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Boating Laws

Hunting Regulations Icon Massachusetts Hunting & Fishing

Massachusetts Boating Laws: A Summary

BOAT REGISTRATION: Registration and numbering of all motorized boats is required. This includes electric motors.

MINIMUM AGE RESTRICTIONS: No person under 12 years of age may operate a motorboat, unless accompanied on-board and directly supervised by a competent person 18 years of age or older. Personal watercraft (PWC) users must be at least 16 years of age in order to operate.

BOAT SAFETY EDUCATION CERTIFICATION: Youth between 12 and 15 years of age must complete an approved basic boating course in order to operate a motorboat without adult supervision. Upon successful completion of such a course, students are issued a state “boating safety certificate” which must be in the possession of the certified operator when underway. Prospective personal watercraft users 16 or 17 years of age must also complete an approved boating course.

SAFETY EQUIPMENT: Personal Flotation Devices (life jackets) are required to be worn by: (1) youth less than 12 years of age, (2) personal watercraft users, (3) water-skiers, and (4) canoeists/kayakers from September 15 – May 15. A boat owner or a boat operator is responsible to ensure that all passengers on-board wear or have access to life jackets. All motorboats (with the exception of personal watercraft) must be equipped with an anchor, manual bailer, and line. A paddle or an oar is required on boats less than 16 feet in length. Motorboats towing water-skiers must be equipped with a boarding ladder.


The following types of operation are extremely unsafe and are prohibited.

  • Operating any vessel under the influence of alcohol (BAC of .08 or greater) or drugs.
  • Operating a motorboat within 150 feet of swimming areas.
  • Operating in inland waters at a speed greater than 45 mph or operating at an excessive speed without regard for weather conditions, boat traffic, and other hazards.
  • Operating a motorboat without properly working lights.
  • Operating a motorboat during the nighttime while towing water-skiers, tubers, or others.
  • Operating at greater than headway speed (6 mph or less) within 150 feet of a swimmer, water-skier, mooring area, marina, boat launch, or when the operator’s vision is obscured in any way.
  • Operating an overloaded vessel (carrying total weight that exceeds capacity plate recommendations or is excessive due to water conditions).
  • Operating with passengers on the bow, gunwales, or any other place from which a person could fall overboard.


By law, personal watercraft (PWC) operators are considered motorboat operators and must comply with all boating laws and navigation rules. In addition, PWC users must:

  • Wear an approved life jacket at all times (operator and passengers).
  • Attach the safety lanyard to the operator and the cutoff/kill switch.
  • Always operate at slow, no-wake speed (6 mph or less) within 150 feet of swimmers, shorelines, water-skiers, boat launches, rafts or floats, and moored or docked boats.

PWC Operation is prohibited:

  • By any person under age 16
  • Between the hours of sunset and sunrise (i.e. night time)
  • At high speed in congested areas
  • On waterbodies under 75 acres
  • Towing (water-skiers, tubers, boats, or others) is illegal.

ACCIDENT REPORTING: The operator of any motorboat involved in an accident which results in personal injury, death, or property damage (over $500) must immediately notify the Massachusetts Environmental Police and file the appropriate accident report within 5 days for most boating accidents, within 2 days for boating incidents involving fatalities.

For further information on boating laws, boating education, or to obtain accident report forms contact the Massachusetts Environmental Police Boat & Recreation Vehicle Safety Bureau at (508) 564-4961 or visit

Got Life Jackets?

From September 15 to May 15 all canoe or kayak occupants MUST WEAR a U.S. Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD).