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Know your state boating laws

A number of state and local boating laws, regulations and policy changes have taken effect for 2013 throughout the United States.

The vessel assist company Sea Tow Services International (and its Sea Tow Foundation) remind boaters to review the boating laws in their home waters and in the states where they plan to go boating this year, in order to familiarize themselves with any new regulations or requirements.

For example, as of Jan. 1, Illinois boaters now must clean and remove all plants and animals from boats before transporting them as part of a statewide effort to stop aquatic nuisance species.

And, effective Jan. 1, on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, boats that do not meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules for gasoline spark-ignition marine engines are prohibited.

Requirements for completing approved boating education courses also vary from state to state. In Florida, for example, any boater born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, who is operating a boat powered with a motor of 10-hp or more, is required to pass a boating education course. However, in New Jersey, all powerboaters, regardless of their age or the size of the boat’s motor, are required to pass a boating safety course – even if they are just visiting the state.

The minimum age to operate a boat also differs from state to state. In New York, the minimum age to operate a vessel alone is 10 years old for a powerboat and 14 for a personal watercraft, as long as the operator has a boating education certificate. In Texas, the age requirement is 13 years old for boats with motors over 15-hp, once they satisfy the boater education requirement. In California, a personal watercraft or other powerboat operator must be at least 16 years old to operate alone.

“Boating isn’t like driving a car,” Sea Tow Foundation executive director Gail R. Kulp said. “The laws can vary greatly as you cross from one state into another and, unlike the highways, there isn’t always signage on the water to let you know that you have drifted into another state with different rules and regulations.”

To find the boating laws in your state and the states in which you plan to boat, you can visit their website at