Virginia Watercraft Owner’s Guide
Virginia Freshwater Fishing
Since 1960 the Department has been designated as the state boating agency, providing boat titling and registration, boating access through public boat ramps and facilities, boating education, and marine law enforcement & accident investigation.
There are endless opportunities for boaters to enjoy Virginia’s waters, from freshwater to whitewater, to saltwater and more!
Whether you are a seasoned mariner or just beginning, remember that boating does involve some risk. The choices you make when operating or paddling can either contribute to or mitigate those risks. Virginia experiences a number of drowning deaths each year due to falls overboard. Please wear a life jacket!
Be Responsible: Don’t drink and boat! Be Safe: Wear an approved life jacket, and take a boating safety course! Have Fun!
– Tom Guess
Boating Law Administrator, VDGIF
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) administers all boat titling and registration of recreational boats in Virginia. All motorboats used on the public waters of Virginia must be registered and titled. If the motorboat is principally used on the public waters of Virginia it must be registered and titled in Virginia as opposed to another state.
- A Certificate of Title (title) and a Certificate of Number (registration) are required for all watercraft propelled by machinery, including but not limited to, gasoline, diesel, and electric motors.
- Sail-powered vessels (no motor) 18 feet in length & over are only required to be titled in Virginia (no registration needed).
- Boats used only on private waters do not require registration or titling.
- New watercraft must be registered before they may be operated on the public waters of Virginia.
- Used watercraft with a current, valid registration may be operated for 30 days on the previous owner’s registration if a copy of the dated bill of sale and the registration card are carried aboard the watercraft.
- If there is no valid registration or the registration has expired, used watercraft must obtain valid registration before being operated on the public waters of Virginia.
- An owner bringing a watercraft into Virginia from another state may operate the vessel up to 90 consecutive days on the other state’s current, valid registration before registering it in Virginia.
Watercraft registration is accomplished through the mail (Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, Boat Section, P.O. Box 9930, Henrico, Virginia 23228) or at the DGIF headquarters building at 7870 Villa Park Drive, Suite 400, Henrico, Virginia 23228 (8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. M–F except holidays). Applications submitted through the mail are usually processed and the registration materials mailed within two weeks of receipt in Henrico.
The Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration) form is available from DGIF offices, Department of Motor Vehicles Customer Service Centers, and from the DGIF website (www.dgif.virginia.gov). This is a combined application for both the registration and title.
An application for title and registration requires a detailed description of the watercraft that includes the make, length, model year, type of vessel, hull material, type of propulsion, and the 12 character hull identification number. The make, horsepower, and serial number of the motor (if in excess of 25 horsepower), and name of the lienholder (if applicable) are also required.
Most of this information will be available from the Certificate of Title and/or Certificate of Number (Registration) provided by the previous owner or the Manufacturer’s Statement (or Certificate) of Origin provided by the retail outlet where the watercraft was purchased.
Certain supporting documents must be submitted with an application for titling and registration as follows:
- The owner must provide the original Manufacturer’s Statement (or Certificate) of Origin or Importer’s Certificate of Origin with “First Assignment” completed and issued by dealer at the time of purchase. A copy of the sales invoice showing gross purchase price, watercraft sales tax paid, and a description of the boat must also be provided.
- If watercraft was homemade by you, a “Statement for Registering and Titling a Motorboat not Previously Registered and/or Titled” must be provided stating this fact in lieu of a Manufacturer’s Statement (or Certificate) of Origin or Importer’s Certificate of Origin. The “Statement for Registering and Titling a Motorboat not Previously Registered and/or Titled” form is available on the DGIF website (www.dgif.virginia.gov) or mailed to you upon request. Copies of receipts for building materials and printed pictures of the watercraft from all sides must also be submitted with the application and “Statement for Registering and Titling a Motorboat not Previously Registered and/or Titled”. Your watercraft may be subject to inspection by a law enforcement officer.
- If titled in Virginia – the original Certificate of Title with assignment of title completed by titled owner(s). If purchased from a watercraft dealer, the dealer reassignment portion of the title must be completed, and include a copy of the sales invoice showing gross purchase price, watercraft sales tax paid, and a description of the watercraft.
- If titled by someone else in another state – the original Certificate of Title with assignment of title completed by titled owner(s). If purchased from a dealer, the dealer reassignment portion of the title must be completed, and include a copy of the sales invoice showing gross purchase price, watercraft sales tax paid, and a description of the watercraft.
- If titled by you in another state (moving the watercraft to Virginia) – the original Certificate of Title must be submitted.
- If registered by you in another state but not titled (moving the watercraft to Virginia) – a copy of the out-of-state registration.
- If registered in Virginia but never titled – a copy of a dated bill of sale or a “Notification of Change in Status of a Numbered Vessel” form signed by the registered owner(s). This form is available on the DGIF website (www.dgif.virginia.gov) or mailed to you upon request.
- If registered by someone else in another state but not titled – a copy of the out-of-state registration and a copy of the bill of sale signed by the registered owner(s).
- If never registered or titled in Virginia or any other state – a “Statement for Registering and Titling a Motorboat not Previously Registered and/or Titled” form must be submitted with completed application and printed pictures of the watercraft from all sides.
If Documented with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and being changed to state registration – the Certificate of Documentation, a copy of the signed bill of sale, and either a Letter of Deletion from the USCG or the Abstract of Title (with proof of lien release in the documented owner’s name).
Note: Watercraft cannot be documented by the USCG and titled at the same time. The owner must choose between documentation or titling. While a documented vessel may not be titled, it may be registered at the owner’s discretion should a registration decal be desired to show proof that sales tax was paid. The registration decals may be useful if the watercraft is operated in other states that require a registration decal or other proof that sales tax was paid.
Any size, type, or horsepower of motor on a watercraft requires it to be registered. Only motors in excess of 25 horsepower are listed on titles.
Duplicate Titles, Registrations, or Decals
If a title, registration, or decal becomes defaced, lost, or destroyed, you may obtain an “Application for a Duplicate Certificate of Number, Decal and/or Title” form at all the locations where the application is available (see “Titling and Registering Your Watercraft” above). You may also use this form to order extra registration cards should you want more than one.
Please note that only one valid title is recognized for each watercraft. If a duplicate title is issued, it prevails over any previously issued title.
Expiration and Renewal of Registration
Registrations are valid for three years. Renewal notices are mailed to the last known address of all watercraft owners approximately 45 days before expiration. The most common reason owners do not receive a renewal notice is because their address has changed within the three years and DGIF was not notified. If a renewal notice was not received, the registration may be renewed by checking the “Renew Registration” box at the top of the application to register and title a watercraft, then completing the application. A shorter “Registration Renewal Application” is also available on the DGIF website (www.dgif.virginia.gov).
Change in Status or Change of Mailing Address
If a registered watercraft is sold, destroyed, abandoned, or stolen, or if there is a change in your mailing address, you are required by law to report this information within 15 days in writing to the DGIF Boat Section. A “Notification of Change in Status of a Numbered Vessel” form is available at all the locations where the application is available (see “Titling and Registering Your Watercraft”). The notification can be mailed to the address on the form or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registration Must be Onboard While Operating
You must have a valid registration card on the vessel before your watercraft may legally be operated on public waters. The three-year registration card is the official document of registration for your watercraft and once it has been issued, it must be carried aboard the watercraft while in use. If you purchased a used watercraft with valid, current registration, you may operate the vessel for 30 days from the date of purchase provided you carry a dated bill of sale and the former owner’s valid registration card.
Decals are furnished with each three-year registration issued by DGIF. Decals indicate the month, year of expiration, and the registration number assigned to your watercraft. Decals must be displayed within 6 inches of the registration number on each side of the watercraft for which they were issued. Only the current decal may be visible. Expired decals must be removed.
Trailers: Title, Registration, and License Plates
Title, registration, and license plates for watercraft trailers are purchased through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Check with DMV for rules and regulations regarding trailers.
Registration and Titling Fees and Watercraft Sales and Use Tax
|Most people must pay a registration fee, a titling fee, and watercraft sales and use tax when they acquire a watercraft. These fees are found on the application.|
Watercraft Registration ( 3 Years)
|Less than 16 feet in length|| |
|16 feet to less than 20 feet in length|| |
|20 feet to less than 40 feet in length|| |
|40 feet in length and longer|| |
|Duplicate Cards & Decals (Replacements or extra sets)|| |
|Livery of up to 10 watercraft|| |
|Livery of more than 10 watercraft|| |
|Change of Motor on Title (Original Title must be submitted)|| |
|Record Supplemental Lien on Previously Titled Watercraft (Original Title must be submitted)|| |
|Watercraft Sales and Use Tax||2% of gross purchase price of watercraft and motor (Maximum $2,000.00)|
Display of registration number
The number issued to your watercraft appears on the registration and is to be displayed on each side of the forward half of the vessel in block letters, at least 3 inches in height, and contrasting in color with hull or background. They may be painted or attached to the watercraft, must read from left to right, and must always be legible.
A space or hyphen must separate both the “VA” abbreviation and the letter suffix from the numerals.
On vessels so configured that a number on the hull or superstructure would not be easily visible or the number would not remain securely attached (as on an inflatable vessel), the number may be painted on or the number and decal attached to a backing plate that is attached to the forward half of the vessel so that the number is visible from each side of the vessel.
If the watercraft already has Virginia registration numbers (used watercraft), in most instances those same numbers will be reassigned to the new owner. The Virginia registration number assigned to a watercraft should never be removed from the watercraft unless DGIF assigns new numbers to the vessel.
Motorboat and PWC Operators
A Boating Safety Course is Required to Operate PWC’s and/or Boats With Motors 10 HP or Greater.
For more information:
Additional information and forms on watercraft registration and titling may be obtained by calling the Boat Section of DGIF at 804-367-6135 or 866-721-6911. Forms can also be downloaded from our website at www.dgif.virginia.gov/forms.
Nearly all boating-related fatalities are the result of drowning and most of these fatalities could have been prevented if a life jacket was worn.
- There must be one wearable (Type I, II, III, or V) USCG approved life jacket for each person on the boat. The life jacket must be the appropriate size for each intended wearer
- Each wearable life jacket needs to be “readily accessible” if not worn. Readily accessible means the life jackets are out in the open ready for wear or stowed where they can be easily reached. Readily accessible life jackets cannot be in protective coverings or under lock and key.
- In addition, you should check each life jacket for proper fit. This is especially important for children. Check the “Does Your Life Jacket Really Fit” on this page.
- A Type V life jacket needs to be worn according to the manufacturer label to meet safety requirements.
- This requirement applies to all boats including paddlecraft (canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards)
- In addition to the wearable life jacket, there must be at least one (1) USCG approved Type IV throwable (ring buoy or seat cushion), on vessels of 16 feet or greater. The regulation to carry a Type IV does not apply to (1) personal watercraft; (2) non-motorized canoes and kayaks of 16 feet or greater; (3) racing shells, rowing sculls, racing canoes, and racing kayaks; (4) sailboards; and (5) vessels of the United States used by foreign competitors while practicing for or racing in competition.
- Each Type IV throwable must be immediately available. “Immediately available” means the life jacket shall be quickly reachable in an emergency situation. An immediately available life jacket cannot be in a protective covering, in a closed compartment, or under other equipment. There is no requirement to have a line attached.
- All life jackets must be in good and serviceable condition. A life jacket that displays any of the following is not in good condition:
- Metal or plastic hardware used to secure the life jacket on the wearer that is broken, deformed, or weakened by corrosion; or
- Webbings or straps used to secure the life jacket on the wearer that are ripped, torn, or which have become separated from an attachment point on the life jacket; or
- Any other rotted or deteriorated structural component that fails when tugged; or
- Rips, tears, or open seams in fabric or coatings, that are large enough to allow the loss of buoyant material; or
- Buoyant material that has become hardened, non-resilient, permanently compressed, waterlogged, oil-soaked, or which shows evidence of fungus or mildew; or
- Loss of buoyant material or buoyant material that is not securely held in position.
- Inflatable Life Jackets must meet all the requirements for life jackets listed above plus the following:
- A properly armed inflation mechanism, complete with a full inflation cartridge and all status indicators showing that the inflation mechanism is properly armed;
- Inflatable chambers that are all capable of holding air;
- Oral inflation tubes that are not blocked, detached, or broken;
- Inflation status indicators that are not broken or otherwise non-functional;
- The inflation system of an inflatable life jacket need not be armed when the life jacket is worn inflated and otherwise meets the requirements above.
- Federal Life Jacket Rule for Children Under 13 Years Old—No person may operate a recreational vessel on federal waters with any child under age 13 on the vessel unless each child is either:
- Wearing an appropriate life jacket approved by the Coast Guard; or
- Below deck or in an enclosed cabin.
In Virginia, this rule is enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard or other federal agents and applies on waters over which they have enforcement jurisdiction. Most waters in Virginia are considered federal waters.
A Special Note about Inflatable Life Jackets
Inflatable life jackets are lightweight, comfortable to wear and take up about one-tenth the storage room of conventional foam-filled life jackets. Most are USCG approved only for persons 16 years of age and older who are not engaged in whitewater or skiing activities or riding on PWC. They are a great choice for adults on the water!
Does Your Life Jacket Really Fit?
How do you know if a life jacket really fits you? First, check the label to make sure the life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved. Life jackets (or PFDs) come in a couple of basic sizes: infant, child, and adult. Within those basic sizes, there will be a range (Small, Medium, Large, etc.) of sizes. The label will indicate the basic size and the size range, which will include a weight range and usually also a chest size range. After you check the label, make sure you move on to the second step, try it on! Before every boating season, try on your life jacket. Make sure that it fits correctly. What does a correct fit mean? It should be snug, but not tight. Lift your arms over your head, can you turn your head left, right, and over your shoulder or has the life jacket ridden up and is in the way of moving your head? For a child, have them stand with their arms to their sides. Lift the life jacket up by the shoulders. The life jacket should not move more than 3 inches, no higher than the child’s ears. If the life jacket does move up more than 3 inches, it is too big and the child can slip right out—get a smaller life jacket! A younger child’s life jacket should also include a crotch strap—this will help insure the life jacket stays on. Finally, practice using the life jacket in shallow water. Make sure it is snug enough to stay put and not ride up over the chin and ears when in shallow water. Have children practice in shallow water with their life jacket so they don’t panic in case of emergency.
All boats over 26 feet must have USCG approved, adequately charged fire extinguishers aboard (see the chart for specific safety requirement). In addition, all motorboats under 26 feet that have one or more of the following conditions must also carry fire extinguishers:
- Permanently installed fuel tanks.
- Closed compartment under thwarts and seats wherein portable fuel tanks may be stored.
- Double bottoms not sealed to the hull or which are not completely filled with flotation material.
- Closed living spaces.
- Closed stowage compartment in which combustible or flammable materials may be stowed.
All fire extinguishers must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, must have an efficient change, and must be in good and service-able condition.
Backfire Flame Arrestor
All powerboats, except outboards, that are fueled with gasoline must have a USCG approved backfire flame arrestor on each carburetor.
No person may operate a boat built after July 31, 1980, that has a gasoline engine (except outboards) unless it is equipped with an operable ventilation system that meets USCG standards.
For boats built after April 25, 1940, and before August 1, 1980, (with engines using gasoline as fuel and other fuels having a flashpoint of 110°F. or less) the following is required:
- At least two ventilation ducts fitted with cowls or their equivalent for the purpose of properly and efficiently ventilating the bilges of every engine and fuel tank compartment. There shall be at least one exhaust duct installed so as to extend to the lower portion of the bilge and at least one intake duct installed so as to extend to a point at least midway to the bilge or at least below the level of the carburetor air intake.
For boats which are built after July 31, 1978, but prior to August 1, 1980, there are no requirements for ventilation of the fuel tank compartment if there is no electrical source in the compartment and if the fuel tank vents to the outside of the boat.
The operator of the vessel is required to keep the system in operating condition.
The navigation rules require sound signals to be made under certain circumstances. Meeting, crossing, and overtaking situations described in Navigation Rules are examples of when sound signals are required. Recreational vessels are also required to sound fog signals during periods of reduced visibility. Having some means of making an efficient sound signal capable of a 4-second blast audible for 1/2 mile is required. A whistle or air horn is acceptable if your vessel is not equipped with a horn. All vessels, including paddlecraft, must carry a sound-producing device.
The exhaust of an internal combustion engine on any motorboat shall be effectively muffled. The muffling device shall exhaust at or below the water line or it shall be equipped with mechanical baffles. The use of cutouts is prohibited.
Marine Sanitation Devices (MSD)
Vessels with installed toilets and marine sanitation devices shall be in compliance with federal regulations which set standards for sewage discharges from marine sanitation devices. Vessels without installed toilets or without installed marine sanitation devices shall not directly or indirectly discharge sewage into state waters. Sewage and other wastes from self-contained, portable toilets or other containment devices shall be pumped out at pump-out facilities or carried ashore for treatment in facilities approved by the Virginia Department of Health. Smith Mountain Lake is a “No Discharge Zone.”
A complete list of pump-out stations is available by contacting the Virginia Department of Health at 804-864-7473 or online at www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/onsite-sewage-water-services/marina-program/maps-marina/.
All power boats 16 feet or greater in length shall be equipped with visual distress signaling devices at all times when operating on coastal waters. This regulation applies to all coastal waters and those rivers 2 miles or more wide at the mouth and up to the first point the river narrows to less than 2 miles.
Boats less than 16 feet, manually propelled boats (rowboats, canoes, kayaks, etc.), and open sailboats under 26 feet with no motor, are required to carry only night visual distress signals when operated on coastal waters at night.
Recreational boaters may carry additional visual distress signals over the minimum number of VDS required.
Note: It is illegal to display a visual distress signal unless immediate assistance is needed.
If using pyrotechnic signals, must have 3 night signals plus 3 day signals or 3 day/night combination signals. If using non-pyrotechnic signals, you must have 1 day signal and 1 night signal.
Pyrotechnic visual distress signals must be:
- USCG approved
- in serviceable condition
- readily accessible
- not expired
- Launchers produced before January 1, 1981, intended for use with approved signals are not required to be USCG approved.
USCG approved Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals include:
- Pyrotechnic red flares, hand-held or aerial;
- Pyrotechnic orange smoke, handheld or floating;
- Launchers for aerial red meteors or parachute flares.
Non-pyrotechnic visual distress signaling devices must:
- Meet USCG requirements.
- Be in serviceable condition.
- Be readily accessible.
USCG approved non-pyrotechnic visual distress signals include:
- Orange distress flag with black square and black ball, for daytime use;
- Electric distress light for night use.
The following points will be used as the “cutoff points” for enforcement of the visual distress signal regulations on the coastal waters in Virginia. These points can be found on the appropriate nautical chart.
- Entrance to Hampton Roads up to where the waterway is reduced to 2 nautical miles which is a line drawn between Old Point Comfort and Fort Wool.
- York River up to where the waterway is reduced to 2 nautical miles which is a line drawn between Sandy Point and Tue Point, which is in the vicinity of Tue Marshes Light.
- Mobjack Bay up to, but not including, the Severn, Ware, North and East rivers.
- Entrance to the Piankatank River where the waterway is reduced to 2 nautical miles which is a line drawn from Cherry Point at Gwynns Island across the river to the opposite shore, which is in the vicinity of Piankatank River Lighted Buoy 6.
- Rappahannock River up to where the waterway is reduced to 2 nautical miles, which is a line drawn from Parrott Island to Cherry Point, which is just before you get to the first highway bridge.
- Those parts of the Pocomoke and Tangier Sounds which fall within Virginia.
- Where the uncharted inlets of the Atlantic Ocean are reduced to 2 nautical miles in width.
Recreational boats, while underway, are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.
No other lights shall be exhibited that could impair the visibility of required running lights or impair the visibility of approaching vessels.
Lights Used When Anchored
An anchor light is a 360 degree (all-round) white light exhibited where it can best be seen and visible for 2 miles.
Special Lights for Enforcement Vessels
Enforcement vessels of the VDGIF, the USCG, and other law enforcement agencies may display a rotating or flashing blue light. When such a light is observed you should stop immediately and maneuver in such a way as to permit the boarding officer to come alongside or aboard.
By federal law, blue lights may only be displayed by enforcement vessels of the federal, state or local governments, and have the same effect on the water as the rotating or flashing blue lights on law enforcement cars traveling our highways.
Vessels Less Than 12 Meters (39.4 ft.) in Length
- Vessels or sailboats using power: the lighting arrangement in Figure 1, 2, 3, or 4 may be used.
- Sailboats using sail alone: the lighting arrangement in figure 5, 6, or 7 may be used.
The white masthead light or all around white light must be at least 1 meter (3.3 ft.) higher than the colored sidelights.
Vessels 12 Meters but Less Than 20 Meters (65.5 ft.) in Length
- Vessels or sailboats using power: the lighting arrangement in Figure 1 or 2 may be used. The lighting arrangement in Figure 3 may be used if the vessel was constructed before December 24, 1980.
- Sailboats using sail alone: the lighting arrangement in Figure 5, 6, or 7 may be used.
The white masthead light or all around white light must be at least 1 meter (3.3 ft.) higher than the colored sidelights.
A vessel under oars and sailboats less than 7 meters (23 feet) in length may display those lights prescribed for a sailing vessel, but it they do not, they shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern (Figure 8) shining a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.
International Rules (Past the Line of Demarcation)
Beyond three nautical miles of Viginia’s coastline, if your power-driven vessel is less than 23 feet (7 meters) in length and its maximum speed does not exceed 7 knots, then it may display an all-round white light, and if possible, sidelights instead of the lights previously prescribed.
Did You Know…
Stand up Paddleboards are considered a vessel when outside a designated swim zone or beyond the surf zone. Life jackets and a sound-producing device (whistle) are required!
No Fixed Fire
|Under 16|| |
|16 to less than 26|| |
|26 to less than 40|| |
|40 to 65|| |
Manually Propelled Vessels
(canoes, kayaks, SUPs, etc.)
Boats Under 16 Feet
Boats 16 Feet – Less Than 26 Feet
Boats 26 Feet – Less Than 40 Feet
Boats 40 Feet –
|Life Jackets – Wearable|| |
|Life Jackets – Type IV|| |
|Certificate of Number|| |
|Validation Decal|| |
|Type B-1 Fire Extinguisher|| |
|Type B-II Fire Extinguisher|| |
|Ignition Safety Switch|| |
|Backfire Flame Arrestor|| |
|Ventilation System|| |
|Muffler (inboard engines)|| |
|Horn, Whistle, or Bell|| |
|Daytime VDS – Operating in Coastal Waters|| |
|Nightime VDS – Operating in Coastal Waters|| |
|Navigation Lights|| |
|Boating Safety Education Certificate|| |
Did you get your Virginia Lifetime Boater’s Card?
Our Virginia Lifetime Boater’s Card is available to those who meet the boating safety education requirement. This durable, drivers license-style card is available for a fee of $10.00.
- Completed a NASBLA approved boating safety course (U.S. Power Squadrons, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, other states’ boating safety courses, or internet courses)
- Completed a Virginia Challenge Exam
- Have lost your original Boat Virginia card
- Meet any of the exemptions listed under Boating Education Course
To purchase a card go to www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/lifetime-boater-card/.
In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law establishing requirements for boating safety education. This applies to ALL PWC operators and motorboat operators of boats registered in Virginia with a motor of 10 horsepower and greater.
Personal Watercraft (PWC) “jet-ski”
Required for all ages.
Motorboat (MB) 10 hp and greater
- ALL ages, July 1, 2016
Boating Education Courses
The VDGIF provides a free classroom boating safety course, Boat Virginia. This course is available throughout the year. The VDGIF also supports NASBLA approved boating courses offered by the USCG Auxiliary (USCGAux) and the U.S. Power Squadrons (USPS). There are several internet courses that meet Virginia’s Boating Safety Education Requirement.
For a up-to-date list of boating safety education course offerings and boating safety information, visit our website at www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/education/requirement/.
To arrange a free vessel safety check, please call 1-800-245-2628 or contact local USCG Auxiliary or USPS member.
Do I Need to Take a Boating Course?
YES: If you have never taken a NASBLA approved boating safety course and you fall within the phase-in schedule (no grandfathering).
NO: If you have previously taken a NASBLA approved boating safety course and still have a card/certificate.
NO: If you are serving or have qualified as an Officer of the Deck Underway, boat coxswain, boat officer, boat operator, watercraft operator, or Marine Deck Officer in any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States, United States Coast Guard, or Merchant Marine.
NO: If you hold or have held a license to operate a vessel (Master, Captain, or Mate).
NO: If you are or have been a Registered Commercial Fisherman.
NO: If you are or have been a surface warfare officer/enlisted surface warfare specialist in the United States Navy.
- You must carry proof of course completion on board with you while operating.
- If your boat is registered in another state you must meet your home state’s education requirement.
- If you are planning to rent a boat, please check with the boat rental company.
Boating laws are enforced primarily by Conservation Police Officers employed by VDGIF. These officers have full police powers and have the right to lawfully stop and board your boat at any time to check for proper registration and required safety equipment.
- Reckless operation of boat, water skis, or aquaplane.
- Operating, while intoxicated, a boat, aquaplane or water skis.
- Operating or giving permission to operate an unregistered motorboat.
- Operating or giving permission to operate a boat with an expired Certificate of Number.
- Operating a motorboat with number improperly displayed.
- Operating a boat with unauthorized number displayed.
- Failing to carry the Certificate of Number on board or refusing to show it to inspecting officers.
- Operating a registered motorboat more than 90 days in Virginia without registering it here.
- Failing to report a change of address of a registered motorboat owner within 15 days.
- Failure to report loss or abandonment of a registered boat within 15 days.
- Failure to exhibit lights as required by law between sunset and sunrise.
- A vessel operator failing to stop, render assistance, give name and address at the scene of an accident or failing to file an accident report within 10 days.
- Towing a water skier not wearing a USCG approved life jacket without an observer in the boat.
- Operating a motorboat without a muffled exhaust or with a cutout on the exhaust.
- Failure to obey regulatory water markers.
- Operating a motorboat or skis in an area designated for swimming.
- Engaging in snorkeling or scuba diving in waters open to boating without displaying a flag (no boat shall approach closer than 25 yards when flag displayed).
- “No Wake” is defined as the slowest possible speed required to maintain steerage and headway.
- It shall be unlawful to operate any motorboat greater than no wake speed in areas marked with regulatory “No Wake” buoys.
- It shall be unlawful to operate any motorboat greater than no wake speed when within 50 feet or less of docks, piers, boathouses, boat ramps, and people in the water. This definition does not prohibit the pulling of a skier with a rope of less than 50 feet, nor a person accompanying the motorboat (wake surfing) provided the motorboat is propelled by an inboard motor.
Operators shall reduce speed to avoid endangering persons or property by the effect of the motorboat’s wake when approaching or passing vessels under way, lying to, at anchor, or made fast to the shore; or, when approaching or passing piers, docks, or boathouses; or when approaching or passing persons in the water or using water skis or surfboards.
A safe speed is a speed less than the maximum at which the operator can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and stop within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.
In establishing a safe operating speed, the operator shall take into account: visibility, traffic density, ability to maneuver the vessel (stopping distance and turning ability), background light at night, proximity of navigational hazards, draft of the vessel, limitations of radar equipment, and the state of wind, sea, and current.
It is unlawful to allow any person to ride or sit on the bow, gunwales, transom, or on the decking over the bow of the vessel while under power unless such motorboat is provided with adequate guards or railing to prevent passengers from falls overboard. Passengers or other persons aboard a watercraft may occupy these areas of the vessel to moor or anchor the watercraft, to cast off, or for any other necessary purpose.
A personal watercraft is a motorboat less than 16 feet in length which uses an inboard motor powering a jet pump as its primary motive power and which is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling on, rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel.
PWCs must follow all rules and regulations for motorboats. There are additional rules and regulations for PWC operators as follows:
- It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a PWC, or the owner or any person having control to authorize or knowingly permit a person to operate a PWC, unless the operator is at least 16 years of age. Any person age 14 or 15 may operate a PWC if they have successfully completed an approved boating education safety course, carry proof of successful completion of such course, and show this proof upon request by a law enforcement officer.
- It is unlawful to operate a PWC unless the operator, each rider and anyone being towed by a PWC is wearing a Type I, II, III, or V USCG approved life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are prohibited.
- If the PWC is equipped with a lanyard-type engine cut-off switch, the operator must attach the lanyard to his person, clothing, or life jacket.
- It is unlawful to operate a PWC after sunset or before sunrise.
- It is unlawful to operate a PWC while carrying passengers in excess of the number for which the craft was designed by the manufacturer; including towed passengers.
- A person shall be guilty of reckless operation who operates any PWC recklessly so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person, which shall include, but not be limited to: (1) weaving through other vessels which are underway, stopped, moored or anchored while exceeding a reasonable speed; (2) following another vessel or skier, crossing the path of another vessel or skier, crossing the path of another vessel more closely than is reasonable and prudent; (3) crossing between the towing vessel and a skier; or (4) steering toward an object or person and turning sharply in close proximity to such object or person in order to spray or attempt to spray an object or person with the wash or jet spray of the PWC.
- PWC operators must maintain “no wake” operation when within 50 feet or less of docks, piers, boathouses, boat ramps, people in the water and vessels other than PWCs. PWCs may tow a skier with a rope less than 50 feet. No wake is defined as “The slowest possible speed required to maintain steerage and headway.”
The above provisions do not apply to participants in regattas, races, marine parades, tournaments or exhibitions approved by the Board of the VDGIF or the USCG.
Most boating accidents are the result of a collision, either between two vessels, or between a vessel and a fixed or submerged object. For this reason, boat operators are cautioned to follow the established Navigation Rules, especially maintaining a proper lookout and safe speed. Remember the three basic rules of navigation:
- Practice Good Seamanship — it is the responsibility of every vessel or PWC operator to take all necessary action to avoid collisions. Such action should be taken in ample time to avoid a collision and at a safe distance from other vessels.
- Keep a Proper Lookout — every operator must keep a proper lookout using both sight and hearing at all times. Watch and listen for other vessels, radio communications, navigation hazards, and others involved in water activities.
- Maintain a Safe Speed — safe speed will vary depending upon conditions such as wind, water conditions, navigation hazards, visibility, surrounding vessel traffic, and the maneuverability of your vessel.
The boat operator is responsible for knowing and following all of the applicable navigational rules. Copies of the rules may be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, 202-512-1800. The stock number is 050-012-00192-8. On the Web at: www.uscgboating.org/regulations/navigation_rules.aspx.
Right Side = Starboard
Left Side = Port
Head-on (bow to bow)
When two power-driven vessels are meeting head-on or nearly head-on, each shall alter her course to starboard (right) so that each shall pass on the port side of the other. A head-on situation exists when a vessel sees the other ahead or nearly ahead and by night she could see the masthead lights of the other in a line or nearly in a line or both sidelights.
Giveway and Stand-on Vessels
Give-way and Stand-on is the terminology used to describe the appropriate action of each vessel in crossing and passing situations.
The “give-way” vessel is the vessel that must take early and substantial action to keep well clear of another vessel.
The “stand-on” vessel shall maintain course and speed unless it becomes apparent that the vessel required to keep out of the way (the “give-way” vessel) is not taking the appropriate action. If the stand-on vessel must take action to avoid a collision, it must avoid turning to port for a vessel on her port side.
An action taken to avoid a collision needs to be positive, made in ample time and large enough to be apparent to the other vessel. If necessary to avoid a collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel must slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing engines.
In crossing situations, power boats must give-way to sailing vessels under sail regardless of the angle the power-driven vessel approaches the sailing vessel.
When two power-driven vessels are crossing, the vessel which has the other on her starboard side shall give way and keep out of the way and avoid crossing ahead (in front) of the other vessel.
When taking action to stay out of the way, make it early, substantial and well clear of the other boat. Avoid making a succession of small alterations of course or speed. If you are directed by the Rules to stay out of the way, then make your turn large and obvious so as to be readily apparent to another vessel both visually or by radar. This is especially true at night, when the only visual indication of your course change is the alteration of your boat’s lights.
Any vessel overtaking any other shall give-way and keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.
When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether it is overtaking another, it shall assume that this is the case and act accordingly.
If you are being overtaken (passed), you are the stand-on vessel and should maintain your course and speed. The vessel overtaking you should notify an intent to pass by making an appropriate sound signal. One short blast of the horn or whistle means “I intend to overtake you on your starboard side” and 2-short blasts means “I intend to overtake you on your port side”.
When two sailing vessels are approaching one another in a crossing situation, one of them shall keep out of the way of the other as follows:
- When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other;
- When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward; and
- If a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or on the starboard side, she shall keep out of the way of the other.
Windward side is deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the main-sail is carried.
Responsibility Between Vessels
Except where otherwise required:
A power-driven vessel shall keep out of the way of:
- A vessel not under command
- A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver, such as a tug boat or deep-draft freighter
- A vessel engaged in commercial fishing
- A sailing vessel
A sailing vessel shall keep out of the way of:
- A vessel not under command
- A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver, such as a tug boat or deep-draft freighter
- A vessel engaged in commercial fishing
Departure From Regulations To Avoid Immediate Danger
At times it may be necessary to depart from these rules in order to avoid immediate danger. When, from any cause the vessel required to keep its course and speed finds itself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, the operator shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision. This action does not relieve the give-way vessel of its obligation to keep out of the way. The give-way vessel is that vessel required to take early and substantial action to keep well away from other vessels by stopping, slowing or changing course.
In narrow channels, the operator of every vessel shall, when it is safe and practicable, keep to that side of the fairway or mid-channel which lies on the right side of such vessel. The operator of a vessel under 65.6 feet in length underway, fishing or at anchor in narrow channels shall not interfere with the passage of large, deep-draft vessels that can safely navigate only inside such channels.
The following rule applies to vessels not in sight of one another when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility:
Proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility. A power-driven vessel shall have engines ready for immediate maneuver.
Except where it has been determined that a risk of collisions does not exist, every vessel which hears apparently forward of her beam the fog signal of another vessel, or which cannot avoid a close-quarter situation with another vessel forward of her beam, shall reduce her speed to the minimum at which she can be kept on course. She shall if necessary take all way off (slow down or stop) and in any event, navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over.
Sound Signals for Restricted Visibility
Whistle means any sound producing device capable of producing a blast.
Short Blast = a blast of about 1 second.
Prolonged Blast = a blast of from 4–6 seconds’ duration.
In or near an area of restricted visibility, whether by day or night, the following sound signals shall be made:
- A power-driven vessel making way through the water — one prolonged blast at least once every 2 minutes.
- A power-driven vessel underway but stopped and making no way through the water shall sound at intervals of not more than 2 minutes two prolonged blasts in succession with an interval of about 2 seconds between them.
- A sailing vessel, whether underway or at anchor, shall sound one-prolonged blast followed by two-short blast at least once every 2 minutes.
Other Safety Concerns
As the operator of a vessel, you are required by law to file a formal, written report of your boating accident with the VDGIF under certain circumstances.
When a Report is Required
A formal, written report must be filed with VDGIF when there is:
- Damage over $2000 by or to the vessel or its equipment;
- Injury (requiring medical help beyond First Aid) or loss of life; and/or
- Disappearance of any person from a vessel.
To inform Law Enforcement about an accident that has just occurred, please call your county or city law enforcement group, sheriff’s office, Conservation Police Officer, or Department dispatcher (800-237-5712) or 911.
When a person dies or disappears as a result of an occurrence that involves a vessel or its equipment, the operator is required by law to notify the VDGIF in Richmond, Virginia, or the most immediately available Department Conservation Police Officer without delay and by the quickest means possible.
Time Frame for Reporting
Written reports must be filed within the following time frames from the boating accident:
- 48 hours, if a person dies within 24 hours of the accident;
- 48 hours if a person involved is injured and cannot perform usual activities;
- 48 hours if a person disappears from a vessel;
- 10 days if an earlier report is not required but becomes necessary; and/or
- 10 days if the boat or property damage is in excess of $2000 or total boat loss.
How to File a Written Accident Report
Boating Accident Report forms can also be obtained from local law enforcement authorities, Department Conservation Police Officers, VDGIF website, and all Department offices. You may submit the completed forms in person or send them to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Boating Accident, 7870 Villa Park Dr., Suite 400, P.O. Box 90778, Henrico, VA 23228. The boat operator or owner usually completes the form unless she/he is physically unable to do so.
Duty to Stop and Render Assistance
It is the duty of every operator involved in a collision to stop and offer assistance. Operators involved in a collision, who knowingly fail to comply with this law when the collision or accident results in serious bodily injury to, or the death of, any person, shall be guilty of a Class 6 Felony. When a collision or accident results in only property damage, the operator who does not comply with this law shall be guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor.
All vessels must operate at minimum speed necessary to maintain a steerage and headway (no wake speed) within 500 yards of the U.S. naval vessel and proceed as directed by the Commanding Officer or the official patrol. Violations of the Naval Vessel Protection Zone are a felony offense, punishable by up to 6 years in prison and/or up to $250,000 in fines.
No vessel or person is allowed within 100 yards of a U.S. naval vessel greater than 100 feet in length. Due to Little Creek Channel’s width of 150 yards, all vessels must exit Little Creek Channel when a U.S. naval vessel is approaching.
If you have questions about the Navel Vessel Protection Zone, contact Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads Waterways Management Division at 757-668-5580.
America’s coasts, rivers, bridges, tunnels, ports, ships, military bases, and waterside industries may be the terrorists’ next targets.
If you see outwardly suspicious activity, or even behavior that makes you uneasy, please report it. Here are things to look for:
- Unattended vessels or vehicles in unusual locations.
- Unusual night operations.
- Recovering or tossing items into/onto the waterway or shoreline.
- Operating in or passing through an area that does not typically have such activity.
- Missing fencing or lighting near sensitive locations.
- Transfer of people or items between vessels, or between vessels and the shore outside of a port.
- Anyone operating in an aggressive manner.
- Small planes flying over critical locations.
- Persons attempting to buy or rent fishing or recreational vessels with cash for short-term, undefined use.
- Other suspicious activity.
Call the National Response Center at 877-24WATCH or 911 to report suspicious activity.
When Buying a Boat
- Be careful because it could be stolen.
- Be certain that the boat’s description on the title matches the boat you are buying. Check year, make, length, and hull identification number.
- Be sure the model and serial number on an outboard motor have not been removed, tampered with or altered.
- Be suspicious of a fresh paint job on a late model vessel.
- When buying a used vessel, try to deal with a reputable marine dealer or a broker licensed by the state.
- If the price seems too good to be true, there is a good chance that the boat is stolen.
- Mark all equipment when purchased.
- If your boat was built before 1972, it may not have a hull identification number.
- It is a good idea to inscribe that registration number onto some unexposed location on the interior of your boat.
- Document boat contents.
- Store gear/electronics when not in use.
Stealing a boat is much easier if a thief can hitch up to your boat on a trailer and drive away. These tips may help.
- If possible, store the boat and trailer in a locked garage.
- Store boats in the back or side yard out of sight.
- Store the boat with the trailer tongue not easily accessible.
- Park another vehicle or other large object in front of the trailer.
- Remove one trailer wheel.
- Purchase a good quality trailer hitch lock and use it — even if stored inside.
There are several things that can be done to reduce the risk of vessel theft.
- Lock marine hatch.
- Lock the forward hatch.
- Lock windows.
If your boat, trailer, or gear is missing, report it immediately to the following groups. Use your written and photographic marine record to give specific and complete information.
- Local law enforcement agencies.
- Your insurance company.
- Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
- The dock or harbormaster.
- Neighboring boaters.
- Local newspapers.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can be toxic in small quantities. It is produced by engines, generators, grills, and other equipment commonly used by boaters. Every year people who recreate on and around boats are overcome by the effects of carbon monoxide.
Recreational boaters need to be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning prevention practices such as regular professional boat inspections; the installation and maintenance of carbon dioxide detectors in living spaces; the hazards of “platform dragging; exhaust leaks from CO sources, specific boat design features of concern (especially houseboats); and the danger of swimming near the stern of the watercraft while generators, engines or other carbon monoxide producing equipment is in operation.
Capsizings and falls overboard are the leading cause of fatal boating incidents. To help lessen the chance of capsizing or falling overboard, follow these basic safety tips:
- Always wear your life jacket.
- Stay low in the boat and maintain 3 points of contact. Keep 2 feet and 1 hand, or 2 hands and 1 foot in contact with the boat at all times. If seated, you have one point of contact on the seat, and still need to maintain 2 others — such as 1 foot, 1 hand, 2 feet, etc.
- When loading supplies into a boat, have one person get into the boat and then hand that person the supplies.
- If retrieving an item from the water, maneuver the boat close to the object and use a boathook or paddle. If you do need to reach outside the hull of the boat, keep 3-points of contact.
- Keep an even, balanced load.
- Do not attach the anchor line to the stern of the boat.
- When pulling up the anchor, stay low in the boat and well balanced.
- If in rough waters, head the bow of the boat anywhere from directly into the seas up to a 45 degree angle depending on sea state and vessel construction.
- Follow the information stated on the “Capacity Plate.” Never exceed the allowable weight, horsepower rating, or maximum number of people.
Enjoying The Water
The boating law contains several provisions relating to the towing of persons on water skis, aquaplanes, and similar devices, and the manipulation of such devices by the person being towed.
- All boats towing a water skier(s) or other persons on towed devices MUST have ONE of the following:
- Persons being towed must be wearing a USCG approved life jacket or
- There must be an observer on the boat (in addition to the operator) who is in a position to observe the progress of the skier.
- A person(s) being towed on water skis or other device may not operate in a reckless or dangerous manner.
- A person(s) being towed on water skis or other device may not operate while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription narcotics and illegal drugs.
- The operator of the boat towing a water skier(s) or person(s) on another towing device may not manipulate or control the boat so as to cause the person(s) being towed to collide with any object or person.
- Water skiing behind a motorboat (or towing of people on other devices) is allowed only between one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. Check the official sunrise and sunset times for your area.
- Water skiing behind a PWC (or towing of people on other devices) is allowed only between sunrise to sunset. Check the official sunrise and sunset times for your area.
It is illegal for anyone to pollute our waterways in Virginia. If you can’t recycle it, take it ashore to a trash receptacle. Please help keep the waterways clean by picking up your trash. If you see any source or indication of water pollution, such as dead fish, call your local Department of Environmental Quality regional office, or call 804-698-4000.
Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Encounters
While boating in Virginia, you may encounter sea turtles, which are common in the summer months in the coastal ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and associated river mouths, and marine mammals (whales, dolphins, porpoises, manatees and seals), which are most common in the coastal ocean and Chesapeake Bay mouth, but can occur inside the Bay and associated river mouths as well. Sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
Guidelines for approaching dolphins and sea turtles suggest that vessels stay at least 50 feet away and cut the engine or remain in neutral if the animals approach you. Large whales such as humpback and fin whales can also be seen in the Chesapeake Bay and ocean waters off Virginia. Vessels are asked to remain at least 300 feet from these endangered whales. Occasionally manatees are sighted in Virginia waters. Vessel operators should avoid approaching manatees as they are critically endangered and susceptible to vessel strikes. Be a responsible vessel operator and allow Virginia’s sea turtles and marine mammals to exist undisturbed in our waters, their natural habitat.
The Marine Environment
Nuisance aquatic species, such as zebra mussels and hydrilla, can spread quickly, replace native species and damage water resources. Properly cleaning boats and equipment after each use can prevent the spread of invasive marine species.
Submersed aquatic vegetation (or SAV) are underwater plants often found in shallow (usually less than 6 feet) areas. They are important habitat for fish and shellfish, particularly the blue crab, and are a food source for several waterfowl species. Scientific studies have shown that SAV beds can be scarred by boat propellers or by larger craft if they run aground. When operating your boat in shallow areas, particularly at low tide, be careful to avoid damaging SAV.
The Law about Alcohol, Drugs, and Boating
Virginia’s law states that boat operators with blood alcohol concentrations of .08 percent or more by weight, by volume, shall be presumed to be under the influence of alcoholic intoxicants.
The Virginia Implied Consent Law states that by operating a watercraft, you are agreeing to submit to a breath and/or blood test to determine the amount of alcohol and/or drugs in your blood. Unreasonable refusal to submit to these tests constitutes grounds for the revocation of the operator’s privilege to operate a watercraft on the waters of the Commonwealth.
Zero Tolerance Law
Virginia Law prohibits persons younger than 21 from consuming alcohol and operating a watercraft with any measurable alcohol level. Operation under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is a criminal offense. Additionally, persons age 18–20 arrested buying, possessing, or drinking alcohol can be fined up to $2,500, lose their motor vehicle operator’s license for up to 1 year, and be sent to jail.
Don’t allow a drinking boater to make you and your passengers boating fatality statistics. Be alert to what other boaters are doing and steer clear of boaters who may be abusing alcohol and/or drugs.
Be Responsible. Be Safe.
Sportsmen: Boat Smart —Wear Your Life Jacket
Most boating-related drownings could have been prevented had the victim been wearing a life jacket. The newest type of life jacket, the manual or automatic inflatable life jacket, is lightweight and comfortable. It is versatile enough to be worn at any time of the year, and will easily fit over a hunting coat or sweater. Wearing one may save your life.
- Check the weather before leaving.
- Wear a life jacket, vest, or float coat.
- Remain seated and keep weight evenly distributed.
- Anchor from the bow, never from the stern.
- Properly load your boat.
- Stay with your boat if it should capsize.
- Guard against hypothermia.
- Leave the alcohol at home.
|Note: While some lakes have unlimited horsepower, they may have speed limits. Most lakes not listed are ‘Electric Motors Only,’ but a few small city or county lakes have ‘No Boat’ regulations. Check local regulations.|
|Back Bay|| |
|Briery Creek|| |
|Buggs Island|| |
|Burnt Mills|| |
|Ft. Pickett Lakes|| |
|North Fork Pound|| |
|Sandy River|| |
|Smith (Virginia Beach)|| |
|Smith Mountain|| |
|Speight’s Run|| |
|South Holston|| |
|Western Branch|| |