An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
Beginning October 7, any unpaid boat registration due at the end of September or earlier will be considered past due. Please check your county clerk office for complete information on how to renew your registration.
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.
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 AAIncorrect: KY1234AA
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.
(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
click here . 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:
ON ALL KENTUCKY FISH & WILDLIFE-OWNED/MANAGED LAKES:
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:
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:
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.
SMALL CRAFT PRECAUTIONS
Statistics show that approximately half the boat-related fatalities involve boats that are less than 16’ in length. These boats are usually unstable and can tip over, throwing the occupants overboard. Also, these boats can be easily swamped, especially if used on a large body of water where the wind can cause high waves. When using such craft, be aware of the hazards. Wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) is strongly recommended.
DRINKING IN PUBLIC AND PUBLIC INTOXICATION
Kentucky law specifically prohibits the drinking of alcoholic beverages in public places (this excludes establishments licensed to sell such beverages) and the waterways of this state are considered public places.
Further, in a public place, persons who are manifestly under the influence of alcoholic beverages to the extent that they may unreasonably annoy or endanger themselves or others shall be subject to arrest.
Approximately half of boat related fatalities result from falls overboard. When operating a motorboat above idle speed the operator or passengers shall not ride on an enclosed bow, outside protective railing of a pontoon or houseboat, on a seat which extends six inches above the plane of the gunwales, nor shall they ride on the sides, back, engine cover, back of seat, or any other obviously dangerous position which could lead to falling overboard.
Boats Keep Out!Nature of danger may be placed outside crossed diamond, e.g., waterfalls, swim areas or rapids.
Danger!Nature of danger may be indicated inside the diamond shape, e.g., rocks, reefs, dams, construction or snags.
Caution!Controlled Areas as indicated in circle, e.g., speed limit, no fishing, no anchoring, ski-only, slow-no wake, no ski or no prop boats.
InformationTells directions, distances, places such as food, repair, supplies and other non-regulatory messages.
ObstructionMarker Do not pass between shore and buoy.
Mooring BuoyWhite with reflective blue band. May have white light or reflector.
Channel MarkerKeep buoy on right facing upstream.
Channel MarkerKeep buoy on left facing upstream. Marker may be green or black.
Boaters on the water encounter three situations: meeting, crossing and overtaking. The following diagrams should give a clear explanation of who has the right of way (stand-on vessel) and who must give way (give-way vessel). However, in an emergency, all vessels must give way to avoid a collision. At night, a boat’s navigation lights give an indication of right of way.On the water there are no painted lines to mark where boats must go. In order to provide an orderly flow of traffic, there are “rules of the road” that boaters should learn and practice.
The above rules cover most traffic situations, but a few other situations exist. Sailboats under sail have the right of way except when they are the overtaking vessel. Rowboats and paddle powered boats have the right of way over motorboats. All recreational craft should yield the right of way to large commercial craft (towboats, barges). Such vessels have large blind spots and will be unable to see smaller crafts in front of them.
On small or narrow bodies of water, all traffic should stay to the right of mid-channel and not “cut corners”.
Buoys are the most common types of navigational aid, and they serve the same purpose as traffic signs on the highway. Failure to obey buoys can result in enforcement action, or worse, a loss of property or lives. When boating in unfamiliar waters, slow down and look for any regulatory or channel-marking buoys. Remember that it is possible for these buoys to drift out of position. Kentucky law prohibits from tying up to any buoy except designated mooring buoys.
For each person onboard a vessel, federal as well as state law requires a Type I, II, or III personal flotation device (PFD) on all boats. Boats 16 feet and over, except canoes and kayaks, must also carry one Type IV throwable PFD. Operators and passengers of personal watercraft must wear a PFD. Persons under 12 years of age must wear a PFD while in the open part of a boat that is under way.
PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICES
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife strongly recommends wearing PFDs while boating, especially by children and non-swimmers. In order for PFDs to be legal, the following requirements must be met:
Kentucky law requires that all boats equipped with a petroleum product (gasoline, kerosene, propane, etc.) consuming device (engines, lanterns, stoves, etc.) shall have a hand portable fire extinguisher in serviceable condition and located for immediate use. The best fire protection is well maintained equipment and proper safety habits.
There are fuels other than gasoline that cause fires. Many houseboats use bottled gas (propane) for stoves and other appliances. Also, many fishermen will use a lantern while fishing at night; if tipped over it can cause a fire.
BACKFIRE FLAME ARRESTERS
Internal combustion engines may backfire. To safeguard against fire, all motorboats with enclosed engines and engines originally equipped with a flame arrester, (except outboards and diesels) must have an approved carburetor backfire flame arrester system on each carburetor.
Most fires on a boat are due to ignition of fuel vapors. Gasoline is heavier than air. It can collect in the bilge or engine compartment and any spark can ignite it. Therefore, Kentucky law requires boats to have adequate ventilation of areas where flammable vapors can accumulate.
Most boats are equipped with adequate ventilation systems when they come from the factory. Usually, this is a combination of active and passive systems. Active systems use electrical blowers to exhaust flammable vapors from the bilge and other areas. Passive systems are ducts and cowls that ventilate areas when the boat is moving. Almost all inboards will have an electrical blower installed in the engine compartment. Operators should run the blower for several minutes before starting the engine. If the blower is inoperable it should be repaired or replaced immediately. Many boat fires take place after refueling, so care should be taken to avoid spilling fuel in the vessel.
All vessels when underway between sunset and sunrise must display proper navigation lights. Navigation lights on boats are restricted to the colors of red, green and white.
From sunset to sunrise in an area where other boats navigate, all vessels at anchor shall display a steady white light visible 360 degrees at all times. Manually propelled vessels shall carry a white light to display in sufficient time to avoid a collision.
The purpose of the red and green navigation lights at night is to show if your boat is in a meeting, crossing or overtaking situation. The red and green lights must be displayed from sunset to sunrise whenever a boat is underway. They will give some indication of the size and speed of vessels. The red and green bow lights are especially helpful in determining right of way in crossing situations. In the diagram below, boat B sees the green bow light of boat A, and has the right of way to continue on course. Boat A sees the red bow light of boat B and must stop or pass astern of boat B. In special circumstances, such as towing, refer to 33 CFR 83 (Inland Navigation Rules).
Kentucky law states that all boats 16 feet in length or longer must have a hand-, mouth- or power-operated signaling device capable of producing a blast for two seconds or more and audible for one-half mile for class 1 vessels, one mile for class two vessels and one and one-half miles for class three vessels. This does not exempt vessels from any other signaling device as may be required by federal law when operating on navigable waters of this state.
Navigation law also requires the following maneuvering and warning signals:
Kentucky law requires all boats to be equipped with effective exhaust muffling devices. Usually, boats and motors that come direct from the manufacturer are adequately muffled. However, there may be instances of high performance boats that have been modified by the owners that are not in compliance with the law. Additionally, there may be federal and/or local regulations restricting boats with an over-the-transom exhaust system.
MARINE SANITATION DEVICES
Motorboats with marine toilets are not allowed on public waters unless the toilet is equipped with a Type I, II or III marine sanitation device (MSD.) Type I and II MSDs chemically treat sewage. Type III MSDs are holding tanks for raw sewage.
Raw sewage shall not be discharged in any public waters. Treated sewage may be discharged from a marine toilet into legal “discharge” waters. Those waters are Barkley and Kentucky lakes, Lake Cumberland and any of the major river systems. Type I and II MSDs must be sealed or locked while the vessel is on “no discharge” waters.
(301 KAR 6:030, KRS 235.250)
If any of the following conditions occur as the result of a boating accident, collision, etc., a Boating Accident Report must be made:
The operator of a vessel is required to complete the report. If the operator is not capable of filing the report and is not the owner of the vessel, then the owner shall be required to fill out a boating accident report.
Note 1: Even if a Law Enforcement Officer fills out a boating accident report, this does not exempt the operator from filing a report.
Note 2: The reports filed by operators of vessels are confidential and are not available as public record (KRS 235.250). However, reports made by officers are available for review.
Accidents involving death or serious injury must be submitted to the Division of Law Enforcement within 48 hours. All others must be submitted within five days.
Boating accident report forms are available from wildlife and boating law enforcement officers or by writing to Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Division of Law Enforcement, #1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601, by calling 1-800-858-1549 or
An operator of a vessel involved in a boating accident shall render aid to other persons and vessels as long as it doesn’t endanger his crew, passengers or vessel. Also, the operator of any vessel involved in an accident shall give his name, address, and identification of his vessel, in writing, to any person that is injured or to the owner of any property that is damaged.
This section includes suggestions that may save a life. First, boats should be equipped with a first aid kit. This kit should be able to provide treatment for burns, insect bites, cuts and abrasions.
Second, boaters should take a first aid course so they know how to treat victims with sprains, broken bones and shock.
Third, boaters should know how to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) in case they encounter victims of near drowning, heart attack or trauma from boating accidents. In many cases, emergency medical help is further away on the water than on land. Interested persons should contact their local chapter of the American Red Cross for information on first aid and CPR training.
Four elements cause hypothermia – cold, moisture, wind and exhaustion. Symptoms of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech, stumbling, blue skin, decreased heart and breathing rate, weak pulse and unconsciousness.
All hypothermia symptoms demand immediate attention. As soon as possible, a victim of hypothermia should be brought out of the weather. Wet clothing should be replaced with dry clothing. If the victim shows mild symptoms, get them near a fire or other heat source or put them in a warm sleeping bag. For victims with advanced symptoms of hypothermia, seek immediate medical attention. Never give alcohol to the victim.
The best cure for hypothermia is prevention. Monitor weather reports when you plan to be in the outdoors. Dress in layers and always have foul-weather gear handy.
Boaters should be aware of the factors that induce fatigue while on the water. The wind, sun, engine noise and constant motion of the boat can greatly reduce a person’s reaction time.