Boating Safety

Minnesota Boating & Watercraft Regulations


Be aware of the rules!

All watercraft operators should familiarize themselves with Minnesota’s laws and rules governing watercraft operation before going to the lake. Boating regulations can be found in the Minnesota Boating Guide, available at sporting goods stores and marinas, as well as county and DNR offices.

Particularly important are the following regulations:

· Personal watercraft must travel at slow - no wake - speed (5 mph or less) within 150 feet of non-motorized boats, shore, docks, swim rafts, swimmers or any moored or anchored boat.

· Personal watercraft operators may not weave through congested watercraft traffic, or jump the wake of another watercraft within 150 feet of the other craft. This includes other personal watercraft.

· Also, as of May 6, 2005, MN law requires a life jacket to be WORN by all children less than 10 years old when aboard any watercraft while underway.

There is plenty of lake out there for everyone! With just a little knowledge and responsibility, we can have a pleasant boating season, free of confrontations, accidents or injuries.


Minnesota Watercraft Regulations


As of May 2005, Minnesota law requires a life jacket to be worn by children less than 10 years of age when aboard watercraft in Minnesota when the craft is under way (not tied up at a dock or permanent mooring).

When buying a child's life vest, check for:

  • U.S. Coast Guard approved label
  • A snug fit. Check weight and chest size on the label and try the PFD on your child right at the store. Pick up your child by the shoulders of the PFD; and tell them to raise their arms and relax. The child's chin and ears won't slip through a properly fitting vest. Do NOT buy a vest that is too large, hoping the child will grow into it.
  • Head support for younger children. A well designed PFD will support the child's head when the child is in the water. The head support also serves to roll the child face up.
  • A strap between the legs for younger children. This helps prevent the vest from coming off over the child's head.
    Comfort and appearance. This is especially important for teens, who are less likely to wear a PFD.


The requirements for personal flotation device (PFDs) are as follows:

On all boats, regardless of length (including canoes, kayaks, stand up paddleboards and duck boats), there must be a readily accessible U.S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III or V wearable PFD (life jacket) for each person on board. IN ADDITION, on boats 16 feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) there must also be at least one U.S. Coast Guard approved Type IV throw-able device, such as a buoyant cushion or ring buoy immediately available for each boat. The law does not state that PFDs must be worn, only that they are readily accessible

Anyone operating or riding on a personal watercraft must WEAR a U.S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD.

Mandatory Child Life Jacket Wear Law: 

Minnesota law requires a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket to be worn by children less than 10 years old when aboard any watercraft while underway. Underway means not attached to a permanent mooring or tied to a dock.

Some infants are too small for any life jacket, even though the label may say 0-30 lbs. In general, babies under 6 months or 16 pounds are too small for a life jacket to be effective due to the size of their head in relationship to their body mass. If your infant is newborn, please consider waiting until the baby is a little older before taking them boating. NOTE: Fastening a boat cushion to a car seat is not considered a lawful flotation device for an infant and could trap the baby underwater if your boat capsized and the seat entered the water upside down.


Navigation lights must be on from sunset to sunrise.

All non-motorized watercraft, whether underway or at anchor, must at least carry a white lantern or flashlight. This light should be strong enough so that other boats around the horizon can see it at least two miles away. The light must be displayed in sufficient time to avoid a collision with another watercraft, (Note: Canoes, sailboats etc. that are operating under power must follow the lighting rules for motorboats.)


Most motorboats 16 feet or more in length will likely be equipped with the correct navigation lights by the manufacturer. In any case, the lights must be displayed according to state rules described in this section.

Visibility Rules.

White lights must be visible for two miles on a dark, clear night.

Combination or sidelights must be visible for one mile. Combination or sidelights must shine red to port (left side) and green to starboard (right side). They must be attached so the light shows from directly ahead to 22.5 to the rear of the beam (midpoint of the boat) on the respective side. Lights may be detachable and need only be displayed from sunset to sunrise. Lighting Tips- Check navigation light sockets and wiring often – they can corrode over time.

Boat Running Lights

When underway, motorboats less than 40 feet long display (see diagram below):

(1) A 225 combination red and green bow (front) light.

(2) A 360 white stern (rear) light. When at anchor, only the 360 white light is necessary.




All fire extinguishers must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, fully charged, and readily accessible.

When looking for an extinguisher at a store or marine dealer, it is important to look for the words “U.S. Coast Guard Approved” right on the carton. Although two sizes of extinguishers are approved for recreational craft (B-I or B-II),

most extinguishers on the market will be B-I. The words “Marine Type USCG Type BC-Size I” will be in small letters right on the extinguisher’s label along with the approval number. The letter “B” means the extinguisher will put out flammable liquid fires. The letter “C” means it can also be used for electrical fires.

Fire extinguishers are a good idea on any boat where fuel is used or carried.