Boat Safety

It is that time of year again where there are a large number of boats on the water being used for fishing, skiing and cruising around.  For everyone’s safety, please read and be aware of the following.

How can I get a Boating Safety Education Certificate?

To obtain a Boating Safety Education Certificate, boaters must successfully complete an approved boating course (a fee may be charged).  Pennsylvania residents must have a certificate issued by the Commission.  Approved courses include classroom courses offered by the Commission, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadrons and Commission-approved Internet and video/correspondence courses.

For boating course opportunities, contact:
Fish & Boat Commission website:
Fish & Boat Commission Boating Course Hotline: 1-888-PAFISH-1 (1-888-723-4741)



  • A U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable PFD (life jacket) is required for each person on board.  In addition, one throwable PFD (seat cushion or ring buoy) is required on boats 16 feet in length or longer.
  • Children 12 years of age and younger must wear an approved wearable PFD while underway on Commonwealth waters on any boat 20 feet or less in length and in all canoes and kayaks.
  • All water skiers and anyone towed behind a boat, personal watercraft operators and passengers and sailboarders must wear a life jacket.  Inflatable PFDs are not acceptable for these activities.
  • Wearable life jackets must be “readily accessible” or in the open where they can be easily reached.  Throwable PFDs (cushions and ring buoys) must be immediately available or within arm’s reach.  A PFD stowed in a compartment or sealed in its original packaging is not readily accessible or immediately available.


  • All boats must show required running lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.  Check the PA Boating Handbook for details.
  • All boats must display anchor lights when they are anchored on any boatable Commonwealth waters (except in special anchorage areas).


  • Coast Guard-approved fire extinguishers must be carried on all motorboats 26 feet or more in length.  Motorboats less than 26 feet in length with gasoline engines are required to carry a fire extinguisher if they have one or more of the following:  closed compartments, permanently installed fuel tanks, double bottoms not sealed to the hull or completely filled with flotation materials or closed living spaces.  Note:  Open boats such as johnboats where an after-market solid wood or metal floor is installed and is not completely sealed to the hull are NOT required to carry a fire extinguisher.
  • Fire extinguishers must be installed so that they are immediately available within arm’s reach of the operator or passengers on board.
  • Fire extinguishers must be maintained and fully charged.


  • Gasoline engines, except outboards, must have an approved (USCG, SAE, or UL) backfire flame control on the carburetor to prevent ignition of gasoline vapors in case the engine backfires.


  • Motorboats less than 40 feet in length must carry some mechanical means of making a sound signal.  This device may be hand-, mouth- or power-operated.  An athletic coach’s whistle is an acceptable sound-producing device for small motorboats.
  • Operators of unpowered boats are required to have some means of making an efficient oral or mechanical sound signal that can be heard by another boat operator in time to avoid a collision.
  • Sound signaling devices must be readily accessible to the boat operator.


  • Boat motors must be equipped with an efficient muffling system or device in good working order.  Cut-out devices are prohibited.
  • Boat exhaust systems may not be modified in any manner that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of the muffler or muffler system.


  • Marine sanitation devices must be installed on all vessels with installed toilet systems.  They must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.


It is illegal to:

  • operate a boat at greater than slow no-wake when within 100 feet of the shoreline, floats, docks, ramps, swimmers, downed skiers, anchored, moored or drifting boats or in areas marked with “slow, no-wake” buoys.
  • operate faster than slow no-wake when within 100 feet to the rear or 50 feet to the side of another boat that is underway, unless in a narrow channel.
  • operate within 100 feet of any person towed behind another boat.
  • cause a boat to become airborne or to leave the water completely while crossing another boat’s wake when within 100 feet of the boat creating the wake.
  • operate a watercraft in a reckless, negligent or dangerous manner.  Boats must be operated at a rate of speed that does not endanger the life or property of any person.
  • fail to keep a proper lookout or fail to maintain a safe speed, so that the boat operator cannot take proper and effective action to avoid a collision.
  • weave through congested traffic.
  • operate a motorboat less than 20 feet in length at a greater than slow no-wake speed while a person is standing on or in the boat.
  • operate a motorboat not equipped with railings or other safeguards at greater than slow no-wake while a person is riding on the bow decking, gunwales, transom or motor cover.
  • tow more than one person at a time behind a PWC or tow anyone behind a PWC with a capacity of two persons or fewer.
  • operate a pontoon boat while a person is riding outside the passenger-carrying area.
  • operate a PWC from sunset to sunrise.
  • operate or be a passenger on a PWC without wearing a life jacket.
  • operate a PWC without having in your possession a boating safety education certification.
  • operate a boat using docking lights while underway, except when docking and the boat is traveling at slow, no wake speed and is within 100 feet of approaching a dock, a mooring buoy or the shoreline.  A docking light is a flood or spotlight type of light permanently installed or permanently mounted on a motorboat that is used to illuminate a boat’s forward course of travel.


(includes similar activities such as wakeboarding, towing inner tubes, etc.)

  • It is unlawful to operate a motorboat at any speed with a person or persons sitting, riding or hanging on a swim platform (teak surfing) or swim ladder attached to the motorboat, except when launching, retrieving, docking or anchoring the motorboat.
  • It is unlawful to operate a motorboat at any speed when towing a person on water skis or other devices using a tow rope of 20 feet or less.
  • Skiing is illegal between sunset and sunrise.
  • In addition to the operator, a competent observer must be in the boat in a position to observe the towed person.
  • Tow ropes may not exceed a length of 80 feet.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 3rd, 2011 at 00:09 and is filed under Boat, Safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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