Who Is Allowed to Operate a Motorboat or Personal Watercraft
If you were born after January 1, 1984, you may operate a motorboat over 10 horsepower or personal watercraft if you have successfully completed an approved boater education course OR if you are accompanied by someone over age 18 who has a successfully completed an LDWF-approved boater education course, if required. This exception does not apply to personal watercraft. Individuals must have their certificate of course completion in their possession while on the motorboat or personal watercraft. If you are a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain, you are not required to take this course.
You must be age 16 or older to operate a personal watercraft. It is illegal for a person who owns or has charge of a personal watercraft to knowingly permit a person under age 16 to operate a personal watercraft. It is also illegal for a rental company to rent a personal watercraft to anyone under age 16.
Rules of the Road for Vessels
Violation of any of the below is considered careless operation of a vessel, a crime which carries a penalty of a fine of not more than $300 or imprisonment for not more than 30 days, or both.
- Vessels passing head-on shall each keep to their respective right.
- A vessel overtaking another vessel may do so on either side but must grant the right-of-way to the vessel being overtaken.
- When vessels are on paths that cross, the vessel on the left will yield right-of-way to the vessel on the right.
- Motorboats shall yield right-of-way to non-motor-powered boats, except when being overtaken by non-powered vessels, for deep draft vessels that have to remain in narrow channels, or when vessel is towing another vessel.
- Motorboats must maintain a direct course when passing sailboats.
- A vessel approaching a landing dock or pier shall yield the right-of-way to any departing vessel.
- A vessel departing shoreline or tributary shall yield right-of-way to through traffic and vessels approaching shoreline or tributary.
- Vessels will not abruptly change course without first determining that it can be safely done without risk of collision with another vessel.
- If an operator fails to fully comprehend the course of an approaching vessel, he or she must slow down immediately to a speed barely sufficient for steerageway until the other vessel has passed.
- Vessels yielding right-of-way shall reduce speed, stop, reverse, or alter course to avoid collision. Vessel with right-of-way shall hold course and speed. If there is danger of collision, all vessels will slow down, stop, or reverse until danger is averted.
- Vessels will issue warning signals in fog or weather conditions that restrict visibility.
- No mechanically propelled vessel shall be operated to traverse a course around any other vessel underway or any person swimming.
- In a narrow channel, vessels will keep to the right of mid-channel.
- Vessels approaching or passing another vessel shall be operated in such manner and at such a rate of speed as will not create a hazardous wash or wake.
- A seaplane on the water shall in general keep clear of all vessels and avoid impeding the navigation of all vessels.
- All vessels shall be operated at reasonable speeds for given conditions and situations and must be under the complete control of the operator at all times.
- No person shall, under any circumstances, operate a vessel in excess of an established speed or wake zone.
- No vessel or person shall obstruct or block a navigation channel, entrance to channel, mooring slip, landing dock, launching ramp, pier, or tributary.
- Vessels shall keep at least 100 feet clearance of displayed diver's flag.
- Operator shall maintain a proper lookout.
You must operate personal watercraft in a careful and responsible manner. Avoid operating around fishermen, anchored vessels, or swimmers. It is illegal to:
- Operate a personal watercraft between sunset and sunrise without U.S. Coast Guard approved navigation lights.
- Weave the personal watercraft through congested waterway traffic.
- Jump the wake of another vessel when visibility is obstructed.
- Operate in a manner that requires swerving at the last possible moment to avoid a collision.
- Chase, harass, or disturb wildlife with your personal watercraft.
You may not operate any motorboat or vessel or manipulate any waterski, surfboard, or similar device while intoxicated or under the influence of any narcotic drug, barbiturate, or marijuana. It is also illegal for a person who owns or is in charge of any watercraft to authorize or knowingly permit anyone who is intoxicated or under the influence of any narcotic drug, barbiturate, or marijuana to operate that watercraft.
Boat operators who are driving while intoxicated (DWI) with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 and higher face the same penalties as someone operating a vehicle on the highway while intoxicated. Penalties include suspension or revocation of boating privileges and driver's license. A designated sober operator is required for both the roadway and waterway.
Incapacity of Operator
It is illegal for a person who owns or is in charge of any watercraft to authorize or knowingly permit anyone whose physical or mental disability makes them incapable of operating a watercraft under the prevailing circumstances to operate that watercraft.
Interference with Navigation
You may not operate any watercraft in a manner that unreasonably or unnecessarily interferes with other watercraft or with the free and proper navigation of Louisiana’s waterways. This may include anchoring under bridges or in heavily traveled channels, if unreasonable under the prevailing circumstances.
Do not load watercraft with passengers or cargo beyond its safe carrying capacity, taking into consideration weather and other existing operating conditions.
Do not equip any watercraft with any motor or other propulsion machinery beyond its safe power capacity, taking into consideration the type and construction of such watercraft and other existing operating conditions.
Riding on Decks and Gunwales
Do not allow anyone to ride or sit on either the starboard or port gunwales or on the decking over the bow of a motorboat 26 feet long or less while it’s underway, unless such motorboat has adequate guards or railing that prevents passengers from falling overboard. Riding on decks and gunwales makes it easy to fall from a boat and can lead to serious injuries or death.
Do not operate a watercraft within an area which has been marked, in accordance with and as authorized by Louisiana law, by buoys or some other distinguishing device as a bathing, swimming, or otherwise restricted area.
At least two competent individuals must be operating a motorboat towing or otherwise assisting a person on waterskis, surfboard, or similar device in or upon any waterway. Exceptions:
- Motorboat used by representatives of duly constituted waterski school for instruction or in a duly authorized waterski tournament, competition, exposition, or trial, if applicable permit has been obtained from LDWF or the U.S. Coast Guard
- Motorboat operated by a person age 16 or older AND equipped with a wide-angle convex marine rearview mirror at least 7 by 14 inches positioned to observe the skiers being towed.
It is a violation of the Federal Pollution Control Act to pump or discharge into navigable waters any kind of oil or oily waste that causes a film or discoloration or the surface of the water or a sludge or emulsion beneath the surface of the water. Persons found with oily water in the bilges of their vessel must be able to show how they intend to dispose of it according to proper procedure.
Boats 26 feet or longer must display a 5 by 8-inch sign near the bilge pump control station stating the regulations of the Federal Pollution Control Act.
The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (MARPOL ANNEX V) limits the discharge of garbage from vessels. It is illegal to dump plastic trash anywhere in the ocean or navigable waters of the United States. It is also illegal to discharge garbage in the navigable waters of the United States. The discharge of other types of garbage is permitted outside of specific distances offshore depending on the nature of that garbage.
U.S. vessels 26 feet or longer must display in a prominent location a durable placard at least 4 by 9 inches notifying the crew and passengers of discharge restrictions.
U.S. oceangoing vessels 40 feet or longer, which are engaged in commerce or are equipped with a galley and berthing, must have a written Waste Management Plan describing the procedures for collecting, processing, storing, and discharging garbage, and designating the person who is in charge of carrying out the plan.
Termination Order for Hazardous Conditions
There are certain conditions under which a law enforcement agent may observe especially hazardous conditions aboard a vessel and direct the operator to take immediate steps to correct the condition, including returning to port. Some examples where termination may be imposed are:
- Overloading beyond recommended safe loading capacity (Capacity Plate)
- Manifestly unsafe voyage
- Operating in regulated boating areas during permitted marine events.