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Texas Boating Laws

The regulation of motor vehicles in Texas doesn't stop at the roads and highways. Texas boating laws also provide oversight on the operation of boats on the many Texas waterways. However, the regulation of these two kinds of vessels differs significantly. The following article provides an overview to help ensure that your compliance with Texas boating laws is watertight.

Vessel Titling and Registration

Texas boating laws require that all motorized boats, sailboats larger than 14 feet or with an auxiliary engine, and all internal combustion outboard motors must be registered and bear a certificate of title. These documents establish the ownership and responsibility for the craft in question.

Boating Licenses

Although the rules relating to the operation of boats is more liberal than the rules for operating other kinds of motor vehicles, there are still some basic requirements that must be met under Texas law. Texas does not issue a boating license, but there are age and education requirements for the operation of some boats. The chart below provides an overview of these requirements.

Boating and Alcohol

Boating has some similarities and distinctions from automobile operation when it comes to alcohol possession and use. Boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI) is prohibited. The chart below contains information about alcohol possession, intoxication, and other issues relating to alcohol and Texas boating laws.

Texas Boating Laws: The Basics

Code Sections
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Section 31.045, Ownership of Vessels and Outboard Motors; Certificate of Title;
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Section 31.109, Boater Education;
  • Texas Penal Code, Section 49.06, Boating Under the Influence;
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Section 31.105, Accident Reports;
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Section 31.104, Accidents: Duty of Operators.
Age & Education Requirements

Boater age and education requirements exist for the following watercraft:

  • Motor-driven powerboats of more than 15horsepower (hp);
  • Personal Water Craft (PWC) such as a water scooter or jet ski; or
  • Windblown vessels over 14 feet in length.

A person under the age of 13 can only operate a boat if they are supervised by a person over 18 years of age who is qualified to operate the boat in question and is onboard while the vessel is underway.

Those 13 and older may operate a boat without supervision if they have passed a boater education course accepted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD.) Completion of such a course results in the issuance of a Boater Education Card, which vessel operators are required to carry with them and present for inspection to Texas law enforcement officers upon request. Boaters are also required to carry a photo ID. Not carrying the Boater Education Card can result in a fine.

Those born before September 1, 1993 are not subject to the boater education requirement, though completion of a boater education program may reduce insurance costs.

Boating Under the Influence
  • Boating Under the Influence: Boating while intoxicated is forbidden by Texas law. An operator with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or greater is deemed to be intoxicated. Boating under the influence is a Class B misdemeanor offense, punishable with a minimum term of confinement of 72 hours.
  • Refusal to Submit to BAC Testing: Texas boating laws also punish a refusal to provide a specimen of breath or blood to determine intoxication. Boaters operating a vessel with a 50hp or greater engine that refuse a breathalyzer receive an automatic suspension of their driver's license. A first offender's license is suspended for 180 days.
  • Open Containers: Unlike other motor vehicles, however, boaters are permitted to possess open containers of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of their vessel, but it shouldn't be surprising if this results in some questioning about the operator's potential intoxication.
Boating Accidents

A boating accident must be reported to the TPWD or the nearest law enforcement agency within 30 days of the incident if:

  • it resulted in a death within 48 hours of the accident;
  • it resulted in injury to a person that required treatment beyond first aid; or
  • it caused damage to vessels or property in excess of $2,000.

Operators of vessels involved in an accident also have many of the same obligations held by motorists involved in accidents, including the obligation to stay, render assistance, and to provide information to those injured.

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.

Research the Law

Find Out More About Texas Boating Laws

Texas boating laws involve much more complexity than is practical to discuss here. Whether you have been accused of reckless or negligent operation of a vehicle, or have incensing issues or problems with your boat itself, a lawyer can help unravel the law. You'll want to consult with a local Texas boating attorney in your area to get your specific questions answered today.

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