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Adirondack Boating Rules & Regulations

In the six million acre Adirondack Park, there are over 10,000 lakes and at least 30,000 miles of rivers and streams. With all of these different waterways to choose from, it's important to keep in mind New York State's boating rules and regulations so you'll be all set for your next boating trip!

view of lake and boats from dock

Registration and Requirements:

First and foremost, any pleasure vehicle, propelled or operated by mechanical means, in New York State must be registered with the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Pleasure vessel operators must possess a registration certificate and display the required validation stickers on the vessel.

Exceptions include commercial vessels with a U.S. or foreign document, vessels with an out-of-state registration (up to 90 consecutive days), lifeboats, competition race boats, and non-mechanically propelled boats, such as kayaks.

In the same vein, if you plan to use a trailer to transport your vessel, the trailer must be registered with the DMV. Make sure your trailer is in good shape and the vessel is secured to the trailer before you head out for a boat launch site.

There are some motor boat education requirements:

  • Operators born on or after May 1, 1996 need a boating safety certificate and must be at least 10 years old.
  • Operators younger than 18 years old must be accompanied by a person at least 18 years old with a boating safety certificate, unless one is not required.
  • Recently purchased motor boats may be operated for up to 120 days from the purchase date without a boating safety certificate.
  • Operators 18 years or older may rent a motor boat if the owner possesses a boating safety certificate and explains the vessel and its safety equipment.

Safety Measures:

Life jackets are another requirement for all boaters in New York State and the Adirondacks. Every vessel, including canoes, kayaks, and row boats, must have a US Coast Guard (USCG) approved wearable life jacket for each person on board. Life jackets must be serviceable and accessible. Some people are required to wear a life jacket:

  • Children 12 years old and younger aboard a pleasure vessel less than 65 feet in length, canoe, kayak, or rowboat unless inside a cabin.
  • Anyone who is towed (wakeboarders, water skiers, etc.).
  • Boaters aboard pleasure vessels less than 21 feet in length, including canoes, kayaks, and rowboats, between November 1 and May 1.
  • Everyone aboard a PWC (personal water craft, like a jet ski).

Also, if your vessel is 16 feet or greater in length, except canoes and kayaks, then a type IV throwable flotation aid must be on board.

Aside from flotation devices, a vessel 16 feet and greater (except for canoes, kayaks, and rowboats) must also carry day and night-time visual distress signals. Most of the time, this requirement can be fulfilled by carrying USCG approved day/night hand held flares. Similarly, all mechanically propelled vessels, except for outboards less than 26 feet long, must carry one B-I USCG approved fire extinguisher.

Some other safety measures include:

  • An anchor for all mechanically powered vessels, except for PWCs.
  • A whistle or horn for all mechanically powered vessels 39 feet and greater.
  • A bell for all vessels 39 feet and greater.
  • Navigation lights on recreational vessels between sunset and sunrise and times of restricted visibility.
  • Boating while intoxicated is not allowed, and there is a zero tolerance policy for people under 21 caught drinking while operating a vessel.

Waterway Rules:

Just like on the road, there are certain right of way rules for different vessels on waterways. Vessels with a lower priority must stay out of the way of vessels with a higher priority unless being overtaken. From highest priority to lowest priority, the list includes:

  • Vessels not under command (unable to maneuver)
  • Vessels with restricted maneuverability
  • Vessels engaged in fishing (which restricts maneuverability)
  • Sailing vessels
  • Power driven vessels

Keep any eye out for buoys and other regulatory markers that will alert you about any necessary cautionary measures you need to take!

Boating Regulations:

Vessel speed within 100 feet of shore, a dock, pier, raft, float, or anchored boat is usually limited to 5mph. Make sure you're aware of any specific rules at a waterway.

For acceptable noise levels, a maximum of 90 dB is allowed for vessels that undergo a stationary test. A maximum of 75 dB is allowed for vessels subjected to a test while underway.

Boaters should be aware of the regulations in place for the waterway they plan to launch onto. Many lakes, ponds, and streams in the Adirondacks have boating restrictions. In other words, some waterways are fully open, while others are limited to non-motorized vessels.

Aquatic Invasive Species and Preventive Measures:

One of the greatest threats to the lakes and ponds of New York State are aquatic invasive species, which includes plants and animals that aren't native to the region. Since these species lack natural predators, they are able to spread at a rapid pace and harm local aquatic habitats.

If boats, trailers, and equipment aren't properly cleaned after use, then it's possible for invasive species to be transported from one body of water to another. To help combat the spread of aquatic invasive species, boaters are asked to clean, drain, and treat their boats and equipment. This can be performed by the boater or at one of the region's boat washing stations.

New as of June 2022: Under new state law, if a DEC inspection station is adjacent to a public waterbody in the Adirondack Park and is open for operation, boaters must have either a self-issuing certification or decontamination certificate from a DEC inspection station before launching into the waterbody.

Learn about proper boat washing procedures and decontamination station locations ยป

Visit our guide for more information on boating in the Adirondacks!