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Boating Law


Boats propelled by sail or motor of any type must be registered when operated on public waters.

Arkansas boat owners may register a boat at the office of the County Revenue Agent in the county where the boat is principally used or in their home county. Out-of- state boats with valid registrations may be operated for up to 90 days without registering in Arkansas. An identification number will be assigned to each registered boat.


The operator of any boat involved in an accident is required to immediately:

  1. Render assistance to other persons affected by the incident to save them or minimize danger so far as he can without serious danger to his own boat, crew and passengers;
  2. Give his name, address and identification of his boat in writing to any person injured and to the owner of any property damaged in the incident;
  3. Notify the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission or the local Sheriff ’s office of the accident so an officer can investigate the accident. To report a boating accident, call 1-800-482-9262. Accidents involving death, injury or property damage of $500 or more must be reported.

Over half of boating fatalities are fishermen who fall out of small boats that capsize from movement within the boat, overloading or hitting a submerged object.

Refer to AG&FC Lands, Lakes and Accesses for boating regulations specific to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Lakes.

LIGHTS: Boats must be equipped with the prescribed lights during darkness.

  1. On state-controlled waters, lights on boats, including those on non-powered boats, must be sufficient to make the boat’s presence and location known to any other vessel within a reasonable distance.
  2. On federally-controlled waters, non-powered boats must have a readily accessible light source to be used in sufficient time to prevent a collision. Motorboats operating on federally-controlled waters must have a combination red and green light on the bow and a white light aft.

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS are required of inboard boats, open boats with built-in fuel tanks and boats with bilges where flammable gases may accumulate.

CHILDREN under age 12 may not operate a boat powered by a motor over 10 horsepower except when under the direct supervision of a person over 17.

SPEEDING in excess of 5 m.p.h. within 100 feet of a recreation area, dock, pier, raft, float, anchored boat or dam intake or other obstruction is illegal.

SCUBA: A diver’s flag means that scuba divers are in the water nearby. Slow down and use caution within 100 yards of a flag. Avoid operating a boat in the vicinity of a diver’s flag.

BOAT CAPACITY: Loading a vessel beyond its stated safe carrying capacity is illegal.

CORPS OF ENGINEERS: No vessel may enter within 100 yards downstream of a Army Corps of Engineers dam. Operating a vessel in any manner contrary to signs, markers or buoys placed by the Corps controlling speed, skiing or operation of vessels is prohibited.

WARNING: Operation of any boat, water-ski(s) or jet ski in a reckless or negligent manner is prohibited. This includes weaving through congested vessel traffic, operating within 100 feet of a towboat that is underway, jumping the wake of another vessel too closely and swerving at the last possible moment
to avoid collision.


Boats under 16-feet long, canoes and kayaks must have one wearable (Type I, II or III) PFD in serviceable condition and of proper size for each person on board.

Boats, 16 feet or longer, must have one wearable (Type I, II or III) PFD in serviceable condition and of proper size for each person on board and one Type IV (throwable) PFD in each boat.

CHILDREN under the age of 13 must wear a well-fitting PFD at all times while aboard a boat. The only exceptions are when they are within the enclosed area of a houseboat, cruiser or within the railings of a party barge while the boat is not underway.

PERSONAL WATERCRAFT: Occupants of personal watercraft (such as Jet skis, Sea-doos, etc.) are required to wear PFDs.

WATER SKIERS must wear a Type I, II, III or V PFD. Water-skiing is not allowed from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise. Boats towing water-skiers must have, in addition to the driver, an observer at least 12 years of age or a wide angle convex marine mirror to observe the person being towed.

Type I PFD, or offshore life jacket, provides the most buoyancy. It is effective for all waters, especially open, rough or remote waters where rescue may be delayed. It is designed to turn most unconscious wearers in the water to a face-up position. The Type I comes in two sizes. The adult size provides at least 22 pounds buoyancy, the child size, 11 pounds.

Type II PFD, or near-shore buoyant vest, is intended for calm, inland water or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. This type will turn some unconscious wearers to a face-up position in the water but not as effectively as a Type I device. An adult size device provides at least 15 pounds buoyancy, a child size provides 11 pounds. Infant sizes provide at least seven pounds buoyancy.

Type III PFD, or flotation aid, is intended for calm, inland water where there is a good chance of quick rescue. It is designed so conscious wearers can place themselves in a face-up position in the water. The wearer may have to tilt his head back to avoid turning face-down in the water. Examples of Type III PFDs are float coats, fishing vests and vests designed with features suitable for various sports.

Type IV PFD, or throwable device, is intended for calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic where help is always present. It is designed to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped and held by the user until rescued. It is not designed to be worn. Type IV devices include
buoyant cushions, ring buoys and horseshoe buoys.

Type V PFD, is a special use device intended for specific activities and may be carried instead of another PFD only if used according to the approval condition on the label. Some Type V devices provide significant hyperthermia protection. Varieties include deck suits, work vests, board sailing vests, and inflatable PFD’s. If a type V PFD is used in place of a type I, II or III, it must be worn at all times.

85% of victims of fatal boating accidents died because they weren't wearing a PFD.