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Powerboating offers exciting opportunities for the recreational boater, whether to reach fishing not found on shorelines or to explore the Commonwealth's more than 200,000 acres of boatable waters. Enjoy powerboating by knowing how to operate, maneuver and navigate your boat so that all are safe on the water.


Minimum Age for Boat Operators

Before You Get on the Water

    • Make sure a life jacket in working order and correct for size and activity is available for each person on board.  
    • Check the weather forecast for where and when you are boating.
    • Have a float plan to let others know your trip.
    • Ensure the boat is in safe, operable condition.
    • Make everyone on board understand the safety rules and where to find safety equipment.
    • Know how to navigate and what the navigation aids mean.
    • Know the hazards on the water and how to avoid them. 
    • Keep a lookout and minimize distractions while underway.

Equipment and Maintenance

To ensure your boat is in peak working order on the water, practice regular and preventative boat maintenance including frequent equipment inspections (life jackets, throwable devices). Get more on maintenance checks for your boat and its equipment from the Boating Handbook.


Know launch and retrieve procedures and have everything ready before you back down the ramp. 


Wearing a life jacket when boarding is a common sense safety precaution. 

Small boats

Small boats require special care for balancing when boarding, loading/unloading, and moving about. Take care to distribute weight evenly and do not exceed capacity. Maintain three points of contact anytime moving about the boat. Keeping your weight low and centered helps with stability on a small boat.

Boat Trim

Keep the boat from listing (leaning to one side) by distributing weight equally from side to side. Avoid sudden, sharp turns and never exceed the boat’s capacity.

Boat Handling 

All boats handle differently. Get hands-on practice with a capable teacher to become proficient. A motorboat is most easily maneuvered going against the current or wind. A boat moving with the current must go faster than the speed of the current to maintain control and maneuverability. Boats do not have brakes. To reduce speed quickly, put the boat in reverse and apply power. Stopping in this manner requires practice to avoid water washing in over the stern. Consult the owner’s manual for proper procedures.

Docking and Departing

Learning to dock and depart requires practice with a capable teacher. Docking is also impacted by conditions like current, wind and waves. Depending on the situation, docking procedures vary. Fenders, mooring lines, a boat hook, and a heaving line should be ready. The approach to the dock should be planned. For more on docking procedures consult the Boating Handbook.

Proper Lookout

Boat operators must maintain a proper lookout at all times. Collisions and other types of accidents can be avoided by scanning all around the boat for swimmers, other boats, and obstructions. Listening for dangerous situations is also a part of maintaining a proper lookout. Passengers should be asked to assist.


Anchoring is an essential boating skill and can be an important safety device in an emergency. Become proficient in anchoring and make sure anchor and line are stored in an easily accessible place. Learn more in the Boating Handbook.