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Campfire Collective May 17th, 2017

Wisconsin Boating Laws and Regulations

Who needs a Wisconsin Boater Education Card?

Anyone born on or after January 1, 1989 is required to complete a boating safety course to legally operate a motorized boat or personal watercraft (PWC) on Wisconsin waters. DNR recreational safety specialists recommend all boat operators complete a safety course.

The Certificate must be carried on board during boat operation.

The Certificate may be obtained by completing a Boating Safety Course that has been approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). Once obtained, the certification is good for life.

Exemptions

  • Anyone born before January 1, 1989.

For Motorized Vessels:

  • Anyone under the age of 10 years may not legally operate a motorized vessel.
  • Anyone between the ages of 10 and 11 years may operate a motorized vessel only if accompanied by a designated parent/guardian 18 years or older.
  • Anyone between the ages of 12 and 15 years may operate a motorized vessel only if he or she is accompanied by a designated parent/guardian 18 years or older or he or she has successfully completed an approved boater safety course.

For Personal Watercraft:

  • Anyone under the age of 12 years may not legally operate a personal watercraft (PWC).
  • Anyone between the ages of 12 and 15 years may operate a PWC only if he or she has successfully completed an approved boater safety course.

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WISCONSIN’S LIFE JACKET REQUIREMENTS

All vessels (including canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards) must have at least one USCG-approved Wearable life jacket for each person on board.

All vessels 16 feet or more in length must have one USCG-approved Throwable personal flotation device on board that is immediately accessible.

Every person on board a personal watercraft must wear a USCG-approved life jacket.

Sailboards and windsurfers are exempt from life jacket requirement, but are highly encouraged to wear one.

Federal law requires children under the age of 13 to wear a USCG-approved life jacket while underway in an open vessel on federally controlled waters.

All life jackets must be:

  • in good and serviceable condition, which means no tears, rips, broken straps or snaps
  • readily accessible, which means you are able to put the life jacket on quickly in an emergency
  • of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for life jackets is based on body weight and chest size

WISCONSIN BOATING LICENSE REQUIREMENTS FOR PERSONAL WATERCRAFTS (PWCS)

Anyone born on or after January 1, 1989 is required to complete a boating safety course to legally operate a motorized boat or personal watercraft (PWC) on Wisconsin waters.

BOAT REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS IN WISCONSIN

In order to legally operate a boat in the state of Wisconsin, you must obtain a Certificate of Number and validation decals. The Certificate of Number must be carried on board and be available for inspection by an enforcement officer during boat operation.

Registration application forms are available at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR) field offices, marinas, and at county clerk offices. You can renew your registration online at http://dnr.wi.gov/Permits/wivrs.html.

Boat registrations are valid for 3 years and expire March 31st of the third year.

Boat Registration Exemptions:

  • Human-powered craft.
  • Sailboards and sailboats under 12 feet in length (without a motor).
  • Boats registered in another state using Wisconsin waters for less than 60 consecutive days.

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 numbers 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 space at least 2 inches wide.
  • The numbers must be read from left to right.
  • Validation Decals must be placed in line with the registration number and placed 3 inches toward the stern.
  • These placement requirements also apply to personal watercraft (PWCs).

Other Registration Information

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR) must be notified within 15 days when:

  • A boat is lost, destroyed or abandoned.
  • The boat owner’s address changes.
  • The boat ownership is transferred.

Note: If registration documents or decals are destroyed or lost, you must apply to the WI DNR for a replacement and pay a fee.

BOATING AND ALCOHOL in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, it is illegal to operate a vessel or be towed by a device, such as water-ski, tube, or wakeboard, while intoxicated or under the influence of any controlled substance.

A recreational boater with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more shall be presumed to be under the influence of alcohol.

Wisconsin’s “Zero Tolerance” law prohibits persons younger than 21 from consuming alcohol and operating a vessel with any measurable alcohol level.

WISCONSIN’S BOAT ACCIDENT REPORTING REQUIREMENTS

A “reportable” boat incident is any incident (regardless of the number of boats involved) that results in loss of life, injuries that require medical treatment beyond first aid, boat or property damage in excess of $2,000, or complete loss of a boat.

Wisconsin law requires every boat operator involved in a reportable boat incident to report the incident without delay to law enforcement officials. In addition, within 10 days of the incident, the operator must submit a written report.

WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES CONTACT INFORMATION

For more information about safe boating in Wisconsin, contact the Department at:

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
101 S. Webster Street 
PO Box 7921  
Madison, Wisconsin
53707-7921

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