Official Boating Regulations
Those less than 12 years of age:
- May operate a boat powered by a motor of no more than 6 horsepower (hp) legally without restrictions.
- May operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 6 hp but no more than 35 hp legally only if they:
- Have been issued a boating safety certificate and have it on board the boat and
- Are directly supervised on board by a person at least 16 years of age.
- May not operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 35 hp legally under any conditions.
Those born on or after July 1, 1996, may operate a boat legally only if they have been issued a boating safety certificate and have it on board the boat.
Those born before July 1, 1996, may operate a boat legally without restrictions
Those less than 14 years of age may not legally operate a PWC.
Those 14 and 15 years of age may operate a PWC legally only if they have obtained a boating safety certificate and …
- He or she is accompanied on board by his or her parent or legal guardian or by a person at least 21 years of age who has been designated by the parent or legal guardian or …
- He or she is operating or riding the PWC at a distance of not more than 100 feet from his or her parent or legal guardian or from a person at least 21 years of age who has been designated by the parent or legal guardian.
Those at least 16 years of age and born after July 01. 1996 may operate a PWC legally only if they have obtained a boating safety certificate.
Those born on or before July 01, 1996 may operate a PWC legally without restrictions.
Requirements Specific to PWCs
In addition to adhering to all boating laws, personal watercraft (PWC) operators have requirements specific to their vessel.
- Each person riding on or being towed behind a PWC must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved Type I, II, or III PFD. Inflatable FDs may not be used.
- You may not allow a child under 7 years of age to ride on or be towed behind a PWC unless with a parent or guardian or a designee of the parent or guardian.
- The lanyard of a PWC’s ignition safety switch must be attached to the person, clothing, or PFD of the operator.
Michigan law designates the following dangerous operating practices as illegal:
Reckless Operation of a vessel or reckless manipulation of water skis, a surfboard, or similar device is defined as operation which disregards the safety or rights of others or endangers the person or property of others. Some examples of reckless operation are:
- Weaving your vessel through congested waterway traffic or swerving at the last possible moment in order to avoid collision
- Jumping the wake of another vessel unnecessarily close to the other vessel or when visibility around the other vessel is restricted
- Chasing, harassing, or disturbing wildlife with your vessel
- Causing damage from the wake of your vessel
Improper Distance is not maintaining a proper distance while operating a vessel or towing a person. To maintain a proper distance when you are operating at greater than “slow, no wake speed” (except in channels that are not posted), the vessel or persons being towed must not be within 100 feet of:
- A shoreline (if operating in water less than three feet deep)
- Any moored or anchored vessel
- A dock or raft
- Any marked swimming area or person(s) in the water
Improper Distance for PWCs means that, if operating at greater than “slow, no wake speed,” PWCs also must:
- Stay at least 200 feet from any Great Lakes shoreline.
- Not cross within 150 feet behind another vessel other than another PWC.
- PWCs must be operated in a reasonable and prudent manner at all times. For example, the following operations are illegal:
- Jumping the wake of another vessel unnecessarily close to the other vessel
- Weaving your PWC through congested traffic
- Swerving at the last possible moment in order to avoid a collision
- It is illegal to operate a PWC during the period that begins at sunset and ends at 8:00 a.m. “Sunset” means that time determined by the national weather service.
- It is illegal to harass wildlife or disturb aquatic vegetation with your PWC.
Michigan law designates the following dangerous operating practices as illegal:
Riding on Bow is illegal if the vessel is not equipped with bow seating and the vessel is operating at greater than “slow, no wake speed.” Persons also are not allowed to ride on the gunwale. While underway, persons on a vessel may not sit, stand, or walk on any portion of a vessel not designed for that purpose.
Improper Direction is defined as the failure to operate in a counterclockwise direction except in areas marked by well-defined channels or rivers.
Boating in Restricted Areas is defined as operating within a restricted area clearly marked by buoys, beacons, diver-down flags, etc.
Alcohol and boating don’t mix. Michigan law prohibits anyone from boating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This includes operating any boat, sailboat, or personal watercraft. Alcohol and drugs cause impaired balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, impaired judgment, and slower reaction times. Alcohol is a major contributor to boating accidents and fatalities
Personal Floatation Devices
Remember … An emergency situation (rough water, rapid onset of bad weather, or dangerous boating traffic) can occur suddenly—leaving little or no time to put on life jackets. Life jackets are very difficult to put on once you are in the water. Be a smart boater, and have everyone on board your vessel wear their life jackets at all times
Michigan law requires the following with respect to personal flotation devices (life jackets):
- All vessels must be equipped with a personal flotation device for each person on board or being towed.
- The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) requires that all vessels have at least one Type I, II, or III personal flotation device that is USCG–approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
- Michigan’s PFD law permits a vessel that is less than 16 feet long, or is a canoe or kayak, to choose to have either a wearable PFD (Type I, II, or III) or a throwable PFD (Type IV) for each person on board.
- In addition to the above requirements, one USCG–approved Type IV PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer and be readily accessible.
- Michigan law requires all children under 6 years of age to wear a USCG–approved Type I or II PFD when riding on the open deck of any vessel while underway.
- Each person riding on a PWC or being towed behind a PWC or other vessel must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device. Inflatable PFDs are not allowed on PWCs or while being towed behind PWCs or other vessels.
- All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible.
- These cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Since a Type IV PFD is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters nor for persons who are unable to hold onto it.
Muffler and Noise Level Limits
A vessel’s engine must have a factory-installed muffler or exhaust system for noise reduction, or another effective muffling system. Vessel operators may not hear sound signals or voices if the engine is not adequately muffled.
Michigan law states that a vessel’s muffler or exhaust system must prevent noise in excess of:
- 90 decibels at idle from three feet away and …
- 75 decibels when measured from the shore.
Overview of Pollutant Disposal Laws
It is illegal to discharge waste, oil, or trash into any state or federally controlled waters. This is for very good reasons.
- Sewage carries disease and is harmful to people, aquatic plants, and animals.
- Trash thrown into the water can injure swimmers and wildlife alike. It also can plug engine cooling water intakes.
- Pollution is unsightly and takes away from your enjoyment of the water.
Discharge of Trash
The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships places limitations on the discharge of garbage from vessels. It is illegal to dump refuse, garbage, or plastics into any state or federally controlled waters. Many forms of litter can kill birds, fish, and marine mammals.
- You must store trash in a container while on board and place it in a proper receptacle after returning to shore.
- If boating on federally controlled waters and your vessel is 26 feet or longer, you must display a Garbage Disposal Placard in a prominent location. The Garbage Disposal Placard is a durable sign that is at least 4 x 9 inches and notifies passengers and crew about discharge restrictions.
Vessel operators need to be aware of the following regulations for waste, oil, and trash disposal that apply to both federally controlled and state waters. The Refuse Act prohibits throwing, discharging, or depositing any refuse matter of any kind (including trash, garbage, oil, and other liquid pollutants) into the waters of the United States.
Stop the Spread of Invasive Species
Boaters should learn to identify non-native species that they may encounter and take precautions to prevent the spread of these nuisance species.
- Remove all visible aquatic plants and animals from your boat, motor, trailer, and accessory equipment before leaving the access area.
- Dispose of live bait and aquatic animals in the trash. Do not release live bait into the water.
- Drain live wells and all water from boats before leaving the access area.
- Power wash boats and trailers whenever possible, or dry all equipment thoroughly, before leaving the access area.
- Allow boats to dry for at least 10 days before launching into a different body of water.
Please help support invasive species control, research, and education efforts. Purchase a Great Lakes Specialty Decal at the Michigan Electronic Store at michigan.gov/michiganestore.