Boating Safety

Fishing Regulations Icon Delaware Fishing


Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1978 must successfully complete an approved boating safety course before operating a motorboat and/or Personal Watercraft (PWC) in Delaware. Approved courses are a State of Delaware sponsored course, a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary course, a U.S. Power Squadron course, Delaware Safety Council or any other state course which is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and DNREC.

Four Leading Causes of Boating Fatalities in Delaware Waters are:

  1. Not wearing a PFD or wearing it unzipped
  2. Collision (including PWC accidents)
  3. Capsizing
  4. Alcohol


Just as drinking and driving don’t mix, drinking and boating are a dangerous combination. Sun, glare from the water, constant boat motion and boat vibration all contribute to boater fatigue. Add alcohol consumption and those problems are compounded. Additionally, alcohol affects balance and muscle coordination, causes tunnel vision and slows reaction time. It also affects reasoning and increases the tendency to take risks.

Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law and could result in fines up to $1,000 for first offense and/or up to 60 days in jail. A blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater constitutes being under the influence.

Registration, Numbering and Marking of Undocumented Vessels

Vessels equipped with any type of motor must be registered in Delaware if principally used (a period of more than 60 days) in this State. The registration card or valid temporary registration card must be on board when the boat is in use. For further information on boating registration call: (302) 739-9916.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

In addition to the carriage requirements listed, a PFD must be worn by a child 12 years old or under while aboard a vessel which is underway and all PWC riders. Current regulations require all vessels to carry a wearable PFD for each person onboard and a throwable PFD for the boat, excluding boats less than 16′. The Boating Education Office suggests all vessels carry a throwable with a line attached for casting, and that you wear your life jacket zipped.

Negligent Operation

Skippers on Delaware waters are legally responsible for damages to life, limb or property caused by his/her vessel. And, of course, negligent operation is illegal.

Safe Boating Speed

The speed of all vessels on Delaware waters must be slow enough to prevent any wake of appreciable height when the vessels are within 100 feet of: “Slow-No-Wake” speed areas, docks, launching ramps, marked swimming areas, swimmers, anchored, moored, or drifting vessels.

Every year people are killed or seriously injured in boating accidents in Delaware’s waters. All of these accidents were avoidable if the ‘rules of the road’ had been followed and safe boating practices had been adhered to. The Handbook of Delaware Boating Laws and Responsibilities is available at no cost by contacting the Enforcement Section of the Division of Fish and Wildlife (1-302-739-9915) or through our website www.fw.delaware.gov.

The Enforcement Section of the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife is responsible for enforcing all of the safe boating laws as well as making sure that fish and shellfish size and creel limits are being followed. Some of the waters of the State are also patrolled by other authorities such as police officers and the U.S. Coast Guard. Boaters approached by a patrol boat with its blue light flashing should reduce speed, yield the right of way to the patrol boat, or if necessary stop your vessel. The operator must stop when requested to do so by a law enforcement officer.

The safety equipment and requirements for Delaware boaters vary depending on the type and length of the vessel. Here is an example of what is required of a typical fishing boat from 16 to 26 feet in length. For a complete list of all requirements for all size vessels contact the Enforcement Section.

  • Boater Safety Education Card (for all operators born after January 1, 1978). For information contact 739-9915 or go to our website.
  • Valid Boat Registration Card
  • Valid Boat Registration decal (displayed)
  • Personal Floatation Device(s) – one of the appropriate size for each person on-board
  • Throwable PFD
  • Type B-I Fire Extinguisher
  • Flame Arrestor
  • Ventilation System for fuel vapors
  • Horn, Whistle, or Bell
  • Visual Distress System (day and night)
  • Navigational Lights

It is the responsibility of each vessel operator to observe the rules of the road and the carriage requirements. The Division recommends boaters wear their PFD at all times while on the boat. Six out of ten boating fatalities could be prevented by boaters wearing their life jackets. The consistent use of PFDs will save more lives.