Who is allowed to drive a boat? What happens if the driver/boater is intoxicated? How old do you have to be to stop wearing your life jacket? What is required to operate a boat in Virginia?
We answer all these questions and more in this comprehensive guide to Virginia boating law and Virginia kayaking laws!
Who is allowed to drive a boat?
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, anyone of any age is allowed to operate a non-motorized boat (such as a kayak or canoe). Virginia kayak laws state that if the boat has a motor of 10 horsepower or greater, the operator must be 14 years old or older and complete a boating safety course.
Anyone operating a motorized boat or vessel must carry proof that they have completed the course (this is like a driver’s license for boats). If you are caught driving illegally, you can be fined.
What are the boating safety laws?
In this article, we cover two boat safety requirements: registration and life jackets.
Virginia Boat Registration
Any non-motorized water vehicle (such as a kayak or canoe) up to 18 feet does not need to be registered in Virginia. Any motorized vehicle of any length does need to be registered.
You can register and pay your Virginia boating license fees online. Once you do, you will receive validation decals, which you must display next to your registration numbers near the front (bow) of your vessel.
Also known as Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) or life vests, life jackets are recommended for wear for anyone on the water at any time. However, they are only required by law for anyone up through the age of 12.
If you are not wearing your life jacket, you are required to have one of the appropriate size easily accessible for each person in your vessel in case of emergency. Failure to comply with these laws could result in a fine. Or worse, they could result in dangerous, life-threatening situations which could end badly.
What is reckless boat operation?
Virginia takes safe boat operation seriously and punishes reckless operation.
- Weaving through stopped vessels at an unreasonable speed.
- Following another vessel too closely, or “jumping the wake” of a vessel.
- Cutting between a boat and the person it is towing (on water skis or the like).
- Purposely getting close to another person or water vessel and then turning sharply with the intent to spray them with water.
If you are caught doing any of these things, you can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor the first time. If convicted of a Class 1 Misdemeanor, the punishment is up to 12 months in jail and/or up to $2,500 in fines. A second and subsequent violation is also Class 1 Misdemeanor PLUS you could lose your Virginia boating privileges for up to 12 months.
If you have been charged with reckless boat operation, please contact Cook Attorneys immediately. We can help you defend yourself in court, or even avoid court altogether.
What happens if I’m drinking and boating?
Can you get a DUI on a boat? The boating equivalent of a DUI is a BUI—Boating Under the Influence. Sometimes, it’s called a BWI—Boating While Intoxicated. While many people like to enjoy a beer while boating, Virginia frowns heavily on BUIs.
If you are under 21, and you are caught operating a motorized vessel with any alcohol content in your system, you will be charged with BUI.
If you are 21 or over, and you are operating a motorized vessel with a Blood Alcohol Content of .08% or higher, you will be charged. It’s the same if you have certain levels of cocaine or methamphetamines in your system.
The Boating Under the Influence penalty is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, which means you could face up to 1 year in jail and/or $2,500 in fines. You could also have your boating privileges revoked.