How to Legally Operate a Boat in New York - Catalano Law

How to Legally Operate a Boat in New York

Boating in the Empire State offers a fantastic opportunity to explore its diverse waterways, from the majestic Great Lakes to the scenic Hudson River and picturesque lakes and canals in Upstate New York. However, to ensure the safety and preservation of these precious resources, it is essential to understand and comply with the laws and regulations governing boat operation in New York.

Age Limits for Operating a Boat in New York State

In New York State, the legal age to operate a motorboat is 10 years, provided that individuals aged 10 to 18 either have a boating safety certificate or are accompanied by someone at least 18 years old. All operators of motorized watercraft in New York will need a boating safety certificate, irrespective of age. 

Starting at age 14, owners of a boating safety certificate may operate a personalized watercraft (PWC). This includes watercraft such as wave runners and jet skis. Anyone under 14 may not operate a PWC, even with a safety certificate.

As rules may evolve, always verify the most recent guidelines from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

Register Your Boat

To register your boat in New York State, you need to gather the necessary documents, including proof of ownership, such as a bill of sale or a manufacturer’s statement of origin. You must also submit a completed boat registration/title application form available from the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Once you have these documents, head to your local DMV office. Bring valid identification and payment for the registration fee, which is based on the length of your boat. Upon successful submission and approval of your application, the DMV will issue a registration number and a validation decal, which must be displayed on your boat.

You will also receive a New York State Boat Registration Certificate, which must be on board whenever the boat is in use. This process applies to motorized boats and sailboats that are 14 feet or longer. Non-motorized boats and those shorter than 14 feet do not require registration in New York.

Take a Boater Education Course and Receive Your Safety Certificate

New York State law requires a boating safety certificate for any motorboat operator born on or after May 1, 1996. You can obtain this by taking an eight-hour boating safety course.

As of January 1, 2020, New York also started phasing in Brianna’s Law, which will eventually require all operators of motorized watercraft to hold a Boating Safety Certificate, regardless of their age. This requirement will be fully phased in by 2025.

Get Boating Insurance

Obtaining boating insurance begins with assessing your coverage needs. This can vary based on your boat’s type, size, age, value, and how and where you plan to use it. Boating insurance is not required in New York State but can protect you in the event of an accident by covering your medical payments, liability for damages to other vessels, and property damages, based on your policy.

You’ll typically need to provide information about your boat, boating experience, and any safety courses you’ve completed so the insurance company can offer you a policy with a customized premium and deductible.

Documentation Required on the Vessel

You must have certain documentation on board your boat in New York State. This includes your boat registration documents, particularly if your vessel is motorized or a sailboat that’s 14 feet or longer. You must also clearly display your boat’s registration numbers on your vessel.

Depending on the operator’s age and type of vessel, a Boating Safety Certificate may also be needed on board. The operator should also carry personal identification, such as a driver’s license.

While not a legal requirement for recreational boats, carrying proof of boat insurance is recommended, as some marinas and boatyards might require it. U.S. Coast Guard-approved visual distress signals are mandatory for vessels in federal waters.

Although not a formal document, having a copy of navigation rules or a quick reference guide on board is recommended, especially for novice boaters.

Know Your Responsibilities as a Boat Operator

As a boat operator, you have numerous responsibilities that center around ensuring the safety and welfare of your passengers, yourself, and other waterway users. You also have a duty to protect the marine environment.

A primary responsibility involves knowing and adhering to the local, state, and federal boating laws and regulations, which encompass navigation rules, speed limits, and right-of-way rules. It’s also essential to operate your boat safely. This includes avoiding risky behaviors such as reckless driving, speeding in restricted areas, or boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Also, educate your passengers about safety. They should know where the safety equipment is stored and how to use it. You should also brief them on what to do in case of emergencies. This includes knowing how to make distress calls, operate emergency equipment, and handle various emergencies.

You are also responsible for assisting other boaters in distress if it doesn’t endanger your boat or crew.

Stay Safe and Have Fun This Summer

Legally operating your boat helps keep all members of the greater New York State community safe when enjoying the waters. If you have been involved in a boating accident and have questions about New York State’s boating laws, reach out to experienced legal counsel at Catalano Law for a free case review.   

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