. In winter, ice hazards may also be identified with this marker in the form of a sign.  

Controlled Area  

A white buoy or sign with an orange circle and black lettering indicates controlled or restricted areas on the water. The most common restriction is slow no-wake speed. Slow no-wake means operating your boat at the slowest possible speed necessary to maintain steerage, but in no case greater than 5 mph.  


A white buoy or sign with an orange rectangle provides the boater with information or directions. Information will be lettered in black.  

Mooring Buoys 

Buoys designed for mooring boats are all-white with a blue stripe midway between the top and the waterline. A minimum of 16 square inches of white reflector, part of which must be visible from any direction, is required on all mooring buoys.  


It’s against the law:

  • To operate a watercraft in a careless or reckless manner.
  • To operate a watercraft so its wash or wake endangers, harasses, or interferes with any person or property.
  • To operate a watercraft so it obstructs ordinary navigation. 36
  • To operate a watercraft within an area legally marked off as a swimming area, or within 150 feet of a diver’s warning flag.
  • To ride or sit on the gunwales, bow, transom, or decking over the bow, sides or stern of any motorboat while underway, unless it is equipped with an adequate railing. It is also illegal to operate a motorboat while any person is riding or sitting in a manner as just listed. 
  • To chase wildlife with a motorboat, or operate a boat where it is prohibited—including marked spawning beds. Avoid traversing any emergent or floating vegetation, if possible.
  • To intentionally obstruct a seaplane.
  • To attach a watercraft to any buoy, except a mooring buoy, or to tamper, remove, or destroy a navigational aid.
  • To deposit or leave refuse in or upon the waters of the state or at public access areas.  


The boat’s operator must limit the total horsepower, weight and maximum number of passengers to that shown on the capacity plate installed by the boat’s manufacturer. It is unlawful and dangerous to load or power your boat beyond its maximum capacity. Capacity is reached by either the maximum number of people or maximum weight, whichever is met first.  


  • Operating a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance (or its metabolite), or an intoxicating substance is unlawful.
  • Operators who are impaired may be required to take tests by an enforcement officer to determine the presence of these substances. There is a penalty for refusal. BWI test failures, convictions, and refusals are recorded on the violator’s driver’s license record.  

Most of the BWI law is found in the motor vehicle statutes. The alcohol concentration for impaired operation is .08. Possible penalties for impaired operation:  

  • Fines.
  • Possible jail time.
  • Loss of motorboat, off-road vehicle and motor vehicle operating privileges.  

In addition to the above penalties, those who refuse testing will also be subject to a separate and more severe criminal charge for refusal and loss of their motorboat, off-road vehicle and motor vehicle operating privileges for one year, immediately upon refusal. If any of the following aggravating factors are involved, the offense is a gross misdemeanor (a fourth conviction in 10 years can result in a felony penalty):  

  • An alcohol concentration of .16 or more.
  • Prior DWI convictions or refusals of any kind in the past 10 years.
  • A child less than 16 years old is on board the motorboat. Penalties will increase with any of the aggravating factors or a refusal, and can include the following:
  • A higher fine.  
  • Mandatory jail time.
  • Longer revocation times for operating privilege loss.
  • Loss of motor vehicle license plates.
  • Forfeiture of the motorboat and trailer being operated at the time of violation.  

The BWI law does not prohibit drinking alcoholic beverages aboard boats nor having an open bottle. The BWI law applies to operators of motorboats that are not anchored, beached, moored, docked or being rowed or propelled by nonmechanical means at the time of the offense.  

TOWED AND WAKE SPORTS – Minnesota Laws and Rules: 

  •  It is unlawful to make a wake for a wake surfer or tow a person on water skis, wakeboard, tube, or similar device unless there is a mirror providing the operator a wide field of vision to the rear, or unless another person in the towing watercraft is continuously observing the person wake-surfing or being towed.
  • Water-skiing, tubing, wake-surfing and similar acts are prohibited between one-half hour after sunset to sunrise of the following day.
  • Tow ropes may not be longer than 150 feet in length, unless a permit is obtained from the county sheriff.
  • A wearable U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket must either be worn by the person being towed, or carried in the towing watercraft.   


All motorized watercraft regardless of length and nonmotorized watercraft over 10 feet must be licensed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The types of watercraft that must be licensed include, but are not limited to, motorboats, rowboats, sailboats, sailboards, stand-up paddleboards,  canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, rowing shells or sculls, all-terrain vehicles used in the water and inflatable craft. Exceptions to this law are as follows:  

  • Watercraft currently registered in another state and not kept in Minnesota for more than 90 consecutive days, or a watercraft owned by a person from another state that does not require licensing of that type of watercraft and it is not within Minnesota for more than 90 consecutive days.
  • Watercraft from a country other than the United States and not kept in Minnesota for more than 90 consecutive days.
  • Watercraft owned by the United States government or other specified governmental units, except those boats used for recreational purposes.
  • Watercraft documented with the United States Coast Guard (official papers on craft 5 net tons or larger are issued by the Coast Guard instead of state registration).
  • A ship’s lifeboat.
  • Waterfowl boats used during the waterfowl hunting season, rice boats used during the harvest season and seaplanes.
  • Nonmotorized watercraft 10 feet in length or less.  


Register your watercraft in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles (where you license your car); at the DNR License Center in St. Paul;  

When you register your boat you will need to provide:  

  • The boat length, which is the straight-line distance from the bow (front of the boat) to the stern (rear of the boat). Bowsprits, outboard motor brackets, rudders and other attachments are not included in the measurement.
  • Boat’s manufacturer.
  • Type of hull material (wood, metal, or plastic).
  • Type of propulsion.
  • Boat model.
  • Boat year.
  • Hull identification number (HIN).
  • Paddleboards do not require a HIN.
  • Sales receipt that shows you have paid the sales tax.  

Watercraft licenses cover a period of three calendar years and expire on December 31 of the last year the license is valid. The expiration date appears on both the license certificate and on the validation decals which are applied to the boat.  


A hull identification number (HIN) or serial number is vital in registering and titling your boat. HINs can be found on all boats manufactured since model year 1973. The letter-number combination is typically about 12–17 digits long (example: ABC12345L402). HINs are usually found on the right side of the stern or transom of the craft on the outside and may be stamped into the fiberglass or aluminum or appear on a separate plate. Location may vary slightly on pontoon boats, personal watercraft, kayaks, canoes, etc. Boats built before November 1972 should have a shorter serial number somewhere on the craft.  


If you apply for a new boat registration or renew an existing one in person at a deputy registrar (where you license your car) or the DNR License Center, you will receive your boat license decal and registration card on the spot.  If you apply through the mail, it will probably take several weeks before you receive your decal and card. Sign your license and keep it on board your watercraft. If you are operating a nonmotorized watercraft, you don’t have to carry the license with you. However, if an enforcement officer asks to see it, you must produce it within a reasonable time. The license number issued to your boat appears on the license card and must be displayed as follows:  

  • Numbers must be placed on each side of the forward half of the hull.
  • Remove the expired decals first, before applying the new ones. 
  • The license number must be displayed on your boat as it appears on your license card.
  • Letters and numbers must be at least 3 inches high.
  • Letters and numbers must be of a block character.
  • The MN should be separated from the numbers by a 3-inch space.
  • Letters should be separated from numbers by a 3-inch space.
  • Must contrast with the background.
  • Can be either painted or attached to the craft. 
  • Should read from left to right and must always be legible.
  • The current license decal is always placed closer to the stern within 4 inches of the license number.  

If your canoe, kayak, paddleboard, rowing shell, paddle boat, sailboard or sailboat does not have a motor, a license decal is all that is required. No 3-inch numbers are necessary. Place the decal on each side of the forward half of the nonmotorized craft. The owner of rented watercraft may keep the license certificate at the rental location. The rental business must be printed on both sides of the rear half of the watercraft in letters at least 3 inches high. No other number, letter, or design may appear within 24 inches of the license number or decal.  

On sailboards, paddleboards and nonmotorized sailboats, you may place the decals on the stern. Only do this if it is impossible, because of the boat’s design, to place them on the bow. For inflatable or foam paddleboards, attach decals to a placard attached to the paddleboard.  Decal If your canoe or sailboat is motorized, affix the 3-inch letters and numbers as previously described for other motorized craft. The square decal should be placed to the stern or to the rear of the number.  


All watercraft licenses expire on Dec. 31 of the last year the license is valid.  When you obtain your new license certificate and validation decals, discard your old license certificate and replace the expired decals on your boat with the new ones. Remember, only the current set of decals must be displayed.  


Certain watercraft over 16 feet are required to be titled in Minnesota.  A watercraft title provides proof of ownership, which becomes very important when buying or selling a boat. A title also protects businesses that make boat loans, and aids in the recovery of stolen watercraft. Exceptions to this law are watercraft:  

  • Currently registered in another state and never used in Minnesota for more than 90 consecutive days.
  • Manufactured before Aug. 1, 1979.
  • 16 feet or less in length.
  • Rowboat with oar locks and an outboard motor less than 40 hp.
  • Documented with the United States Coast Guard (official papers on craft 5 net tons or more are issued by the Coast Guard instead of state registration).
  • Canoe, kayak or ship’s lifeboat.
  • Waterfowl boats used during the waterfowl hunting season, rice boats used during the harvest season and seaplanes.
  • Owned by a manufacturer or dealer and is held for sale.
  • Used by a manufacturer for testing purposes only.
  • Owned by a resort or recreational camping area licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health.
  • Rowing shell or scull.
  • Owned by the United States, a state or a political subdivision.  


Sophia’s Law requires that all recreational motorboats, including sailboats with motors, with enclosed compartments be equipped with a functioning marine CO detection system and/or display three CO poisoning warning stickers as of May 1, 2018.  Full details and requirements can be found at mndnr.gov/boatingsafety.  


Scuba divers must display a warning flag when diving. Scuba diving laws and rules:  

  • Boats not involved with the diving operation must remain 150 feet away from a flag.
  • No more than four divers shall dive under one flag.
  • Divers must remain within 50 feet (measured horizontally) of the warning flag.
  • If a group of divers is using a contained area, the perimeter of the area must be marked. The area must be outside the normal area of navigation. These markings must consist of the official diver’s flag and must be placed around the perimeter of the diving area at intervals of not more than 150 feet.
  • Persons who dive from one hour after sunset to sunrise on the following day must carry a diver’s light visible when above the water for a distance of 150 feet.
  • Scuba or skin diving while in possession of a spear is unlawful from sunset to sunrise.
  • Do not place a diver’s flag where it will obstruct navigation.  

The diver’s flag must:  

  • Measure at least 15 inches horizontally and 12 inches vertically. 
  • Both sides must have a red-colored background bisected diagonally by a 3-inch wide white stripe. 
  • There is also a blue and white diver’s flag authorized under the federal rules of the road.  

The diver’s flag may be displayed on a watercraft or float or be anchored to the bottom. The top of the flag must be at least 30 inches above the surface, however.  



  • The maximum length of a boat trailer and boat is 45 feet.
  • No trailer load may exceed 8½ feet wide or 13½ feet high.  


  • Two red tail lights, license plate light (not required on trailers with permanent registration) and two red reflectors are required on the rear of all trailers.
  • Signal and brake lamps are recommended on all trailers and required whenever the signals of the towing vehicle are not visible to the other drivers. 
  • Trailers over 80 inches wide also require front and rear clearance lamps, and combinations over 30 feet long must have front and rear marker lamps.  

Hitch and Coupling  

  • The hitch and coupling of the trailer must meet state standards. 
  • Safety chains or cables are required.  


Brakes of adequate effectiveness are required on all trailers of 3,000 pounds or more gross weight.  


As more people turn to the waters of Lake Superior for fishing and boating, the importance of boating safety cannot be overemphasized. Take a boating safety course from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary (USCGAux) or U.S. Power Squadrons and get advice from veteran boaters.  

Make sure your boat size is appropriate and you have the required safety equipment—have a USCGAux Vessel Safety Check (VSC) to make sure.  

Weather can change rapidly on the lake—monitor the skies and radio. Water temperatures on Superior are always cold—even in the summer. Always wear your life jacket and consider other survival gear as well.  

Carry a VHF marine radio, chart, visual distress signals, Global Positioning System (GPS) and EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) but remember electronics can sometimes fail.  

Let someone know where you are going and when you will return.  


Visual distress signals (VDS) allow boat operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency. Lake Superior is the only body of water in Minnesota where federal law requires visual distress signals to be carried onboard boats.  

• Craft less than 16 feet, boats participating in organized events, nonmotorized open sailboats less than 26 feet and manually propelled boats are NOT required to carry VDS during the daytime, but must carry night VDS when operating between sunset and sunrise.  

All VDS must be U.S. Coast Guard approved or certified, in serviceable condition and readily accessible.   

Pyrotechnic devices may not be beyond their expiration date. Nonpyrotechnic VDS include:  

  • Orange distress flag (day signal only). 
    • Distress flag which is at least 3 feet by 3 feet with a black square and ball on an orange background.
  • Electric distress light (night signal only).  

MINNESOTA Boating, enjoying Minnesota’s lakes and rivers by paddle or motorboat is a wonderful privilege. Fun boating is safe boating, this is a summary and does not present the actual laws and regulations. Laws and regulations are subject to change by the Legislature and through public hearings. Boaters may also be subject to federal and local rules and restrictions. 

For additional information contact the  

DNR Information Center.
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4040
651-296-6157 888-646-6367 

Recent Posts