Find North Dakota boating information including, boater age requirements, watercraft registration requirements, boating safety regulations, and more. Information contained on Personal Flotation devices, boat lighting requirements, boat class requirements, Aquatic Nuisance species plants as well as Boat Motor Restrictions.
Boat Operator Requirements
No person under 12 years of age may operate a motorboat (includes personal watercraft, i.e., jetskis, etc.) propelled by more than a 10 horsepower motor unless the operator is accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older.
No person 12 through 15 years of age may operate a motorboat (includes personal watercraft, i.e., jetskis, etc.) propelled by more than a 10 horsepower motor unless the operator is accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older or the operator has taken and passed a boating course approved by the Department. No person may cause or knowingly permit a minor under 16 years of age to operate a motorboat propelled by more than a 10 horsepower motor unless the minor is otherwise authorized to do so by this section.
No person may operate or permit the operation of a personal watercraft:
- Without each person on board the personal watercraft wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved type I, II, III or V personal flotation device;
- Within 100 feet of a person fishing from a shoreline, swimmer, swimming/diving raft, or an occupied, anchored, or nonmotorized vessel at greater than slow or no-wake speed:
- While towing an individual on water skis, a kneeboard, an inflatable craft, or any other device unless an observer is on board or the personal watercraft is equipped with a mirror on each side which provides the operator an unobstructed field of vision to the rear;
- Without a lanyard-type engine cutoff switch being attached to the person, clothing or personal flotation device of the operator, if the personal watercraft is equipped by the manufacturer with such a device;
- If any part of the spring-loaded throttle mechanism has been removed, altered or tampered with so as to interfere with the return-to-idle system;
- To chase or harass wildlife;
- Through emergent or floating vegetation at other than slow or no-wake speed;
- In a manner that unreasonably or unnecessarily endangers life, limb or property, including weaving through congested watercraft traffic, jumping the wake of another watercraft within 100 feet of the other watercraft; or
- In any other manner that is not reasonable and prudent.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
It is unlawful for any person to operate or to be a passenger on any vessel less than 27 feet in length unless all persons 10 years of age or younger present on the vessel, wear an appropriately sized and properly fastened U.S. Coast Guard approved type I, II or III wearable personal flotation device while the vessel is in operation.
A personal flotation device is appropriately sized if it is designed to be worn by a person of similar age, size or weight as the wearer.
Changes to the labeling of U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices will be appearing on the market over the next few years. Please be aware of the label changes (defined below) and be sure to meet the requirement for your vessel. Personal floatation devices with the previous style label will still be acceptable as long as they meet your vessel’s requirements.
New labels for U.S. Coast Guard Approved PFDs
- Wearable PFD – A PFD that is intended to be worn or attached to the body.
- Throwable PFD – A PFD that is intended to be thrown to a person in the water.
U.S. Coast Guard Approved PFDs
|A Type I PFD is an approved device designed to turn an unconscious person in the water from a face downward position to a vertical or slightly backward position.|
|A Type II PFD is an approved device designed to turn an unconscious person in the water from a face downward position to a vertical or slightly backward position.|
|A Type III PFD is an approved device designed to keep a conscious person in a vertical or slightly backward position.|
|A Type IV PFD is an approved device designed to be thrown to a person in the water and not worn.|
|A Type V PFD, to be acceptable, must be used in accordance with its label.|
Hypothermia, the loss of body heat to the water, is probably the greatest cause of water-related deaths. Often the cause of death is listed as drowning; but, most often the primary cause is hypothermia and the secondary cause is drowning. After an individual has succumbed to hypothermia, he/she will lose consciousness and then drown. The following chart shows the effects of hypothermia:
Hypothermia Survival Times
|Water Temperature (degrees F.)||Exhaustion or Unconsciousness||Expected Time of Survival|
|32.5||Under 15 minutes||Under 15 to 45 minutes|
|32.5 to 40||15 to 30 minutes||30 to 90 minutes|
|40 to 50||30 to 60 minutes||1 to 3 hours|
|50 to 60||1 to 2 hours||1 to 6 hours|
|60 to 70||2 to 7 hours||2 to 40 hours|
|70 to 80||3 to 12 hours||3 hours to indefinitely|
PFDs can increase survival time because of the insulation they provide. Naturally, the warmer the water, the less insulation one will require. When operating in cold waters (below 40° F) consideration should be given to using a coat or jacket-style PFD as they cover more of the body than the vest-style PFDs.
Water-skiing and Surfboards
An individual may not operate a vessel on any waters of this state towing an individual on water skis, a surfboard, or similar device unless there is another individual in the towing vessel observing any individual being towed or the vessel is equipped with a mirror at least seventy-eight square inches (198.12 square centimeters) which provides the operator an unobstructed field of vision to the rear. However, this subsection shall not apply to members of any organization regularly staging water ski shows, tournaments or exhibitions while engaged in the performance of such shows, tournaments or exhibitions.
No person may operate a vessel on any waters of this state towing a person or persons on water skis, a surfboard or similar device, nor may any person engage in water-skiing, surfboarding or similar activity at any time between the hours from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise.
No person shall manipulate any water skis, surfboard or similar device without wearing a type I, II or III PFD.
No person may operate or manipulate any vessel, tow rope or other device by which the direction or location of water skis, a surfboard or similar device may be affected or controlled in such a way as to cause the water skis, surfboard or similar device, or any person thereon, to collide with or strike against any object or person.
Nonmotorized boats (no motor aboard) must have a Coast Guard approved type I, II or III PFD aboard for each person.
Nonmotorized boats operating between sunset and sunrise shall have a readily accessible white light source which shall be temporarily exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision, and when at anchor between sunset and sunrise must display a white light visible to a boat approaching from any direction.
No boat may be loaded over capacity. Consult the capacity plate on the boat, if one exists, and do not exceed either the stated maximum weight or the maximum number of people. If there is no capacity plate use the following formula to determine the maximum number of persons you can safely carry in calm weather:
Length of boat in feet X width in feet/15 = people.
No person may operate any motorboat or vessel, or manipulate any water-skis, surfboard or similar device in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person. Reckless or negligent operation of a motorboat or vessel includes weaving through congested motorboat or vessel traffic, jumping the wake of another motorboat or vessel within 100 feet of the motorboat or vessel, or in any other manner that is not reasonable or prudent.
No person may operate any motorboat or vessel, or manipulate any water-skis, surfboard or similar device while intoxicated or under the influence of any narcotic drug, barbiturate or marijuana.
No person may operate a motorboat or vessel within 100 feet of a person fishing from a shoreline, swimmer, swimming/diving raft, or an occupied, anchored or nonmotorized vessel, or within 250 feet of a reduced speed or slow or no-wake sign at greater than slow or no-wake speed.
For purposes of this provision, reckless or negligent operation includes, but is not limited to the following:
- Use of excessive speed during periods of reduced visibility while in close proximity of other vessels, while in narrow, winding channels, or near docks or marinas.
- Operating in an overloaded condition.
- Operating within swimming areas designated by markers or by the presence of swimmers.
- Operating near dams and other hazardous waters.
- Operating in such a manner as to cause a dangerous or damaging wake.
- Towing water skiers near other vessels or obstructions, into other hazardous areas, or into swimming areas designated by markers or by the presence of swimmers.
- Operation in such a manner as to molest or annoy persons lawfully engaged in fishing.
- Continued use or refusal to terminate use of a boat after being ordered to correct an especially hazardous condition by a law enforcement officer.
Regulation of Noise from Boats
A boat operated on the waters of this state between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. may not produce a noise in excess of 88 decibels for more than 10 minutes.
The decibel level of a boat must be measured from the shoreline closest to the location from which a complainant or other individual noticed the noise.
Lighting – Lights When Anchored or Operating Nonpowered Boats
Power boats under 65 feet and all sailing vessels at anchor must display anchor lights except in “special anchorage areas.” An anchor light is a white light visible to a boat approaching from any direction, and is displayed in the fore part of the vessel.
All nonpowered boats operating between sunset and sunrise shall have a readily accessible white light source which shall be temporarily exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision.
Less Than 26 Feet
Motorboats operating between sunset and sunrise shall exhibit a 20 point (225 degree) combination red and green bow light, visible for one mile, the left side being red, the right side being green, and 32 point (360 degree) white stern light visible for two miles, placed higher than the bow light and unobstructed by occupants or portions of the vessel. In addition, all vessels at anchor between sunset and sunrise must display a white anchor light visible to a boat approaching from any direction.
26 Feet to Not More Than 65 Feet
Motorboats operating between sunset and sunrise shall exhibit a 20 point (225 degree) white bow light visible for two miles, a red 10 point (112 1/2 degree) side light on the left side and a green, 10 point (112 1/2 degree) side light on the right side, both visible for 1 mile (the arc of visibility of the side lights must begin parallel to the centerline of the vessel and extend 10 points toward the stern) and a 32 point (360 degree) white stern light visible for 2 miles, placed higher than the bowlight and unobstructed by occupants or portions of the vessel. In addition all vessels at anchor between sunset and sunrise must display a white anchor light visible to a boat approaching from any direction.
Important: stern lights must be placed high enough that their light will not be blocked by persons or parts of the boat or its equipment.
Boating Under Influence – Intoxication Testing of Boat Operators
Game wardens or law enforcement officers who have probable cause that a motorboat operator is under the influence of intoxicating liquor, drugs or a combination thereof may require the operator to take a test to determine his/her sobriety.
If the operator has an alcohol, drug or combination thereof, concentration of .10 or over, or the operator refuses to submit to testing, his/her operator privileges may be revoked in addition to other penalties.
The law does not prohibit people of legal drinking age from consuming alcoholic beverages or possessing open containers in a boat.
A diver flag must be displayed on a float or buoy during any diving or spearfishing. Operators of boats must exercise caution when near a diver flag.
Measure Your Boat to Determine What Class Its In
When measuring a vessel, measure from the forward end to the after end across the deck down the center line, excluding the sheer. This means in a straight line and only that part of the hull that is permanent.
BOAT CLASSES – What Equipment is Needed?
All Equipment must be in serviceable condition.
Who Must Register Their Boats
Owners of any watercraft propelled by motors must register their vessels with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. The vessel owner will receive a Watercraft Registration certificate that must be available on the vessel when in operation.
The Certificate of Number is not transferable. Anyone purchasing a boat must register the boat in their name even if the boat is already registered by the previous owner.
North Dakota law permits the use of boats legally numbered under the numbering system of another state for a period of 90 days. Motorboats from foreign countries may temporarily use the waters of North Dakota without a Certificate of Number.
Attaching the Number to the Boat
The number appearing on the Certificate of Number must be painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel near the bow. The number must be in contrasting color to the hull in plain vertical block letters at least three inches in height excluding any border, trim, outlining or shading, and must be maintained in a legible condition so that it is clearly visible in daylight hours. The number shall read from left to right, and groups of numbers and letters must be separated by a space or a hyphen equivalent in width to the letter “M.” A validation sticker issued by the Department must be displayed on the boat within 6 inches of the number, toward the rear of the boat. No other numbers are to be displayed in this area.
Display of Numbers and Validation Sticker
The North Dakota watercraft registration number is found on the watercraft registration certificate, and also appears on either side of the bow and consists of the abbreviation ND, three numbers, and two letters (i.e. ND-000-AA)
Aquatic Nuisance Species Sticker
All motorized watercraft not licensed in this state and operated on North Dakota waters must annually obtain a valid, nonrefundable aquatic nuisance species sticker.
This ANS sticker must be placed on the starboard side of the watercraft within 6 inches of the registration number and displayed within 10 days of purchase.
Each licensed watercraft is listed on the purchase receipt. A copy of the purchase receipt is proof of validation until the sticker is received via postal mail.
Aquatic Nuisance Species
Aquatic nuisance species are nonnative plants and animals that threaten our lakes and streams. They are very difficult to control once they become established, and can be moved accidentally on boats, trailers and other equipment.
Three simple steps can prevent the spread of ANS:
- Clean – Inspect all equipment and remove any plants, animals, and mud before leaving a water access site.
- Drain – Allow all water to drain completely before leaving the water access site.
- Dry – Allow all equipment to dry completely or wash with hot water (140°F) before using again.
- “Associated equipment” means:
- Any system, part or component of a boat as originally manufactured, or any similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement, repair or improvement of such system, part or component;
- Any system, part or component of a boat as originally manufactured, or any similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement, repair or improvement of such system, part or component;
- Excluding radio equipment.
- “Boat” means any vessel:
- Manufactured or used primarily for noncommercial use;
- Leased, rented or chartered to another for the latter’s noncommercial use; or
- “Manufacturer” means any person engaged in:
- The manufacture, construction or assembly of boats or associated equipment;
- The manufacture or construction of components for boats and associated equipment to be sold for subsequent assembly; and
- The importation into the state for sale of boats, associated equipment or components thereof.
- “Motorboat” means any vessel propelled by machinery, whether or not the machinery is the principal source of propulsion. The term does not include a vessel having a valid marine document issued by the U.S. Bureau of Customs or any federal agency successor thereto.
- “Operate” means to navigate or otherwise use a motorboat or a vessel.
- “Owner” means a person, other than a lienholder, having property in or title to a motorboat. The term includes a person entitled to the use or possession of a motorboat subject to an interest in another person, reserved or created by agreement and securing payment or performance of an obligation, but the term excludes a lessee under a lease not intended as security.
- “Passenger” means every person carried on board a vessel other than:
- The owner or the owner’s representative;
- The operator;
- Bona fide members of the crew engaged in the business of the vessel who have contributed no consideration for their carriage and who are paid for their services; or
- Any guest on board a vessel which is being used exclusively for pleasure purposes who has not contributed any consideration, directly or indirectly, for that person’s carriage.
- “Personal watercraft” means a motorboat that is powered by an inboard motor powering a water jet pump or by an inboard or outboard marine engine and which is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling on the craft, rather than in a conventional manner of sitting or standing inside a motorboat.
- “Slow or no wake speed” means the slowest possible speed necessary to maintain steerage.
- “Undocumented vessel” means a vessel which does not have a valid marine document as a vessel of the United States.
- “Vessel” means any watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.
- “Waters” when not qualified means waters not open to the general public.
- “Waters of the state” means all waters of this state, including boundary waters. This title extends to and is in force and effect over, upon and in all such waters.
Boat Motor Restrictions
Some North Dakota lakes have watercraft restrictions such as “Idle Speed Only” or “Electric Motors Only.” “Idle speed only” is defined as operating a boat at the slowest possible speed necessary to maintain steerage (i.e., trolling – with no wake).
Electric Motors Only (Note: Boats may be propelled manually or with an electric motor. No combustion motor may be operated on these waters):
- Casselton Reservoir
- Davis Dam
- Dickinson Dike
- Heinrich-Martin Dam
- J. Clark Salyer
- Kettle Lake
- Larimore Dam
- Leland Dam
- Lightning Lake
- McDowell Dam
- Mooreton Pond
- Sather Dam
- Spring Lake Park Ponds
- and Strawberry Lake (Turtle Mountains)
Idle Speed Only:
- Arroda Lakes
- Arrowwood Lake Wildlife Refuge
- Lake Audubon (north arm)
- Baukol-Noonan Dam
- Baukol-Noonan East Mine Pond
- Belfield Pond
- Boundary Lake
- Brewer Lake
- Camels Hump Dam
- Carbury Dam
- Clausen Springs Lake
- Coal Mine Lake
- Crown Butte
- Davis WPA
- Dion Lake
- Epping-Springbrook Dam
- Fish Creek Dam
- Fordville Dam
- Gravel Lake
- Harmon Lake
- Harmony Lake
- Heart Butte (Lake Tschida) – designated areas only
- Hooker Lake
- Lake Ilo
- Indian Creek Dam
- Jensen Lake
- Jim Lake Wildlife Refuge
- Kota-Ray Dam
- Kraft Slough
- Long Lake Wildlife Refuge
- McClusky Canal proper
- McGregor Dam
- Mirror Lake
- North Golden Lake
- Pelican Lake
- Raleigh Reservoir
- Sheep Creek Dam
- South Carlson Lake
- Sweet Briar Dam
- and along the Missouri River at the mouths of the Heart River, Lakewood, Marina Bay, Misty Waters and Square Butte Creek.
For Additional information contact
North Dakota Game and Fish Department
100 N. Bismarck Expressway, Bismarck, ND 58501-5095