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Boating FAQs

1. What boating opportunities will I find in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania provides nearly unlimited opportunities for recreational boaters. PA has 85,000 miles of rivers and streams ranging from headwaters to major river systems. Also, 76 natural lakes that provide 5,266 acres of flatwater. An additional 2,300 constructed impoundments provide another 200,000 acres of boatable waters. Lake Erie has over 63 miles of shoreline and 735 square miles of waters within PA boundaries. The Delaware River provides 56 miles of tidal waters within PA, providing access to the Atlantic Ocean.

A number of water trails suitable for canoes, kayaks and small motorized watercraft, are located throughout PA. Online trail guides and maps are available for many of them.

2. What should I know about boating regulations before I go?

A good place to start is the online version of the PA Boating Handbook (PDF). This booklet is the textbook used in all of our boating safety classes. It provides detailed explanation of boating regulations and safety information.

NOTE: You may have to register or title your boat to use your boat in Pennsylvania. We have a separate FAQ that discusses boat registration and titling requirements.

3. Do I need a boating safety education certificate to operate my boat on Pennsylvania waters?

Boating Safety Education Certificates are required:

    • to operate a personal watercraft
    • for persons born on or after January 1, 1982, to operate boats powered by motors greater than 25 horsepower

The Fish & Boat Commission encourages all boat operators to obtain boating education training, we believe an educated boater is a safe boater. You can get training several ways:

    • By taking a classroom course sponsored by one of the many volunteer boating safety groups across the Commonwealth.
    • Online courses can be taken at Boat Pennsylvania, the only place to get a boating safety education certificate online. Once at the site, you may take the course as many times as you want. There is a small fee to take the final exam and receive your certificate.
    • Home video courses are also offered at Boat Pennsylvania.

We have much more information about boating safety requirements and available courses on our Boating Courses page.

4. I lost my boating safety certificate, how do I get a new one?

Use the Duplicate Safety Certificate Application Form (PDF) to apply for a duplicate or replacement Commission Boating Safety Education Certificate OR to convert the certificate you earned from another approved organization (classroom course only - ex., USCG Auxiliary, US Power Squadrons) to a permanent one issued by the Commission. A nominal fee is charged.

5. Where can I find places to launch my boat?

Our county guide interactive maps highlight and list boat access areas throughout Pennsylvania (in addition to providing much more valuable fishing and boating information). Maps are available for each county in Pennsylvania and can be viewed online and are easily printed using your home printer.

Another good place to find access is at one of Pennsylvania's state parks. The PA Department of Conservation and Resources (DCNR) oversees these parks. A complete list of parks and much more information is available at their website or you can call 888-Pa-Parks.

6. Are there any boating waters that limit the horsepower of boats?

Yes, many lakes in Pennsylvania have special boating regulations which limit the horsepower of boats. All Fish and Boat Commission and Game Commission lakes are restricted to electric motors only. Several larger state park lakes allow motors up to 20 horsepower. A complete list of waters and their restrictions is available online.

State parks managed by the PA Department of Conservation and Resources (DCNR) may have additional regulations specific to individual parks.

7. Do I need to carry visual distress signals?

Visual distress signals (VDS) are only required when operating on Lake Erie, although they are a good idea everywhere.

Between the hours of sunset and sunrise, boats less than 16 feet in length must carry VDS suitable for use at night.

Boats 16 feet and over must at all times carry VDS suitable for both day and night use. Approved day use devices include orange smoke and orange signal flags. Flare type VDS must be carried for night use.

A minimum of three flares must be carried. These must be Coast Guard approved. All flare devices have an expiration date and to be legal the flares cannot be older than the expiration date. We recommend that expired devices continue to be carried onboard for backup in an emergency. If you are disposing of expired devices, please do so in an appropriate manner.

8. My new boat has an onboard toilet. Can I dump it into Pennsylvania waters?

It is illegal to dump untreated sewage or gray-water from boats in any water of the Commonwealth. If your boat's toilet is fitted with a Coast Guard approved marine sanitation device, you may discharge the treated waste in some waters. The ONLY waters where treated wastewater may be discharged are: the Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio, Delaware and Susquehanna rivers; and the Allegheny Resevoir, Youghiogheny Lake and Lake Erie.

Our preference is that you discard your waste at one of the Clean Vessel Pumpout Locations located throughout PA....go to the online list.

9. May my child operate a boat?

A person 11 years of age or younger may NOT operate a personal watercraft or a boat propelled by a motor greater than 25 horsepower. A person 12 through 15 years of age may NOT operate a personal watercraft if there are any passengers onboard 15 years of age or younger.

A personal watercraft (PWC) is a boat less than 16 feet in length that uses an internal combustion motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of propulsion. It is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling rather than in the conventional manner of boat operation. Some better known brand names include Jet Ski®, Sea Doo®, Wave Runner®, Tiger Shark®, Wet Jet®, etc. We have a seperate FAQ that discusses PWC.

10. Where can I rent a boat?

We maintain a list of liveries (places where you can rent a boat) located throughout Pennsylvania.

Most of the State Park (DCNR) and Corps of Engineers operated lakes have a boat rental concession.

11. Where can I find a charter boat or fishing guide?

Commercial charter boats and fishing guides can voluntarily register with the Commission..

12. Do you have a list of marinas in Pennsylvania?

Yes, here is a list of Pennsylvania marinas.

Many of our Boat Registration Issuing Agents also operate marinas or are boat dealers, you can check out our online list to find an agent near you.

The Commission owns and maintains, through a contractor, a full service marina on Lake Erie in Northeast, PA.

13. What kind of lights do I need to put on my boat?

As this depends on the type and length of your vessel, please refer to Chapter 4 (PDF) of the PA Boating Handbook for specific requirements for your boat.

14. When should I report a boating accident?

The operator of a boat must report a boating accident when one or more of the following conditions exist:

    1. A person dies. (Immediate notification required; written report must be submitted within 48 hours.)
    2. A person is injured and requires medical treatment beyond first aid. (Written report must be submitted within 48 hours.)
    3. Damage to the vessel(s) and other property totals $2,000 or more or there is a complete loss of any vessel. (Written report must be submitted within 10 days.)
    4. A person disappears from the boat under circumstances that indicate death or injury is likely. (Immediate notification required; written report must be submitted within 48 hours.)

The Boating Accident Report (PDF) form must be completely and legibly filled out by the operator or owner (if the operator is unable).

15. How do I register and/or title an abandoned, non-titled boat found on my property?

In order to be considered for registration and/or title using the following steps, the boat must be abandoned on the applicant’s private property and the property must be located in Pennsylvania. The boat must also be non-titled.

Step 1. Customer:

Complete form PFBC-R2 (PDF), Notice of Intent to Register Boats Abandoned on Private Property. Make a copy for your records (you will need it in Step 5) and mail the original form to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110.

Step 2. Commission:

Upon receipt of PFBC-R2, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (Commission) will notify the last registered owner on record. The registered owner, if any, will have thirty (30) days to remove the abandoned boat from the property.

Step 3. Customer:

You must confirm with the Commission that the boat in question qualifies as an abandoned boat on private property. This step MUST be completed prior to completing Step 4.

Step 4. Customer:

Place a notice in a newspaper of general circulation published in the county where the boat is located for three (3) consecutive days. The notice must describe the boat, its location, the date it was abandoned and any identifying numbers. You must also state in the notice that if the boat is not claimed and removed within thirty (30) days after publication in the newspaper, you will apply for registration and/or title of the boat in your name.

Step 5. Customer:

    • After the notice described in Step 4 has expired, but no earlier than sixty (60) days after you first notified the Commission, you may apply to the Commission for registration and/or title of the boat in your name(s) by submitting the following items to the address provided in Step 1:

(a) A statement made under penalty of law that the boat has been abandoned for at least three (3) months on your property. Form PFBC-R5 (PDF), Statement of Abandoned Boat, is available for this purpose;
(b) Proof that you provided notice to the Commission of your intent to register the boat (a copy of Form PFBC-R2, submitted in Step 1, satisfies this requirement);
(c) Proof that a notice was published in a newspaper as required by Step 4 (a copy of the paid ad and a copy of the header from the front page of the newspaper); and
(d) A completed form REV-336, Application for Pennsylvania Boat Registration and/or Title, with the appropriate fees.

Step 6. Commission:

    • Upon receipt of the required materials and payment of fees, the Commission will register and/or title the boat in your name(s) and will send you a validation decal and a registration card.

16. I would like to find out more about the regulations on tubing. We heard about a regulation saying we are not allowed to launch our tubes from the state access area into the river. How can this be? You mean to tell me the state of Pennsylvania has a law against tubing on the river?

Pennsylvania has no general law prohibiting launching of inner tubes or tubing on the Pennsylvania rivers. There is no special fee to tube on Pennsylvania waters.

Whether it is legal to launch or retrieve inner tubes at particular access areas depends on the regulations for those sites. Under Fish and Boat Commission regulations (58 Pa. Code 53.16(c)), it is unlawful to launch or retrieve swimming aids, such as inner tubes and similar devices, from access areas managed for fishing and boating by the Commission.

Why? As a general proposition, Commonwealth properties managed by the state Fish and Boat Commission are maintained for use by anglers and boaters for fishing and boating. In Pennsylvania, the Fish and Boat Commission operates on funds acquired from the sale of fishing licenses, related permits and boat registrations. It receives no general tax funding like most state agencies do. Activities, such as inner tubing, may interfere with the fishing and boating uses for which these properties were acquired and maintained. Persons who use a Fish and Boat Commission access area to park a car and launch or retrieve an inner tube may be taking up space reserved for (and paid for by) anglers and boaters. In addition, the incompatibility between swimming and use of swimming aids raises safety concerns when it occurs in close proximity to a launch ramp used by power boats. Field reports show that, in many cases, these are incompatible activities, and the Fish and Commission is duty bound to prevent activities incompatible with fishing and boating at PFBC access areas.

17. I am a Pennsylvania resident who owns a federally-documented motorboat, which I use for recreation. I've been told that Pennsylvania law requires me to register my boat. I want to comply with the law, but I don't believe I owe Pennsylvania sales/use tax on this boat. Can I still register it?

Yes. The Fish and Boat Commission will process the registration of a federally-documented boat used for recreation where the owner does not remit the sales tax because he or she believes no sales/use taxes are owed.

Pennsylvania law requires that federally-documented boats used for recreation be registered when Pennsylvania is the state of principal use. The owner must register the boat, and obtain a registration card and display a validation decal.  State registration numbers are not displayed on documented boats. The registration requirements are set forth in Act 1996-73.

All Pennsylvania boat owners are, of course, expected to pay all applicable sales/use taxes on their boats.  A person registering a boat in Pennsylvania ordinarily pays sales/use tax at the time of purchase of the boat.  Sales/use tax on boats purchased outside the state or in a private transaction are usually paid at the time of registration.

However,  there may be a few cases where a person registering a boat does not pay Pennsylvania state sales/use tax at the time of registration.  The person registering the boat may not believe he or she owes sales/use taxes because, for example, he or she paid them at the time of purchase some years ago.  In such a case, the registration can still be completed. The applicant should submit sales/use tax information using a form provided by the Commission. The Fish and Boat Commission will then process the registration and issue the registration certificate and decal.

The Commission will forward the sales/use tax information to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, which will review it and determine whether any sales/use taxes are due and owing. If the Department of Revenue notifies the Fish and Boat Commission that a holder of a boat registration has not paid required sales/use taxes, the registrant may not be able to renew his/her registration when it expires.

18. I own a canoe that I have registered with the Commission for several years now. This registration for a non-powered boat is current. I plan on adding a small electric motor to help me get around on the lake near my house. Do I need to register the boat as a powerboat now? If so, what amount should I pay? I've already paid the fee for a non-powered registration - does that amount get credited if I re-register as a power boat?

Registration is required on any boat that uses some form of a motor (including an electric motor) as a form of propulsion, so yes, you will need to register your boat as a motorboat. While most people realize that a boat with a large outboard motor needs to be registered, some don't know that even a canoe with an electric motor is considered a "motorboat" and is required to be registered as such.

People who do not use a motor may register their boat as a non-powered boat. Registration fees for motorboats are based on the length of the boat being registered. All registrations are issued on a 2-year cycle. Fees are listed on our Boat Registration/Titling FAQ.

To upgrade any non-powered registration, you will need to complete form REV-336 (PDF) (Sections B, C & K). Indicate at the top of the form "REGISTRATION UPGRADE." In Section D (Boat Data) the owner must indicate the new propulsion and fuel codes.

As for the fees, you will owe the difference between the non-powered fee you already paid and the motorized fee. The Commission will then issue you a new registration card and decals.