This publication provides basic information for most boaters and answers the most commonly asked questions. However, it is not all inclusive. For further information, please contact the Division of Law Enforcement, #1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601 or call 1-800-858-1549.
For emergencies, officers may be contacted by dialing 1-800-252-5378, or local law enforcement agency or through the nearest Kentucky State Police post. One may use marine channel 16 to contact a local marina.
(301 KAR 6:001, 6:010)
All mechanically powered vessels used primarily in this state must have a Kentucky registration. Boats are registered at the county clerk’s office. Persons may register in the county of their residence or the county of principal use. Boat registrations expire April 30 each year.
Boats registered in other states may be used for up to 60 consecutive days in Kentucky without registering here.
All boats operated in Kentucky must have the registration certificate on board. Boats that are rented from a marina or boat livery must have a lease agreement on board.
|BOAT REGISTRATION FEES
|Class A Vessels(less than 16’ in length)
|Class 1 Vessels(16’ to less than 26’ in length)
|Class 2 Vessels(26’ to less than 40’ in length)
|Class 3 Vessels(over 40’ in length)
|Inboard boats(regardless of size)
|Boats propelled by an electric (trolling) motor only
|The above costs do not include property taxes, clerks fees, titling fees or any other applicable charges. (301 KAR 6:005)
DISPLAY OF NUMBER AND DECAL
Once boats are assigned a registration number and decals, they must be displayed correctly. The number assigned, and no other, shall be displayed on the bow, or forward half, of each side of the vessel, read from left to right, and in a position to be distinctly visible. The letters and numbers must be of a plain block design, at least three (3) inches in height, and of a color that will provide maximum contrast to the background (light numbers on a dark hull or vice versa).
There must be a letter size space between letter and number groups:
Correct: KY 1234 AA
Registration decals are to be placed within six inches behind (aft) and in line with the registration number. Upon renewal every year, old registration decals are to be removed and the current ones applied.
Kentucky boaters on the Ohio River may also be subject to the laws of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and the U.S. Coast Guard.
TRANSFER, DESTRUCTION OR ABANDONMENT
When ownership of a currently registered boat changes, it is the responsibility of the purchaser to take the endorsed title to the county clerk and have the boat transferred into the name of the new owner. This procedure must be done upon completion of the transaction.
Whenever a vessel is transferred, the seller shall, within 15 days, give the county clerk notice of the transfer of his interest in the vessel.
Whenever a vessel is destroyed or abandoned, the owner shall, within 15 days, give notice to the county clerk to terminate the registration. The owner shall remove the numbers and decals from the vessel.
BOAT, MOTOR and LAKE USAGE
(301 KAR 1:012, 1:015)
A person must be 12 years or older to operate a motorboat (including personal watercraft) 10 horsepower or over on Kentucky public waters. A person 12-17 years old shall possess a Kentucky Safe Boating Certificate Card or a certificate showing successful completion of a NASBLA approved boater education course. For information about Kentucky’s Boater Education program, call 1-800-858-1549 or
. Persons under 12 years of age must wear a personal floatation device (lifejacket) while in the open portion of a boat that is under way.
Maximum horsepower limits and other boat motor and lake usage regulations apply on many small public fishing lakes. (For boat size limits see box on this page.)
MOTOR SIZE RESTRICTIONS:
Operation of electric or internal combustion motors prohibited: Lake Chumley, Dennie Gooch Lake, Kingdom Come Lake.
Operation of internal combustion motors prohibited: Bert T. Combs Lake, Briggs Lake, Carpenter and Kingfisher lakes, Carter Caves State Park Lake (a.k.a. Smoke Valley Lake), Lebanon City Lake (a.k.a. Fagan Branch Lake), Fishpond Lake, all Kentucky River WMA Boone Tract lakes (except Benjy Kinman Lake), Lincoln Homestead State Park Lake, McNeely Lake, Marion County Lake, Martin County Lake, Metcalfe County Lake, Mauzy Lake, Mill Creek Lake, Lake Reba, Spurlington Lake, Washburn Lake, Pikeville City Lake.
Motors larger than 10 HP must operate at idle speed at all times on Beaver Lake, Boltz Lake, Bullock Pen Lake, Corinth Lake, Elmer Davis Lake, Kincaid Lake, Shanty Hollow Lake, Swan Lake, Cranks Creek (Herb Smith) Lake and Martins Fork Lake.
Idle Speed Only: Ballard WMA lakes, Benjy Kinman Lake, Boatwright WMA lakes, Beulah Lake, Carnico Lake, Greenbo Lake, Pan Bowl Lake, Wilgreen Lake and all Peabody WMA lakes including Goose, Island and South.
Lake Malone and Lake Beshear: No horsepower restrictions on boat motors.
Horsepower limits on several lakes changed after publication of the print guide. This version reflects the current regulations.
While this section is titled waterskiing, it applies to persons being towed on any device such as knee boards, inner tubes, etc. Water-skiing is only allowed between sunrise and sunset. Additionally, it is illegal to manipulate skis, surfboards, etc. while intoxicated or under the influence of any other substance that impairs one’s operating ability.
Both the operator and skier should be alert to the areas of a lake or river marked as “no ski.” Persons shall not ski within 100 feet of a commercial boat dock, a moorage harbor or a swimming area or within 2,000 feet of a lock or dam.
Skiers who ski too close to other boats, docks and obstructions are showing poor judgment. Many of the complaints officers receive while patrolling the water are those about skiers skiing too close.
Persons being towed on any device must wear a Type I, II or III PFD. Boats (including personal watercraft) towing skiers must have, in addition to the operator of the boat, an observer 12 years of age or older or a wide angle rearview mirror mounted so that the operator can check on the skier but still give full attention to traffic ahead. There must be adequate seating for all riders.
Boats towing kites and similar airborne devices must:
- Have, in addition to the operator, an observer 12 years or older (mirror will not suffice),
- Stay 500 feet from commercial docks and ramps,
- Limit the tow rope to 150 feet or less,
- Have no more than two persons being towed.
ON ALL KENTUCKY FISH & WILDLIFE-OWNED/MANAGED LAKES:
- Boaters must use idle speed (slowest speed possible to maintain maneuverability of a boat) when passing another boat with an occupant actively engaged in fishing.
- The centerline of boats on the water cannot exceed 22 feet as measured on deck or bow to stern on all lakes owned or managed by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
- On Cedar Creek Lake, Lake Beshear and Lake Malone only, float boats may have decking and pontoons up to 30 feet; on Guist Creek Lake pontoon max length is 24 feet. There is no size restriction on canoes.
- Houseboats are not permitted.
- Personal watercrafts are prohibited on Cedar Creek Lake.
- Swimming is permitted only in designated areas when a qualified lifeguard is on duty.
- Skin or scuba diving is not permitted.
- Boat motors without underwater exhaust are not permitted.
Water-skiing permitted as designated by signs on Guist Creek Lake and Lake Beshear from 10:00 a.m. to sunset beginning the third Thursday in May (May 16, 2019) through September 30. Similarly, water-skiing is permitted on Lake Malone beginning the third Thursday in May (May 16, 2019) through October 31. Water-skiing and tubing are prohibited on Cedar Creek Lake.
The term “personal watercraft” (PWC) means a vessel which uses an internal combustion engine to power a jet pump for its primary source of propulsion and is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling on the vessel rather than by a person sitting or standing inside the vessel. In addition to being governed by the same laws that apply to all boats, the following laws apply to personal watercraft:
- Personal watercraft can only be operated between sunrise and sunset.
- Personal watercraft without self-circling capability must have a lanyard type engine kill switch attached to the operator when the craft is underway.
- Operators and passengers must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD.)
Because of their small size and low profile, operators of PWCs should exercise defensive driving. These craft are highly responsive and capable of quick turns. In fact, this is part of the fun of their operation. However, this kind of operation is reckless if done in congested areas of boat traffic.
SKIN AND SCUBA DIVING
(301 KAR 1:410, 6:030)
Skin or SCUBA diving is prohibited in all lakes owned or managed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, except during emergencies, on Greenbo Lake and during salvage operations when the diver has written permission from the regional director or local wildlife and boating law enforcement officer assigned to the specific body of water in which the diving is to take place.
Persons diving or submerging with the aid of a mechanical breathing apparatus in an area where boats might be are required by law to display the diver’s flag.
This flag should be put on a buoy, boat or other floating platform so boaters will readily see it. Approaching boats must stay outside of a 100-foot radius of the flag. Divers must surface within a 50-foot radius unless there is an emergency.
Divers shall not dive in established traffic lanes nor interfere with anyone fishing unless emergency operations are in progress.
Swimming in any lake owned or managed by the KDFWR is prohibited except in areas specifically set aside for swimming at which a qualified lifeguard is on duty. Kentucky law specifically prohibits swimming at any boat launching ramp. Swim in marked and supervised areas. If you are a non-swimmer or a poor swimmer, wear a PFD. Remember, PFDs are not just for boaters.
Refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages when swimming. Alcohol greatly reduces a person’s reflexes and strength when in the water. For persons who have had alcoholic beverages a PFD is the difference between life and death.
Persons who wish to swim a long distance should swim parallel to the shore instead of across a river or lake. Boaters don’t normally expect to see swimmers in the middle of a lake or river and may run over them.
Air mattresses, inner tubes and other similar devices are generally used as recreational items by persons swimming or sunbathing. Use of these items should be restricted to designated or generally recognized swimming areas and not be used in areas of boat traffic. Non-swimmers or poor swimmers should not depend on these devices to save their life. These items can be punctured and lose their buoyancy – wear a PFD!
The operator of any motorboat or vessel is responsible for any litter thrown into the water. Litter is not only unsightly, but can be dangerous to humans and animals. For example, fishing line discarded into the water can be hazardous to wildlife and to a boat’s lower unit. Animals can be ensnared in the line and die. Fishing line caught on a prop shaft can cause seal leaks and lower unit failure. Trot lines and limb lines can snare animals and other anglers in boats.
The operator of a watercraft is responsible for damage caused by negligent operation. The following actions are considered reckless operation and are therefore against the law:
- weaving through traffic;
- following watercraft too closely that is towing an individual on waterskis, a surfboard or any water sport device;
- jumping the wake of another craft in a way that endangers human life, physical safety or property;
- cutting between a boat and the individual(s) being towed by the boat;
- crossing the path of another boat when visibility is obstructed;
- steering toward an object or individual in the water and turning sharply at close range.
Persons shall not operate a motorboat or personal watercraft within 50 feet of a commercial vessel and its tow that is in operation on a waterway, except if the operator of the commercial vessel has given consent.
When operating in a busy area, reduce speed and allow plenty of room for avoidance maneuvers. Even in areas that are not marked as idle speed, excessive wake can still be dangerous. Operators of larger craft should be aware of the wake their vessels are throwing.
Kentucky law defines idle speed as the “slowest speed possible to maintain maneuverability” of a boat. Generally speaking for a properly adjusted boat, this is the speed when a boat is put into gear without advancing the throttle. Wakes can capsize small boats or cause damage to boats moored at marinas and docks. It is extremely important that boat operators be aware of their speed and the resulting wake. Operators are liable for any injuries or damage caused by their boat’s wake.
Boaters may see buoys or signs that say “No Wake.” This means that boats must be at idle speed.
LOCKS AND DAMS
Boaters in Kentucky may encounter lock and dam systems. Generally, these will be on the Green, Ohio and Kentucky Rivers (for the first four locks upstream to Frankfort, KY), but a few impoundments have a lock and dam. Locks are a relatively simple method of raising or lowering boats from one water level to another. If lockage is desired, boaters should signal the lock operator by using the pull chain on each end of the lock or call on marine channel 13. If the lock is not immediately available, boaters should position their vessels a safe distance from the approach channel to avoid personal injury or damage to their boat from wakes caused by commercial tows entering or leaving the locks. Never moor a vessel in the lock approach channels.
LOW HEAD DAMS ARE DANGEROUS
Low head dams are usually marked with “keep out” buoys or “danger” signs above and below. Low head dams pose an even greater danger due to the fact that they are not as recognizable, especially when water is flowing over them. It is this flow of water over the dam that creates a “boil” on the lower side. Boaters risk almost certain death if caught in this turbulence.
Dams associated with the locks can be very dangerous. Below locks and dams on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers waterways and the Kentucky River, boat occupants must wear a personal floatation device (lifejacket) upstream of danger signs and open-diamond buoys or within 150 feet of the downstream lock and dam wall. Anglers should never fish from or stand on lock and dam structures.
Boaters should be alert for these structures. Dams are either conventional or "low head" type. Conventional dams are easily recognizable with their spillways and power installations.
Kentucky law prohibits boats from operating within restricted areas as posted above or below navigation, power generating or flood control dams.
No fish is worth risking your life. Be aware of trespassing and danger zones. Wear a PFD when entering any area above or below a dam.
OPERATING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
It is against the law to operate a boat or vessel including personal watercraft, manipulate water skis, surfboard or other similar device while intoxicated or under the influence of any other substance that impairs one’s driving ability. Any person who operates a vessel on Kentucky waters is considered to have given consent to a test or tests to determine his alcohol concentration or the presence of other drugs. The tests shall be administered at the direction of a law enforcement officer who has probable cause to believe that the operator is intoxicated. An operator refusing the test shall be in violation of the law and subject to the same penalties.
Anyone who operates a boat, PWC, skis, surfboard or similar device while intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher or while under the influence of any substance that impairs the operator’s driving ability may be subject to fines and possible jail time if convicted.