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When boaters purchase fuel for their boat, they pay state and federal Liquid Fuels Taxes. The state tax is refunded to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) where it is used to provide benefits for boaters. The amount of tax refunded to the PFBC by the State Treasury is based on the fuel usage information boaters supply when completing the Boat Fuel Usage Survey administered by the PFBC.


The PFBC periodically surveys registered motorboat owners with questions to help estimate the amount of fuel purchased for their boats. The surveys are conducted by an independent research firm on behalf of the PFBC. The survey usually involves:

    • Postcard and email invitations that are sent to a random sampling of owners with a registered motorboat.
    • Invitations containing a single-use link to an online survey where boat owners are asked several questions intended to help them recall the number of gallons of fuel purchased and consumed.
    • The questions are designed to gather information about the number of times the boat was used, the average amount of fuel used per trip, the number of times fuel was purchased, and the average number of gallons purchased.
    • Answers to these questions are tallied and used to calculate the estimated fuel usage for all registered motorboats.

The final survey report submitted by the research firm to the PFBC contains the total estimated fuel usage by recreational boaters in Pennsylvania. The PFBC uses the survey results to submit a petition to the PA Department of Treasury through its Board of Finance and Revenue for a refund of the state fuels taxes paid by recreational boaters.  As part of this process, the PFBC's petition is reviewed by the PA Department of Transportation and audited by the PA Department of Revenue.  For calendar year 2022, the PFBC's refund request was slightly more than $12 million.  In addition to being a primary funding source for the repair of PFBC-managed hazardous dams, state fuels tax refunds are invested in programs and services that benefit power boaters, including:

Boat Access Area Maintenance and Development – There are nearly 800 publicly accessible access areas, also known as boat launches, located throughout the Commonwealth. The PFBC owns, leases, or manages roughly 300 of these sites. The PFBC spends nearly $2 million annually on these facilities for routine maintenance services like grass cutting, litter pickup, ramp and dock repairs, parking lot paving and grading, and the clearing of flood damages and debris.

Boating Handbook – This convenient handbook provides boaters with important boating regulations they need to know to have a safe and enjoyable experience when operating watercraft on Pennsylvania waterways. The Pennsylvania Boating Handbook is the "textbook" for PFBC's Basic Boating course.

Boating Accident Investigation – The PFBC investigates recreational boating accidents and reviews accident reports submitted by boaters. Accident analysis and statistics assist the PFBC and the U.S. Coast Guard with establishing appropriate educational programs and legal requirements to ensure the safety and enjoyment of everyone on the water.

Aids to Navigation – The PFBC is responsible for the Commonwealth's Aids to Navigation System, the waterways' road signs. This system was developed by the U.S. Coast Guard to warn and advise recreational boaters of natural or artificial obstructions or hazards, and to mark restricted or controlled areas. Buoys, beacons, signs, and other on-the-water markers help guide boaters by warning them of dangers, advising them of special marine situations, and aiding them in finding their way.

Boating Safety Education – Boating safety education is important, even for experienced boaters. The PFBC administers a nationally approved boating safety education program and issues Boating Safety Education Certificates to people who successfully complete an approved course. Learn more about our boating safety education courses.

Law Enforcement – The PFBC provides specialized training to its Waterways Conservation Officers (WCOs) that focuses on all aspects of watercraft safety. WCOs enforce all boating laws and investigate boating accidents. WCOs work to detect, apprehend, and prosecute alcohol-impaired and drug-impaired watercraft operators. They also assist with presenting boating safety education classes.

Water TrailsWater trails are boat routes suitable for canoes, kayaks, and some motorized watercraft. Like conventional trails, water trails are recreational corridors between specific locations. The PFBC provides technical assistance and guidance to water trail managers to support the local development, stewardship and safe use of water trails, access points, and boat launches.

Administering the Boat Fuel Usage Survey and refund request is a team effort of the Commission's bureaus of Administration, Boating, and Information Technology, with oversight and coordination by the Deputy Executive Director for Administration.