Boating Frequently Asked Questions
*While we try our best to keep you up to date on boating laws and regulations, rules change so we recommend you consult with local authorities to confirm any information before planning any boat related activities.
What do I need on my boat to legally operate in Idaho?
This varies depending on the make, propulsion type and length of your boat. First, make sure your boat is properly titled, registered, and the bow numbers are displayed correctly. Sailboats and motor boats are required to be registered whenever on the water and all registrations expire December 31. The minimum safety equipment for both powered and non-powered boats includes life jackets (one readily accessible, properly fitting US Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on board) and a sound producing device such as a whistle. All boats 16’ and greater must carry a Type IV personal floatation device such as a square cushion or ring.
Additional items such as visual distress signals, an oar and bucket are required on federal waters such as Lake Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille, Dworshak Reservoir and Bear Lake. Boats with gas-powered motors require fire extinguishers if there are any closed compartments (even a live well) and fire extinguishers need to say “marine approved” and “approved by the Coast Guard” on the label. Inboard motors need to have a backfire flame arrester. Boats with a cabin or berth usually call for a special toilet called a marine sanitation device. If equipped with a marine sanitation device, it must be Coast Guard approved.
A good way to be sure you have what you need is to contact the local county sheriff’s office or the Coast Guard Auxiliary for a free inspection. Above all, make sure the motor, electrical, and fuel systems have been checked out by a mechanic, and any fuel spills in the bilge are cleaned up before you go.
Out-of-state boaters should be aware of Idaho’s life jacket law for kids: Children fourteen and under must wear an approved life jacket when they are aboard a boat 19 feet in length or less whenever the boat is underway or under power. This applies to manually propelled boats such as canoes and rafts in addition to powerboats, sailboats, personal watercraft (jet skis) and fishing float tubes
Are fly boards, jet packs, jet levs and other similar equipment legal to use on Idaho Waters?
For more information regarding the legality of these activities contact your local County Marine Deputy.Click here to find your county sheriff’s phone number.
Does my vessel need to be registered if it is powered by an electric trolling motor?
Yes, vessels powered by electric trolling motors need to be registered in Idaho. Adding the electric trolling motor makes the vessel a motor-driven vessel, and all motorized vessels must register.
Does my drift boat, canoe, kayak, or other manually propelled vessel need to be registered?
Your vessel only needs to be registered if it has any kind of motor. This includes electric trolling motors.
How much does it cost to renew a boat registration in Idaho?
Vessels 12 feet and under are $20. Vessels over 12 feet are $20, plus $2 per foot for each additional foot. These fees cover one calendar year and all boat registrations expire December 31. In addition, boats registered in Idaho are required to pay an additional $10 for the Idaho Invasive Species Sticker. For convenience this $10 fee for the Idaho Invasive Species Sticker is included in the annual boat registration renewal fees and a separate sticker is not required for boats registered in Idaho.
Am I required to carry boat insurance?
There is no legal requirement to carry boat insurance in Idaho. Due to the inherent risks associated with boating and taking into consideration the many factors that can lead to a boat accident, boat owners are advised to consult with their insurance agent to discuss options. Don’t forget, many insurance carriers offer a discount on your premium if you pass an approved boat safety course.
What waters in Idaho are Federally controlled and what does that mean to me?
Federally controlled waters have some differences from other waters in the state of Idaho. For example, additional safety items such as visual distress signals, an oar, and bucket are required in Federal waters. To learn more about Federally controlled waters and for a list of waters within the state of Idaho that are Federally controlled click here.
What should I do if I am involved in a boating accident?
If you are involved in a boating accident and the accident meets any of the following criteria, you must file a report with the sheriff in the county where the accident occurred:
Damages to persons or property involved in the accident are $1,500 or more.
The accident results in an injury, missing person, or fatality.
An electronic copy of the report form can be downloaded here. Once you fill the form out, take it with you to the local sheriff’s office.
Are there special regulations for riding personal watercraft (PWC)?
PWC’s are small, jet-propelled boats designed to carry one to three people that sit on top rather than inside the vessel. Often referred to as “jet skis,” these watercraft are considered motorboats and are subject to the same regulations as motorboats, including equipment and responsible handling. Additionally, for a life jacket to be considered “readily accessible” on a PWC, it must be worn. All riders and persons being towed must wear their life jackets at all times while the PWC is under way.There are no additional rules addressing PWCs, except when renting them. Idaho law requires those who rent PWCs to deliver education. Afterwards, each rider must carry the state’s verification of education card whenever operating (driving) a rented PWC. If one person out of a large group pays for the rental, he or she is legally responsible to make sure everyone else who rides also views the educational video and carries their own wallet card when they drive. Contact the IDPR Boating Program if you are a PWC rental business needing information.
Idaho counties have the authority to enact restrictions for personal watercraft that are more strict than state law. Examples of counties that have stricter laws than the state regarding PWC operation include Bonner and Kootenai Counties. It is your responsibility to know the rules for the county in which you plan to recreate.
PWC manufacturers recommend that all drivers be at least 16 years old, and that all riders wear a helmet, protective shoes/clothing, and a life jacket.
Special concerns for PWC Operators:
There is a statewide no-wake zone. Slow to 5 mph within 100 feet of a dock, structure or person in the water.
Wake jumping, when the craft is “airborne” close behind another boat is restricted. A safe distance is 100 feet.
Towing a skier or tuber requires a manufacturer’s capacity rating for three people.
It takes three to ski. The driver must have a passenger serve as the spotter and operate the skier-down flag. The PWC must have three-person seating for the operator, observer, and skier.
Operating at night is prohibited without the proper combination of lights installed by the manufacturer.
Yield the right-of-way to other powerboats and skiers.
Are there speed limits on Idaho’s waterways?
Idaho has designated a 100-foot “no-wake zone” from all docks, structures and persons in the water on public waters statewide. Often, local agencies such as Benewah County, Kootenai County or McCall City pass additional speed restrictions from the shoreline, between boats and at specific sites. It is a good idea to contact local organizations where you plan to ride. County-specific ordinances dealing with speed limits are posted below. (This is not an all-inclusive list. Please contact your local county sheriff’s office for more information on county ordinances/laws pertaining to boating). State law allows for exemptions when pulling a water skier. Unless otherwise marked, it is ok to travel over a no-wake zone within 100 feet from the dock or person in the water when safely pulling a water skier straight out from a dock, or when safely dropping off a water skier back to a dock, or when the “other person in the water” is the vessel’s skier.
County-Specific Boating Laws and Ordinances I
If you would like to read the entire ordinance for the counties, just click on the county’s name.
Adams: 35 m.p.h. during the day, 20 m.p.h. at night. This includes the Snake River from Hells Canyon Park south to Oxbow Dam, and on Oxbow Reservoir from Eagle Island to Brownlee Dam.
Benewah: 50 m.p.h. during the day and 35 m.p.h. at night, county wide. 25 m.p.h. at all times from Cherry Bend Park to St. Maries Plywood Mill.
Kootenai: 50 m.p.h. during the day, 20 m.p.h. at night, county wide. On the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Rivers, and Lower Twin Lakes the speed limits are 35 m.p.h. during the day and 20 m.p.h. at night.
Bonner: 50 m.p.h. during the day and 25 m.p.h. at night, county wide.
Valley: 50 m.p.h. during the day and 20 m.p.h. at night on Payette Lake.
Are wake surfing and teak surfing legal in Idaho?
Most county sheriff departments have deemed wake surfing to be legal when done in a safe manner. Citations could be issued for not having the wake surfer wear a life jacket or for allowing passengers to hang off the side of the boat or sit in areas of the boat not meant for seating (i.e. on the back of the boat or on the gunwale). Citations could also be issued for wake surfing behind an inboard/outboard or outboard boat which exposes the surfer to the propeller. County sheriff departments will likely issue a negligent operation citation for teak surfing due to the potential exposure to propellers or poisoning from carbon monoxide. For more information, contact your local county marine deputy. Click here to find your county sheriff’s phone number.
Wake surfing is a water sport in which a surfer trails behind a wakeboard boat, surfing the boat’s wake on a small surf board without being directly attached to the boat. The wake from the boat mimics the look and feel of an actual ocean wave. Teak surfing or platform dragging is when a person holds on to the swim platform of a boat as it drives forward and then the person is dragged through the water.
What is “bow riding” and is it legal in Idaho?
County sheriff departments will likely issue a negligent operation citation to operators that allow passengers to ride on the bow of a boat. Any time that a boat is in motion passengers should only be seated in those areas/locations specifically designed by the manufacturer for seating. Riding on the bow, gunwale/side, transom, engine cover, or any other part of the boat, not specifically designed for seating, greatly increases the risk of passenger injury or death. Bow riding, in particular, places passengers at high risk for falling overboard and being struck by the boat and propeller. Additionally, passengers seated on the bow greatly restrict the operator’s visibility and ability to react to potential hazards. For more information contact your local County Marine Deputy. Click here to find your county sheriff’s phone number.
Is there a minimum age or proficiency exam required to operate a power boat?
There is no state law that requires boat operators to be of a minimum age or requires boat operators to take a safety class or proficiency exam. However, some counties have enacted local ordinances that require operators to be a certain age to operate power boats.
Here is a brief run down of county-specific ordinances involving age. (Keep in mind that there could be other county ordinances that are stricter than state law.) Make sure you check with your local marine deputies before heading out!Adams County
Children under the age of ten cannot operate a motor driven watercraft except when they are under direct adult supervision; Anyone under the age of 14 cannot operate or allow to be operated without adult supervision if the vessel is powered by a motor rated higher than 15 horsepower.Benewah County
Children between the ages of 10-14 cannot operate a motorboat with a motor rating of 15 horsepower or higher unless they are under direct supervision of an adult operator; Children under the age of 10 may not operate any motorboat except under the direct supervision of an adult.Bonner County
Children under the age of 10 cannot operate a motor-driven watercraft (including Personal Watercraft) unless under direct adult supervision; Children between the ages of 10-14 cannot operate a motorboat with a motor rating higher than 10 horsepower.Kootenai County
Adult supervision is required when an operator of a boat or other vessel is between the ages of 10-14, unless the motor is 15 horsepower or less.Valley County
Anyone under the age of 12 cannot operate a motorized vessel unless they are under direct adult supervision; Anyone under the age of 16 cannot operate a motor driven vessel if the motor is rated greater than 15 horsepower, unless the operator is under direct adult supervision.
Are boaters or rafters required to wear life jackets?
Children fourteen and under must wear an approved life jacket when they are aboard a boat 19 feet in length or less whenever the boat is underway or under power. This applies to manually propelled boats such as canoes and rafts in addition to powerboats, sailboats, personal watercraft (jet skis) and fishing float tubes.Also, the right kind of personal floatation device must be on board the motorboat or paddle craft and within quick reach for adults. That is, they must say “Coast Guard Approved” on the label, be the right fit for the person on board, be the kind you wear (not a cushion or ring buoy) and in like new condition. Stored under the seat or in a dry bag is not considered within quick reach. Of course, just like a seat belt during an auto accident, a life jacket won’t do you much good if you don’t have it on BEFORE you fall overboard. If you have a boat sixteen feet or longer you also need a Type IV floatation aid which is designed to be thrown, not worn (like a ring buoy).
Non-powered canoes and kayaks do not have to carry the Type IV ring buoy or personal floatation aid, by federal exemption.
Where can I find more information about fishing and boating access in Idaho?
To locate information on fishing access, click here to be redirected to the the Idaho Fish and Game Fishing Planner. You can also visit the Bureau of Land Management’s Boater Guides here.Information on Idaho Power boating facilities can be found here.
How do I obtain information about a specific marina or dock?
Idaho has a county-based boating program. To obtain information about a specific location, contact the county parks and recreation manager, or the county waterways chairperson. Most county commissioners appoint a waterways committee to advise on matters relating to waterways docks, construction, maintenance, local laws and user fees. In some cases the site may be managed by a federal agency, a private marina, a power company or a city.
Where do I get information about permits to build a private dock on a public waterway?
For information and permits to place or maintain docks, buoys, or anything else on the public waterway contact the Idaho Department of Lands, Navigable Waters Section.
Are float tubes really a vessel? Do they have to be registered?
Fly fishing float tubes are considered a vessel in Idaho and do need to have a Coast Guard Approved PFD and a sound producing device on board. They are exempt from registration. You need not carry a life jacket when on lakes smaller than 200 surface acres at natural high water.
Do I need a permit to float any of Idaho’s rivers?
Non-commercial permits are required to run four rivers in Idaho: the Main Salmon, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Selway, and Snake River – Hells Canyon. This permitting system is run by the U.S. Forest Service and you can find information on this permitting program here:http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/scnf/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fsbdev3_029568Permits are not required on other rivers but Federal daily parking/user fees may be required in some areas.
What safety equipment do I need for a stand-up paddleboard?
The U.S. Coast Guard has determined that paddleboards are vessels when used outside a marked swimming, surfing or bathing area. Before venturing out on the water with your stand-up paddleboard please remember you must have a life jacket, whistle, and an invasive species sticker.
I am organizing a fishing tournament, triathlon, boat parade or other similar on-the-water event. Do I need a permit?
Yes. Idaho law requires the person in charge of these type of events to apply for a marine event permit 30 days prior to the event. You can download an electronic copy of the application here or request a hard copy of the form from your local county sheriff’s office. If you download the electronic form, please save it, print it, then submit it directly to your local county sheriff’s office.
Please note that events on Federally controlled waters may be subject to additional permitting by the United States Coast Guard. Coast Guard permit applications must be submitted 135 days in advance of the event. Some popular Federal waters in Idaho include Lake Coeur d’Alene, Priest Lake, Lake Pend Oreille, Dworshak Reservoir, Bear Lake, Snake River, Clearwater River, St. Joe River, Salmon River, Priest River and Brownlee Reservoir. Associated tributaries for these bodies of waters may also be Federally controlled. Click here to see the complete list of Federally controlled waters in Idaho. Click here to apply for a Coast Guard Permit.
How many boats are there in Idaho?
Click here for a count of numbered (registered) vessels that are provided annually to U.S. Coast Guard. Non-motorized boats (that do not have a motor) are not required to be registered and therefore are not counted or included in this chart.
Are there any laws regarding two-stoke motors?Currently there are no federal, state or local laws that prohibit the use of two-stroke motors anywhere in Idaho.
What are the laws that apply to alcohol and boating?
Open containers are allowed on a boat, but the same rules that apply to drinking and driving also apply to drinking and boating as far as impairment. Boat operators can be arrested for Operating Under the Influence (OUI) if their blood alcohol level is 0.08% or greater. Those convicted of operating a boat under the influence can receive a maximum fine of $1,000 and a sentence of up to six months in the county jail.
Approximately 40 boat operators are arrested each year in Idaho for OUI. It is strongly recommend to have a designated driver. Alcohol is even more hazardous on the water than on land. The marine environment – motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray – accelerates a drinker’s impairment. These stressors cause fatigue that makes a boat operator’s coordination, judgment and reaction time decline even faster when using alcohol. Alcohol is also a contributing factor to many boat accidents (including fatal accident