Utah Boating Laws – What you need to know

Ready to head out to the lake? Not so fast! There are some things you need to go over before hitting the water. Boaters should ensure their vessels are registered and insured correctly. Also, there are rules of operation and required equipment to have aboard. 


Persons under 16 years of age may operate a motorboat or sailboat when accompanied and under direct supervision of a responsible person 18 years of age or older. 


Children ages 12 through 17 may operate a PWC (Jet Ski, Waverunner, Sea-Doo, etc), upon completion of a Utah Division of Parks and Recreation approved boating education course. In addition, those between 12 and 15 years must operate under the direct supervision of a responsible adult at least 18 years of age. A person less than 18 years of age who has not met the above requirements may not operate a PWC unless accompanied by a responsible adult. Education courses are available at boating.utah.gov.  


Direct supervision means supervision within sight, at a distance in which visual contact can be maintained by the adult responsible for the young boat operator. 


Utah has some of the most beautiful waterways in the nation, including the Colorado River, Lake Powell, Bear Lake, and the Great Salt Lake.  

With an ever-increasing demand on Utah’s limited number of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, boaters must use their water recreation resources wisely. Boat owners and operators have the responsibility to advocate for and practice safe and ethical use of our waterways, including properly registering boats, learning and obeying boating safety laws and rules, and sharing waterways with other boaters, swimmers, and anglers.


DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE Alcohol is allowed on all boats; however, it is against the law for a person under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to operate a motorboat. Boating under the influence (BUI) is the same as driving under the influence (DUI) and has the same penalties including suspension of driver license, possible jail time and fines. Please drink responsibly!  

A person operating a motorboat on Utah’s waters is considered to have given consent to take any field sobriety test requested by a peace officer who feels the person is operating under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. If arrested, your boat, trailer, and tow vehicle may be impounded.  


Natural boating stressors such as the brightness, heat, and glare of the sun; noise and vibration of the boat; motion of the boat with the wind and waves; and even darkness; can affect a boat operator’s coordination, judgment, and reaction time. After four hours on the water, these stressors will produce a reaction time similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10. Rest frequently on land to reduce the effects of these stressors. 


Yes! A wakeless or idle speed is required when operating a boat in a designated slow, wakeless speed area and within 150 feet of another boat, person in the water, a water skier (except those you are towing), shore angler, launch ramp, dock, or designated swimming area. You are responsible for any injury or damage caused by your boat’s wake. Be courteous and give others plenty of room. 


Life Jackets (Personal Flotation Devices or PFDs)- Life jackets save lives! In Utah, and nationally, 80% of people who drown in boating accidents would have survived if wearing a life jacket. The Division of Parks and Recreation Boating Program recommends that all boaters and passengers not only have a life jacket, but wear it at all times while on the water. Accidents can happen, and do so too fast to find and put on a life jacket. Utah law requires that all boats have at least one wearable U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket of the proper size, in good and serviceable condition, and readily accessible for each person on board. All life jackets must be used in accordance with the age, weight, activity, and use restrictions listed on the U.S. Coast Guard approval label. 

  • Type I PFD (Wearable): Provides the most buoyancy and turns most unconscious wearers to a face-up position.  
  • Type II PFD (Wearable): Turns some unconscious wearers to a face-up position.  
  • Type III PFD (Wearable): Designed so wearers can place themselves in a face-up position.  
  • Type IV PFD (Throwable): Designed to be thrown to a person in the water, grasped and held by the user until rescued.  
  • Type V PFD (Wearable): Designed and approved for specific activities on the approval label, and only counts as a life jacket while worn. 

There are many different kinds of life jackets out there, and you should know the differences.  

Inflatable Suspender or Belt/Waist Pack Some models automatically inflate when submerged in the water. All models can be inflated manually or inflated by mouth. Not for use on rivers, PWC’s, being towed behind a boat, or by persons under the age of 16. Great for fishermen and general passengers.  

Adult to Child Buoyancy Vest Covers a variety of uses, and shapes, sizes, and colors.  

Infant to Child Buoyancy Vest Covers a variety of uses, and shapes, sizes, and colors.  

Throwable PFD Boats 16 to 39 feet in length must carry at least one throwable PFD; boats 40 feet and greater must carry at least two throwable PFDs. Type IV throwable PFDs need to be placed in plain sight where they can be quickly accessed.  

Pet Buoyancy Vest  – A practical handle at the top of a life vest allows you to grab, or hold the dog, or pick him out from the water 

So which life jacket should I buy?  

You should buy one that you will wear! It must fit you properly, and be approved for the activity you are participating in. First Read the Label There are two types of labels you will see when buying a life jacket. One designates the type and one designates performance. The new label that designates performance is approved for use in the United States and Canada, while the old label that designates type is only approved for the United States. 

Passengers 12 years of age and younger must wear a properly sized and approved wearable life jacket when the boat is on the water. Children are not required to wear life jackets while inside an enclosed cabin area of a boat 19 feet or more in length.  

Each person being towed on water skis or other devices, wake surfing, operating or riding on a PWC must wear a properly sized and approved life jacket.  

On rivers, every person on any vessel including, inner tubes must wear a properly sized and approved life jacket. For persons older than 12 years of age, life jackets may be loosened or removed only while on designated flat water river sections. Contact the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation Boating Program for a listing of designated flat water river sections in Utah. 


Paddle sports are taking off in Utah, whether you are new or experienced in this activity, it can be a great source of exercise, or an escape to be one with nature. Hazards do exist, and it is your responsibility to keep yourself, and those you are with, safe while out on the water. Here are some laws and tips you need to know to be safe out there. 

  • All stand up paddle-boards (SUP), kayaks and canoes must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable or inflatable life jacket for each person on board. Those 12 years of age and younger must wear a life jacket at all times.  
  • Expect to capsize and swim occasionally – it’s part of the sport. But when it’s unexpected, a life jacket will be needed, even if you are a good swimmer. It will provide flotation, so you can concentrate on re-boarding your craft. It will also provide extra insulation in cold water.  
  • Place all your extra gear (drinking water, snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, electronics, etc.) into a dry bag and secure it to your craft.  
  • Dress in layers that are quick-drying and wick moisture away from the body.  
  • Wear a leash (if applicable to your craft) or leash your paddle. There is a chance the wind may blow your craft or paddle away from you. 
  • Wear brightly colored clothing to assist you to be seen by other boaters.  
  • Carry a whistle and flashlight to signal other boaters.  
  • Stay away from low head dams, strainers, and high water flows. Always consider your abilities to navigate every water condition you are in, or approaching.  
  • Your craft does not need to be registered in Utah unless a motor or sail is attached.  
  • Take a paddle sports education class. There are many courses out there that provide great safety information. 


All motorboats must carry a serviceable U.S. Coast Guard or Underwriters Laboratory (UL) marine approved fire extinguisher. There are two types: rechargeable and disposable.  

Rechargeable fire extinguishers have metal tops and need to be serviced every five years according to the date on the label. If it is discharged, it needs to be recharged or replaced.  

Disposable extinguishers have plastic tops and a 12-year expiration date (see label or bottom). If discharged, it needs to be replaced. 

Depending on the size of your boat, you will need to carry more than one extinguisher:  

  • Less than 26 feet in length: One B-I  
  • 26 feet to less than 40 feet in length: Two B-I or one B-II  
  • 40 feet to less than 65 feet in length: Three B-I or One B-I and One B-II  
  • 65 feet in length and greater: One fixed system in the engine compartment and three B-II placed at the helm, kitchen, and engine compartment. 


Gasoline-powered boats with covered motors (inboard or inboard-outboard) need proper ventilation to remove dangerous and explosive vapors from enclosed engine and fuel tank compartments. Gas vapors are heavier than air and will pool in the bottom with no escape. Be sure the boat is well ventilated (3- 4 minutes) before starting the engine, especially after refueling.  


All inboard gasoline engines must be equipped with a U.S. Coast Guard or Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approved backfire flame arrestor on the carburetor.  


All boats must display navigation lights while operating between sunset and sunrise.  

  • Motorboats less than 40 feet must display navigation lights as shown in figures 1, 2, or 3. Motorboats 40 to 65 feet long must display navigation lights. 
  • Sailboats must display navigation lights, Sailboats under power must follow motorboat navigation light requirements.  
  • Manually propelled boats may display either navigation lights required for sailboats, or a white light (flashlight or lantern) that shall be displayed in sufficient time to prevent a collision.  
  • Personal Watercraft (Jet Skis, Waverunners, Sea-Doos, etc.) may not be operated between sunset and sunrise, they may not be equipped with navigation lights. 
  • Motorboats or Sailboats adrift or at anchor must display an all-round white light unless anchored in a designated mooring area.  
  • Non-navigation lights may only be displayed under 3 conditions: 1) a spotlight or other nonnavigational light may be used intermittently during docking or to locate a hazard, or 2) during a federal or state-permitted marine parade, or 3) a spotlight or other non-navigational light may be used when actively engaged in fishing, bow fishing, or scientific research on board boats that are not in a navigational channel and that are being operated at a wakeless speed. 


Boats from 16 to 39 feet long must have a horn or whistle capable of producing a four-to-sixsecond blast of sound. Boats 40 feet or greater must have a horn or whistle and a bell. A horn or whistle is recommended for boats less than 16 feet in length.  


All non-self-bailing boats must carry a bail bucket, or bilge pump. It is a good idea to carry both in case one fails.  


Boats less than 21 feet long must have at least one spare paddle, oar, or motor on board.  


All motorboats must be equipped with and use a muffler system in good working order to prevent excessive noise. Motorboats manufactured before Jan. 1, 1993 cannot exceed 90 decibels; after 1993 cannot exceed 88 decibels. Muffler cutouts or bypass systems are prohibited.  


Pump it, don’t dump it! It is illegal to deposit human waste into Utah’s waters or adjacent lands. Marine toilets must be emptied at dockside, or other approved sanitation facilities. 


Invasive quagga and zebra mussels are a major threat to our quality of life. They are small, clamlike creatures that reproduce rapidly and cause significant economic impacts. They destroy fisheries, ruin shorelines and beaches, damage boats and equipment, and clog water delivery systems, costing millions of dollars to control.  

It is illegal to possess or transport invasive mussels, including any water from infested waters. You must pull all drain plugs and drain all water from your boat before transport within Utah. If coming from an infested water, you must meet either the seasonal dry time requirement or undergo professional hot water decontamination. If you are a boater from another state you must pay a non-resident aquatic invasive species fee and complete an education course annually 



A boat is any type of watercraft capable of transporting a person(s) on the water. Boats such as personal watercraft (PWC), rafts, canoes, kayaks, float tubes, inner tubes, kick boats, and stand-up paddle boards are subject to Utah’s boating laws and rules.  


If your boat has a motor (gas or electric) on it, or if it is a sailboat, it needs to be registered and numbered. If you are visiting Utah (less than 60 days in a calendar year) and your boat is currently registered in your state, you do not need a Utah registration.  


All boat registrations are processed by the Utah State Tax Commission, Division of Motor Vehicles. To find an office near you, visit dmv.utah.gov. The registration certificate must be carried on board the boat for which it is issued, and must be available for inspection whenever the boat is on the water.  


The assigned number must be displayed on each side of the front half of the boat. Numbers and letters must be a solid color and block design, and at least 3 inches in height. The assigned number must contrast with the background color of the hull. Spaces or hyphens equal the width of a letter, and must separate letter groups from number groups. Numbers are read left to right. 

The assigned bow number must be displayed on the boat with the decals. The yearly registration decals are to be displayed 3 inches from the last number on each side of the boat. Only current yearly registration decals may be displayed. The month of expiration decals must be displayed immediately behind the yearly registration decals. 


Just like your vehicle registration, Utah boat registrations expire annually, at the end of the month in which the boat was originally registered. 


The hull identification number (HIN) on all boats built after Nov. 1, 1972, is permanently fixed to the rear of the boat, usually on the upper right corner. This number is required by federal law and must appear on the registration application. The HIN consists of 12 letters and numbers at least one-quarter inch in height indicating the manufacturer, hull serial numbers and/or letters, and model year and/or month.  


Yes , it is required to be titled only if your boat is 1985 or newer. Boats built before 1985 or equipped with motors less than 25 horsepower will not be titled by the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles.  


Yes, Utah residents will need to carry owner or operator liability insurance on motorboats and personal watercraft (PWC). Minimum insurance requirements are: $25,000/$50,000 bodily injury/death and $15,000 property damage or $65,000 combined minimum per accident. Motorboats equipped with engines less than 50 horsepower and all air-boats are exempt from this requirement. Proof of insurance must be carried on-board whenever the boat is in operation. Non-Utah residents with a vessel registered in another state must meet their state’s insurance requirements or comply with Utah’s requirements within 90 days. 


Swimming near a launch ramp, around boat docks, in a mooring area, or inside a marina or harbor is prohibited. “Swimming” and “No Swimming “ areas are designated for your protection.  

Unless one person remains on board to operate the boat, swimming from an unanchored boat can create a dangerous situation. Wind can cause the boat to drift, leaving swimmers stranded. It is a safe practice to wear your life jacket while swimming from your boat in open water.  

Courtesy Docks  

Courtesy docks are placed for your convenience. Be polite by leaving your boat tied to a courtesy dock no longer than 15 minutes. Fishing from, or within, 75 feet of courtesy docks is prohibited.  

Launch Ramp Etiquette  

Boat ramps are for launching and retrieving only. Vehicles should be parked in designated parking areas and never left unattended on a launch ramp. Be ready to launch your boat before moving onto the ramp. Complete your launch quickly. When retrieving your boat, pull it away from the ramp before wiping it down and securing it for extended travel. 


There are federal, state, and local governing agencies that may establish boating safety requirements, which may be more restrictive than Utah’s boating laws and rules. Be sure to learn their restrictions before you go boating.  


Visit us at boating.utah.gov or contact Utah Division of Parks and Recreation Boating Program at [email protected] or call Utah’s Boating Hotline at 801-538-BOAT (2628). 

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