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Campfire Collective Jan 8th, 2019

Arkansas Boating Laws and Regulations

Who needs an Arkansas Boater ID Card?

There is no restriction on the age of boat operators. If you are under 14 years of age, you must have your Boater Education Card onboard and operate the boat under the direct, onboard supervision of an adult; over 17 years of age, while operating a boat propelled by a motor of 10 HP or more. While operating a personal watercraft, you must have a person above the age of 21 along with you to supervise and help in an emergency.

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  • All vessels must have at least one USCG–approved wearable PFD for each person on board.
  • In addition to the requirement for PFDs, one USCG–approved throwable PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer.
  • All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and readily accessible. Wearable PFDs must be of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
  • Children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG–approved PFD securely fastened to their persons at all times while on any vessel. The only exception is if the child is within the enclosed area of a houseboat or cruiser, or within the area enclosed by railings on a party barge, cruiser, or houseboat, andthe vessel is not underway.
  • Each person on board a PWC must wear a USCG–approved PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for use on PWC.
  • Each person being towed behind a motorized vessel on water skis, an aquaplane, or other device must wear a USCG–approved PFD.


Boating and alcohol laws vary from state to state. In Arkansas no person shall operate any motorized boat while they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination thereof.

In Arkansas, a person is considered to be under the influence if:

  • They have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 or higher.
  • They are under the influence of alcohol.
  • They are under the influence of any drug or a combination of drugs and alcohol.
  • The have a BAC level of 0.02 or higher and are under 21 years of age.

In Arkansas, a person convicted of operating a motorized boat while under the influence will be subject to the following penalties:


Upon a first offense, they may receive a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 1 year in jail. In addition, the court shall order the person not to operate a motorized boat for a period of 90 days.

Upon a second offense, if within a 3-year period of the first offense, they may receive a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 1 year in jail. In addition, the court shall order the person not to operate a motorized boat for a period of 1 year.

Upon a third offense, if within a 3-year period, they may be fined up to $5,000 and up to 1 year in jail, to include a minimum of 60 days which shall be served in the county or municipal jail and that shall not be probated or suspended. In addition, the court shall order the person not to operate a motorized boat for a period of 3 years.

More severe penalties exist for additional convictions.

Any person operating a boat on Arkansas waters shall be deemed to have given consent to a chemical test or tests of their breath, blood and urine for the purpose of determining the alcohol content of their blood and the presence of any abused substance or controlled dangerous substance. The testing may be required of a person when an officer has probable cause to believe the person is operating under the influence.

Law Enforcement

Arkansas’ boating laws are enforced by:

  • Enforcement officers of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
  • Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs.
  • State Police Officers.
  • Enforcement officers of the Department of Parks and Tourism.
  • The Coast Guard (on federal waters).

Law enforcement have the authority to stop and board boats to ensure they are in compliance with state and federal laws. Law enforcement officers may also investigate any boat accident or violation. They may also ask the operator to return their boat to the dock upon investigation.

Refusal to follow direction provided by law enforcement is illegal.


In order to legally operate a sail-powered or motorized boat (including boats with trolling motors), you must obtain an Arkansas Certificate of Number (registration card) and validation decals. The Certificate of Number must be on board and be available for inspection by an enforcement officer during boat operation.

Boat Registration Exemptions:

  • Human-powered boats.
  • Boats documented by the Coast Guard.
  • Boats that have been registered in another state or country and are using Arkansas’ waters for 90 days or less.

The Certificate of Number and validation decals are obtained by submitting an application and fee to any state revenue office. Boat registrations are valid for a period of 3 years.

Registration Number and Decal Placement

  • The numbers must be applied as a decal, painted or permanently affixed to each side of the boat’s bow (boat owners are not permitted to display any other numbers in this area).
  • The number must be in bold block letters that are at least 3 inches high and in a color that contrasts with the color of the boat.
  • The numbers must be separated from the letters by a hyphen or by an equivalent space.
  • The number must be read from left to right.

Validation decals must be:

  • Affixed on both sides of the boat.
  • Displayed 3 inches from and in line with, the registration number.
  • Affixed towards the stern of the registration number.
  • Decals that have expired must be removed.

These placement requirements also apply to personal watercrafts (PWCs).

Note: If your boat requires registration, it is illegal to operate or allow others to operate your boat unless it is registered and numbered as described above.

Liability Insurance Requirements

All motorized boats (including PWCs) powered by engines of more than 50 horsepower, must be covered by a liability insurance policy that has been issued by an insurance company.

The policy must provide at least $50,000 of liability coverage per occurrence. Proof of insurance must be carried on board the boat and be available for inspection by an enforcement officer.

For boats requiring liability insurance, registration applications must be accompanied by proof of the insurance policy.

Other Boat Registration Information

The owner of a motorized boat that requires registration must apply for the registration within 30 days of the date of purchase.

The Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) must be notified within 15 days if the boat is destroyed, lost or abandoned.

The DFA must be notified within 30 days if the owner transfers ownership of the boat.

If you lose or destroy your Certificate of Number or decals, you must apply to the DFA for duplicates and submit processing fees to receive replacements.

If an outboard engine is purchase for a motorized boat that was previously registered, the owner must provide the serial number of the engine to the Department of Finance and Administration.


It is illegal in the state of Arkansas to operate any boat or manipulate any waterskis, aquaplane or similar device in a careless, reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person.

Examples of reckless boat operation include:

  • Operating in a designated swimming area.
  • Weaving through congested traffic at more than idle speed.
  • Jumping the wake of another boat unreasonably close to the other boat.
  • Waiting until the last possible moment to swerve to avoid a collision.
  • Creating a hazardous wake.
  • Harassing or disturbing wildlife.
  • Riding on the boat’s stern, bow, gunwales or transom.
  • Overloading a boat beyond the safe carrying capacity.
  • Overpowering a boat beyond the recommended horsepower capacity.
  • Towing a waterskier in a restricted area or where an obstruction exists.

Speed Restrictions

It is illegal to operate a boat at a rate of speed that creates a  hazardous wash or wake upon approaching or passing boats, including, but not limited to:

  • A wake that causes other boats to take-on water.
  • A wake sufficient to toss occupants of other boats about in a manner to cause injury or the risk of injury.

Restricted Zones

It is illegal to operate at greater than ‘No Wake Speed’ when within 100 feet of a designated recreation area, dock, pier, raft, float, anchored boat, dam, intake structure, or other obstruction at a speed greater than 5 miles per hour, unless a another speed limit has been established in the area.


An operator involved in a boating accident must:

  • Stop his or her vessel immediately at the scene of the accident and…
  • Assist anyone injured or in danger from the accident, unless doing so would seriously endanger his or her own vessel or passengers and…
  • Give, in writing, his or her name, address, and vessel identification to anyone injured from the accident and to the owner of any damaged property.

The operator or owner of a vessel involved in an accident must notify immediately the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission or local Sheriff’s Department if:

  • A person dies or disappears or…
  • A person is injured or…
  • Damage to the vessel or other property exceeds $2,000.


For more information about safe boating in Arkansas, contact:

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

2 Natural Resources Drive
Little Rock, Arkansas 72205



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