It might seem like you can do anything you want when you are on the water. However, the good news is that there are laws that govern the actions of every watercraft. The bad news is that many watercraft operators do not know the laws.
It is the responsibility of the Watercraft Operator to know the current laws as these laws are subject to change. The rules contained herein are summaries of the more applicable lake boating laws. Please visit MICHIGAN BOATERS HANDBOOK for the most up-to-date information.
Rules Rules Rules for your boat … while you are on the lake.
(The following are summaries of State regulation. Please visit Michigan Boaters Handbook.)
Liquor / Alcohol or Controlled Substances
A person who is intoxicated (as defined in the same way as for driving a car) may not operate or be in control of any vessel. The Michigan implied consent law applies for boat operator intoxication testing. Severe fines and/or jail time await those who are observed operating a watercraft while intoxicated on alcohol or drugs. (legal or illegal)
Who Can Operate A Motorboat
- Persons under 12 years of age may operate motorboats if:
- They have been issued a boating safety certificate and have it on board
- Are under the direct supervision of a person 16 years of age or older
- The boat must have no more than a 35 HP motor
- Persons born on or after July 1, 1996 shall not operate a motorboat unless they have been issued a boating safety certificate
- Any person may operate a motorboat that is powered by a motor of no more than 6 HP
Who Can Operate A PWC (personal watercraft)
- A person of less than 14 years of age may NOT legally operate a PWC under any circumstances
- A person 14 or 15 years of age may operate a PWC if:
- They have obtained a boating safety certificate and have it on board the vessel
- Are accompanied by or are operating the PWC no more than 100 feet from a parent, legal, guardian, or another designated person 21 or older.
- A person who was born after December 31, 1978 shall not operate a PWC on Michigan waters unless they have obtained a boating safety certificate
Hours Of Operation
- Boats – NO WATER SKIING between One (1) hour after sunset and One (1) hour prior to sunrise
- PWCs – A person SHALL NOT OPERATE A PWC on the waters of this state from sunset to 8:00 A.M. local time
(***Note: Sunrise and Sunset are determined by the National Weather Service in local area)
Towing of Persons
- At least one competent person, in addition to the driver, shall be in any boat towing a person(s) on water skis, tubes, etc. This additional person (the spotter) shall be in a position to observe the progress of the person(s) being towed
- The tow boat must be equipped with a 170 degree wide angle rear view mirror affixed to permit the driver to observe the progress of the person(s) being towed
- Every person being towed behind a vessel must wear a USGC approved wearable Type I, II, or III PFD (personal flotation device). Inflatable PFDs may not be used.
Personal Watercraft (PWC) Regulations
- A person shall maintain a distance of 100 feet away from any dock, boat, buoyed or occupied swimming are while driving at other than slow no-wake speed
- A person shall not cross within 150 feet behind another vessel other than a PWC that is moving at greater than a slow no-wake speed
- Maneuvers that endanger life, limb, or property, including weaving through congested traffic, jumping the wake of another vessel or turning unnecessarily close to another vessel and/or swerving at the last moment to avoid a collision constitutes reckless operation of a vessel
- Carrying more persons than the vessel is designed to carry is Prima Facie evidence of reckless operation of a vessel
- Lanyards must be attached to the operator on vessels that are equipped with lanyards
- A PWC shall not be operated at speeds in excess of 55MPH except where otherwise posted
- A person shall not operate a PWC in waters less than Two (2) feet deep unless traveling at a slow no-wake speed
- A person less than fourteen (14) years of age may not legally operate a PWC under any circumstances
- All vessels are required to provide at least One (1) United States Coast Guard approved PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE (PWD) per passenger
- Each child under the age of Six (6) years, and in an open deck area is REQUIRED by law to wear a Type I or II PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE (PFD) at all times
SLOW NO-WAKE means operating at a very slow speed in order to minimize the wake created behind your boat
- Slow no-wake speed within 100 feet of the shoreline, any watercraft, pier, person, raft, swimming area, and swimmers
- Maximum speed of 55 mph in all waters unless otherwise regulated
- Michigan law states that a person operating a vessel shall operate it in a careful and prudent manner and at such a rate of speed so not to unreasonably endanger the life or property of any person
- A person shall not operate a vessel at a rate of speed greater than will permit him, in the exercise of reasonable care, to bring the vessel to a stop within an assured clear distance ahead
- A person shall not operate a vessel in a manner which will unreasonably interfere with other persons lawfully using Michigan’s water resources
Operation 0f Vessels / Navigation Rules
There are two terms that help explain these rules:
- STAND-0N-VESSEL – The vessel that should maintain its course and speed
- GIVE-WAY-VESSEL – The vessel that must take early and substantial action to avoid collision by either stopping, slowing down or changing course
- Sailboats have the right-of-way while they are under sail power so motorboats shall give way to non-motorized vessels
- When two vessels are approaching each other head-on, or nearly so, the operator of each shall cause his vessel to pass on the port (left) side of the other. (i.e. keep the approaching boat to your left)
- When over taking a vessel, unless it is not feasible to do so, shall pass on the port (left) side of the vessel ahead (i.e. keep the overtaken boat to your right)
- When two vessels are approaching each other at right angles or obliquely so as to invoke risk of collision, the operator of the vessel which has the other on his own port (left) side shall hold his course and speed, and the operator of the vessel which has the other on his own starboard (right) side shall give way to the other by directing his course to the starboard so as to cross the stern of the other vessel or, if necessary to do so, shall slacken his speed, stop or reverse
Distance Between Persons Being Towed & Other Objects
Vessels and persons being towed on water skis, sleds, tubes, etc. shall Maintain A DISTANCE OF 100 FEET from any dock, raft, buoyed or occupied bathing areas, vessels moored or at anchor, except when the vessel is proceeding at a slow no-wake speed or when water skiers are being picked up or dropped off.
Responsibility For Vessel Wake
The owner of any vessel is personally responsible for any damage to life or property resulting from a wake or swell created by the negligent operation of the vessel, where the vessel id being operated with his consent. Always maintain safe speeds and follow no-wake zones
Counter-Clockwise Operational Direction
Persons operating vessels shall operate in a COUNTER CLOCKWISE fashion when it is reasonably possible.