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Pennsylvania Boating Laws

Pennsylvania has rivers, canals, lakes, and other waterways that have been an important part of both business and leisure since the state was established. Pennsylvania boating laws were developed to ensure that the state's activities on the water are regulated for everyone's benefit. If you intend to ship out on Lake Eerie, or for a trip down the Susquehanna, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the state regulations. The following article and chart provide an overview of Pennsylvania boating laws that might affect you.

Vessel Titling and Registration

Pennsylvania boating laws require all motorboats to be registered with some limited exceptions. The boat registration must be carried on the vessel and be made available for inspection by authorities. Every boat to be registered must carry a certificate of title. Links to these and other statutory requirements are found in the chart below.

Boating Licenses

Special requirements must be met in order for many to qualify to operate watercraft in the state of Pennsylvania. These requirement, and some of their limitations, are explored in the chart below.

Boating and Alcohol

Pennsylvania boating laws list serious penalties for boating under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or controlled substances and for accidents or violations that occur when an operator is under the influence. Details regarding alcohol testing and BUI standards in the chart below.

Pennsylvania Boating Laws: The Basics


Code Sections
Age & Education Requirements

Pennsylvania boating laws require anyone born on or after January 1, 1982 to acquire a certificate of boating safety education prior to operating a motorboat. This certificate must be presented upon demand by a waterways conservation officer or other law enforcement officer. The following people are exempt from this requirement:

  • a person from out of state who is visting for 60 days or less in a motorboat registered in another state if they were born before January 1, 1982 or have a license or education certificate from their own state;
  • a person from another country visiting for 90 days or less;
  • a landowner or a member of their immediate family operating a motorboat on private waters owned by them with no publicly owned or maintained access;
  • a person operating a motorboat powered by an electric motor or an engine of 25 horsepower (HP) or less.
Boating Under the Influence

Those operating a watercraft in Pennsylvania are deemed to have given consent to drug and alcohol testing if a waterways conservation officer has grounds to believe the person was operating a watercraft under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or the operator was in control of hte craft when it was involved in an accident that resulted in death or injury requiring treatment at a medical facility.

A person is found to be guilty of boating under the influence if they are found to have 0.08 percent or greater blood alcohol content (BAC), or one of a number of controlled substances.

Boating Accidents

The operator of a watercraft must file a written report:

  • within 48 hours of an accident where a party died within 24 hours of the incident, where a person needs more medical treatment than first aid, or a person disappears;
  • within 10 days if an earlier report is not required.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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Find Out More About Pennsylvania Boating Laws

Good professional advice can be helpful, whether to ensure your compliance before a problem arises, or to handle the fallout from an accident or BUI arrest. A local lawyer can help make sense of a sometimes-confusing tangle of obligations. Contact a qualified Pennsylvania boating laws attorney to discuss your situation.

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