California Boating Laws

Laws | May 12, 2023

Boating in California is a popular pastime, but it’s important to understand the laws and regulations that govern the activity. Boating laws, whether we are talking about laws related to seagoing vessels or vessels on lakes and rivers, are incredibly important to help prevent injuries and ensure safety for everyone on the waterways. Here, our Sacramento boating accident lawyers want to discuss some of the most important boating laws in California.

California Boating Laws

Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Law

Just like driving a car, it’s unlawful to operate a water-going vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. California has a strict BUI law that prohibits anyone from operating a vessel with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. Penalties for violating this law can include fines, jail time, and the suspension of boating privileges.

We do want to point out that California law also prohibits the operation of any vessel, water skis, or similar device by a person addicted to the use of any drug. Exceptions are made for those participating in state-approved drug rehabilitation programs.

Life Jacket Law

California law requires every person on board a vessel to have a properly fitting life jacket. This includes all passengers, regardless of age or swimming ability. Children under 13 must wear an approved life jacket at all times while on a moving boat or other water vessel. There must also be at least one Type IV throwable device on board vessels over 16 feet in length.

Boater Education Law

California requires boaters to have a California Boater Card to operate a vessel. This card can be obtained by completing an approved boater safety course. The card is valid for life and must be carried on board while operating a vessel. This law applies to anyone operating a motorized vessel on California waters, regardless of age, and took effect in 2018.

Navigation Light Law

California requires all boats to have working navigation lights while operating at night. Boats must display the correct navigation lights based on the type of vessel and the activity it is engaged in. Navigation lights are important for visibility and ensuring the safety of all vessels on the water.

Speed Limit Law

California law sets speed limits for boating in different areas. For example, in a 5-mph speed limit zone, boats cannot create a wake. In other areas, boats must maintain a safe and reasonable speed based on the conditions and other vessels in the area. It’s important to follow these speed limits to ensure the safety of all boaters on the water.

Accident Reporting

Many boat accidents must be reported to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways under the following circumstances:

  • The disappearance, injury, or death of any individual involved
  • Damage to property exceeding $500
  • The complete loss of a vessel, regardless of the value of the vessel

Typically, reports must be made within 48 hours of the accident if a death occurs within 24 hours of an incident, if any person disappeared, or if there is any injury beyond basic first aid. Reports must be filed within 10 days of an accident involving a death that occurred more than 24 hours after the initial incident or for property damage exceeding $500 or the total loss of the boat.