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"Rules to live by"


1.   Who needs a boating safety certificate?

Under a new law, known as Brianna's Law, all motor boat operators:

Born on or after Jan. 1, 1993 will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2020.

Born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2022.

Born on or after Jan. 1, 1983 will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2023.

Born on or after Jan. 1, 1978 will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2024.

All motor boat operators regardless of age will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2025.

a.   Row boats, sail boats and canoes with no motor have no age requirements.

b.   Personal Water Craft, Jet Ski’s, require the operator to have taken and successfully completed a boater safety course before they operate a PWC regardless of age.  

c.   Out of State Boat Operators: if you are from out-of-state, New York recognizes the boating safety certificate issued by your home state.

d.  New York State provides boating safety certificates to those people who successfully complete a New York State Safe Boating Classroom Course. New York State also recognizes the safety certificates issued by the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, the US Power Squadron and the US Powerboating. Boating Safety Certificates from several online course providers are approved for New York State residents. List of courses available on NYS Parks, Recreation & and Historic Preservation Website.

e.    Proof of boater safety certificate must be carried at all times.


2.   Personal Flotation devices, or more commonly called life jackets, are the most important piece of equipment on board any vessel.  To dissect the name; Personal means it is for you and must properly fit you, Flotation means that is must be capable of floating you the intended wearer, and device as it is an item used for the purpose described.


a.   Every PFD must be Coast Guard Certified and must have a label inside stating this.  It must be in good condition and not showing any signs of rot or missing straps.  All too often people get their PFD’s wet and stow them away in a compartment, only to find out that they have succumbed to mildew and rot rendering them not safe for use.


b.   On a row boat, sail boat, canoe, kayak, paddleboard and power boat there must be one PFD readily accessible and in good condition for every person on board the vessel.


c.    The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has officially classified stand up paddleboards (SUP) as a vessel. The newly classified vessels must comply with federal Navigation Rules and “carriage” requirements when operated beyond the limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area. Adult stand-up paddlers are required to have a USCG-approved life jacket also known as Personal Floatation Device (PFD, Type III) for each person


d.   Any child under the age of 12 must be wearing a PFD at all times they are on board a vessel that is under way.  Under way is described as a vessel that is not at anchor or docked.  The exception to this rule is if the child is inside an enclosed cabin or the vessel is longer than 65 feet in length.


e.   Every vessel 16 feet or longer must also carry one type 4 throw able device with line attached.  These devices look like a life ring, however a coast guard approved seat cushions with line attached is sufficient.


f.     Operators and passengers on PWC must be wearing a PFD at all times.


g.    Persons engaged in water Skiing must be wearing a PFD.


h.   Anyone underway in a boat less than 21 feet in length anytime between November 1 and May 1 must wear a securely fastened life jacket. This includes canoes, kayaks, rowboats and motorboats Commercial vessels are exempt.


i.    Types of PFD’s are as follows;  Type one is typically found on commercial vessels, they are big and bulky and provide a great amount of flotation.  Type two is the most common type and they look like a collar around your neck.  Type two PFD’s will roll an unconscious wearer face up in the water.  They are the least expensive and the most uncomfortable to wear, and possibly the safest with the face up concept.  Type three is a vest type PFD they are comfortable to wear and very expensive.  They will not roll an unconscious wearer face up but they do provide warmth to the wearer.  Type five is a hybrid PFD and they come in many forms, from jackets with PFD’s built in to vests that auto inflate when they are submerged in water.  Many type five PFD’s are not Coast Guard certified and would not be counted as allowable if you were stopped and checked for equipment.


 3. Registration requirements:


  • Every mechanically propelled vessel must be registered in their home state or in the State of New York if they are used more than 90 days consecutive on waterways in this state.

  • Registrations are good for three years and the fees are based on the size of the vessel. 

  • Registration numbers must be three inch block letters of a contrasting color to the hull with a space between the numbers and letters as follows:   NY 1234 AB

  • They must be permanently affixed to the hull on the forward portion of the vessel and the validation sticker must be placed directly aft (back) of the numbers. 

  •  A typical registration will appear with two letters designating the state of registration followed by four numbers and then two more letters.


 4. Lights:


  • Every vessel that is mechanically propelled must have one white light astern visible for 360 degrees and a green and red light on the bow or forward portion. 

  • The bow lights must be placed on the vessel in such a way so that an approaching vessel will see your red light on the right, and your green light on your left as you head towards each other.  Often times when a boater replaces the bulb in the bow light they get the colors reversed. 

  • Lights must be displayed from sunset to sunrise, sunset is not when it gets dark it is when the sun officially sets and there is usually another half hour of sunlight after sunset.  They must also be displayed during operation in bad weather conditions. 

  • Lights are not used on Personal Water Crafts as they cannot be operated after sunset.  There are kits available to put lights on these vessels and they can so be used, however they are only for bad weather conditions and not night operation. 

  • While underway no other lights shall be displayed such as effect lights, docking, or flashing lights that would interfere or be mistaken for navigation lights.

  • There are many other light combinations for larger vessels and to describe them would be of no use since they are not typically going to be seen on our small lakes, Lake Erie will typically display these lights on freighters and large vessels.

  • Row boats and canoes or any non-mechanically propelled vessel used after dark may do so without the need for bow lights.  In these instances they must have readily available a lantern or white light to be displayed when another vessel approaches.  Typically a lantern is used by night fishermen.  They can be very difficult to see and are usually in close to shore, but don’t ever let that give you a false sense of confidence that there isn’t a boat out there directly in your path.  When operating at night slow down and be ever on guard for the unknown.



5. Sound producing devices:

  • Every mechanically propelled vessel must have a sound producing device horn or whistle capable of producing a two second blast that can be heard for a distance of ½ mile under calm conditions. 

  • Every PWC must also carry a whistle and the whistle must be affixed to the operator in such a way that if the operator and craft become separated he will still have the ability to attract attention to himself in an emergency. 


     6. Anchor:

  • Every vessel that is mechanically propelled must carry an anchor capable of holding the vessel in position and said anchor shall have sufficient line attached.  The length of the line is recommended to be 5 to 7 times the depth of the water.  The reason for this is so the anchor will bite into the bottom and hold the vessel in position.  A short anchor line will allow the anchor to bounce off the bottom and will not hold fast the vessel. 

  • PWC’s are not required to carry an anchor.



7. Fire extinguisher:

  • Every vessel with an enclosed motor or fuel tank must carry one hand held fire extinguisher that is Coast Guard approved. 

  • The minimum type must be capable of combating type A, B and C fires.  

  • Personal water craft are also not required to carry an extinguisher on inland waterways.

  • Larger vessels have more strict requirements such as on board fire suppression systems and these requirements can be seen in section 40 of the Navigation Laws.


8. Distress Flag and flare kit:

  • Every vessel 16 feet or longer must carry a distress kit with three hand held flares for day or night distress, and/or one 3 foot by 3 foot orange flag for daytime distress. 

  • The flares have expiration dates on the side label and they must not be out of date. 

  • Personal water craft must carry a flag but not the flares.

 9. Rules of the Road


a.   Right of way is established in part on the maneuverability of the vessel.  Any vessel that is less maneuverable shall have the right of way over a more maneuverable vessel.  Example of this is a sail boat and a power boat approaching at right angles or obliquely, in which case the sail boat has the right of way.  Any power vessel approaching another power vessel at right angles or obliquely shall yield to the vessel on the right.  Just the same as two cars at a 4 way stop, the one on the right has the right of way when both stop at the same time.   Two vessels approaching each other in opposite directions shall pass each other port side to port side just like two cars on a highway.  Any vessel overtaking another vessel shall do so by passing said vessel on the left, again like in the world of automobiles.

b.   Any vessel that crosses astern of a vessel engaged in fishing or trolling shall not come any closer than 200 feet to the stern of said trolling vessel.

c.   In Chautauqua County there is a 200 foot rule, basically it is 100 feet farther than the state 100 foot rule.  Essentially is says that no vessel shall travel at a speed greater that 5 miles per hour, nor shall they make a wake whenever they are within 200 feet of an anchored or moored vessel, a dock or a fixed object like a buoy or bridge piling.  Any vessel within the area known as the narrows in Bemus Point from the ferry crossing to the bridge must also abide by the 5 mile per hour no wake rule.  The same rule applies to the outlet from Celoron to the City of Jamestown.

d.   Night time speed;  No vessel shall travel at a speed faster than 20 miles per hour from sunset to sunrise on the inland waters of Chautauqua County.

e.   Findley Lake has a local law that requires boaters to travel in a counter clockwise direction when traveling the lake. Findley Lake also requires vessels to travel at a speed no greater that 5mph from sunrise to sunset.

f.    Reckless operation; every vessel shall be operated in a careful and prudent manner so as to not unreasonably interfere with the free and proper use of the navigable waterways of this state.  Reckless operation is a misdemeanor.

g.   Spot lights: It is unlawful to shine a spot light into the direction of another vessel as doing so could cause temporary loss of night vision and lead to an accident.  This is a misdemeanor under the state laws.

h.   BWI; boating while intoxicated is just as serious on the water as in an automobile.  The BAC levels are at .08 and the fines carried are similar.  Refusal to submit to a breath test will result in the suspension of your privilege to operate a vessel in this state.

i.    Accident reporting; every vessel involved in an accident where property damage is in excess of $1000 shall report the same to the sheriff.  Every vessel accident below the threshold of $1000 must have the operator stop and give his information to the operator of the other vessel or to the property owner that sustained damage.

j.    Underage operation after consuming alcohol; No person under the age of 21 shall operate a vessel after consuming alcohol.  For the purpose of this section a blood alcohol level of .02 to .07 shall be the guide lines for charging a person.  Any blood alcohol level above .07 will constitute a Boating While Intoxicated. 

k.   Personal Water Craft are not allowed to be operated within 500 feet of a designated beach or bathing area unless they are traveling at a speed of 10 miles per hour or less.


10. Paddleboards:

a. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has officially classified stand up paddleboards (SUP) as a vessel. The newly classified vessels must comply with federal Navigation Rules and “carriage” requirements when operated beyond the limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area. Adult stand-up paddlers are required to have a USCG-approved life jacket also known as Personal Floatation Device (PFD, Type III) for each person, a sound signaling device (whistle), visual distress signal and navigation light (flashlight).

11. PWC (Personal Watercraft)

  • Personal Water Craft, Jet Ski’s, require the operator to have taken and successfully completed a formal boater safety course before they operate a PWC.  These courses are offered in most states and by the United States Coast Guard and the US Power Boat Squadron. Minimum age 14yrs.

  • Operators and passengers on PWC must be wearing a PFD at all times.

  • PWC operators must also have the safety lanyard attached to their person so the motor will stop if they fall off the craft.

PWC’s must carry the following safety equipment

  • Whistle

  • 3X3 foot distress flag

  • Boater’s safety Certificate

  • NOTE – State Law does not require a PWC to carry a fire extinguisher but federal law does. Ex: Lake Erie is a federal waterway and a fire extinguisher is required.


15 E. Chautauqua Street Mayville NY 14757

Tel: 716.753.4929

Boating Safety  

"Its no accident"

Boating Rules

Some of the topics listed in this outline are very general in content and a much more in-depth rendition of the laws is available by going on line to the New York State Parks and Recreation web site. 

Need more info? Go here:


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