With some 12,000 lakes and 25,000 miles of streams and rivers, the state of Minnesota can certainly be considered a haven for water enthusiasts. In fact, there are nearly 900,000 watercraft registered with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Who Can Legally Operate a Boat in Minnesota?
Under 12 Years Old
No restrictions on 25 horsepower (hp) or less watercraft. When operating a boat with 25 hp - 75 hp there must be someone on board who is at least 21 years old and is within reach of the controls. Watercraft over 75 hp cannot be operated by someone under the age of 12, even with an adult on board.
No restrictions on 25 hp or less watercraft. For watercraft more than 25 hp, the operator of the boat must have either a watercraft operator's permit or someone on board who is at least 21 years of age and is within reach of the controls.
The following information, which is intended to answer some of the commonly asked questions that involve boating, is a summary of current Minnesota law regarding safe operation of watercraft.
All motorized and non-motorized watercraft, including motorboats, rowboats, sailboats, sailboards, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, rowing shells, inflatable craft and all-terrain vehicles used in water, must be licensed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). (Note: for exceptions to this law, contact the DNR).
On all boats (with the exception of sailboards) including kayaks, canoes and duck boats, regardless of length, there must be a readily accessible Coast Guard approved Type I, II or III wearable personal flotation device (PFD, also known as a life jacket) for each person on board. Throwable Type IV devices such as buoyant cushions are no longer acceptable as primary lifesaving devices.
Children under age 10 are required to wear a life jacket while boating on Minnesota waters (not when the boat is tied up at a dock or permanent mooring).
Exemptions from wearing a life jacket: 1) When in an enclosed cabin or below the top deck on a watercraft. 2) When on an anchored boat that is a platform for swimming or diving. 3) When aboard a charter (passenger) craft with a licensed captain.
Motorboats, including personal watercraft (jet skis) less than 26 feet long with built-in enclosures which house fuel or engines, must carry one B-I fire extinguisher. 26-40 foot long motorboats require at least two B-I extinguishers or one B-II model. 40-65 foot motorboats require at least three B-I extinguishers or a B-I and a B-II model. Motorboats more than 65 feet long require at least three B-II extinguishers.
It is unlawful to operate a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or any other illegal chemical.
It is illegal to operate a watercraft in a careless or reckless manner.
A watercraft cannot be operated so that its wake or wash interferes, endangers or harasses any person or property.
The watercraft must not be operated so as to obstruct or intend to obstruct ordinary navigation.
It is unlawful to tow a person on water skis, surfboard, aqua-plane, saucer or similar device unless the craft is equipped with a mirror providing the operator with a wide field of vision to the rear, or unless there is another person on board the towing craft who is continuously viewing the person being towed.
A watercraft cannot be operated within an area legally set aside or marked off as a swimming area, or within 150 feet of a diver's warning flag.
It is illegal to operate a watercraft loaded with cargo or passengers beyond its safe carrying capacity, or equipped with a motor or other propulsion system beyond its safe power capacity.
It is illegal to ride or sit on the gunwhales, transom or bow of any motorboat unless it is equipped with a sufficient railing, or to operate a motorboat while any person is so riding.
A watercraft must not be operated so that it obstructs or interferes with the landing, taxiing or take-off of a seaplane.
It is illegal to attach or moor a watercraft to any buoy, with the exception of a mooring buoy, or to any other marking device, or to tamper, remove or destroy a navigational aid.
It is unlawful to deposit or leave garbage or refuse in or upon the waters of the state or at a public access area.
Fatal Boat Incidents
Most boating fatalities usually occur in small, open boats with outboard motors (40 hp or less) or in non-motorized canoes. The most common causes of fatalities fall into the following three categories:
Capsizing (Tipping Over)
Commonly caused by overloading or improperly distributing the weight of gear and passengers on board, boating in bad weather and sharp high turns.
Usually occurs due to riding or standing on the gunwhale (the upper edge of a boat's side) of the craft. Often a person loses balance while trying to net a fish or start the motor.
This happens when a boat takes in water over its side or slows down too quickly, allowing the trailing wake to wash overboard.
Non-fatal Boat Incidents
These types of incidents normally involve higher speed craft (40 hp or greater) and result in property damage and/or personal injuries. Non-fatal incidents generally involve:
Occurring between two boats or one craft and a fixed object. In either case, the cause is often a result of rules not being followed or operator inattention.
Fires or Explosions
These frequently occur due to safety equipment being improperly installed or used (such as fire extinguishers or ventilation systems) as well as by faulty fueling procedures or maintenance.
Please note: The above list is simply a summary of the State of Minnesota laws pertaining to watercraft operation. For more information, including laws regarding transfer of ownership, on-board equipment and additional rules of the road, contact:
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Boat & Water Safety Section
500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4046
651-296-6157, 1-800-766-6000 (Greater Minnesota toll free)
651-296-5484 (TDD), 1-800-657-3929 (toll free TDD)
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources