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Rules for Safety

The Water Patrol is responsible for educating citizens on the responsible use of boats and other equipment on the lakes and for ensuring safety through effective law enforcement. Boaters must yield the right of way to a patrol boat and should reduce speed to no wake. “NO WAKE” means the speed at which a boat moves as slowly as possible while still maintaining steerage control. Boaters must stop immediately when signaled by a Patrol Officer and/or a blue flashing light. To aid the Water Patrol in emergencies, ftre numbers should be put on ends of piers to identify one’s property.
Boat Registration
All power boats, including those with electric trolling motors and those moored in Wisconsin 60 consecutive days, and sailboats over 12′ in length must be registered. Valid registration numbers and decals must be displayed. Wisconsin registrations are for three-year periods and expire March 31 of the year shown on the decal.
Personal Floatation Device (PFD)/Life Jacket
It is unlawful to operate any boat unless one of the following PFD’s of the proper size is available for each person on board:
  • Type I Offshore Life Jacket is designed to turn most unconscious wearers face-up in the water and should be worn in rough open water.
  • Type II Near-Shore Buoyant Vest, horse-collar bib, is designed for calm, inland water where quick rescue is possible.
  • Type III Flotation Aid Nest is designed for water sport activities such as water-skiing, windsurfing, wake­boarding, riding personal watercraft (PWC) and ftshing. Type II or III should be worn by children and non­swimmers when underway on the Chain.
  • Type IV Throwable is a buoyant boat cushion or life ring. Each boat 16 feet or longer, except canoes and kayaks unless motorized, must have at least one Type IV Throwable that is readily accessible.
  • Type V Special Use Device or Hybrid Inflatable is legal only if inflated and requires regular maintenance. It is not recommended for children or non-swimmers or for use in water sport activities.
Navigation Lights
Navigation lights must be on from sunset to sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility when under way. A center combination light or side lights on the bow must shine red to port (left) and green to starboard (right). A white stern light must shine 360 degrees. Non-motorized boats must have a white lantern or flashlight that must be shown in time to avoid collision.
Right of Way Designations
Obey the rules of the road. When two motorboats are directly approaching each other, each boat shall bear to the right and pass the other boat on its left side. When two motorboats are approaching each other at angles or in a crossing situation, the boat on the right has the right of way. A boat granted the right of way shall maintain its course and speed, unless to do so would result in a collision. A boat may overtake and pass another boat on either side, but the overtaking boat shall yield the. right of way to the boat being overtaken if necessary. Motor boats shall yield the right of way to sailboats, canoes, rowboats, or any other type of non-motorized equipment.
Motorboat Age Requirements
  • No one under 10 years of age may operate a motorboat.Children aged 10 and 11, if accompanied by a parent or guardian, or a person at least 18 years of age designated by a parent or guardian, may operate a motorboat except PWC. “Accompanied” for the purposes of these regulations means ” aboard the same boat.”

  • Children aged 12-15 may operate a motorboat except PWC if accompanied by a parent or guardian, or a person at least 18 years of age designated by a parent or guardian. Without accompaniment, children 12-15 must have successfully completed a DNR Boating Safety Course and possess a valid Certificate issued by the DNR of Wisconsin or another state to operate a motorboat.

  • Anyone born on or after 1-1-89 must complete a DNR Boating Safety Course and be in possession of a valid DNR Boating Safety Certificate from WI or equivalent from another state or Canadian province to operate a motorboat.

  • Parents or guardians are punishable by law for allowing unauthorized persons to operate a motorboat!

Personal Watercraft (PWC) Age Requirements & Regulations
  • No one under 12 may operate a PWC.

  • Children 12-15 must complete a DNR Boating Safety Course and be in possession of a valid DNR Boating Safety Certificate to operate a PWc. Parental accompaniment and supervision may not be substituted for possession of a Certificate!

  • Anyone born on or after 1-1-89 must complete a DNR Boating Safety Course and be in possession of a valid DNR Boating Safety Certificate from WI or equivalent from another state or Canadian. province to operate a PWC.

  • PWC are classified as inboard boats. PWC must be registered and display valid registration decals and registration numbers. PWC operators must obey all boating regulations. In addition, PWC operators and riders must comply with the following regulations.

  • All persons operating or riding a PWC must wear a PFD of the proper size and type. If a PWC is equipped by the manufacturer with a lanyard, it must be attached to the operator. It is illegal to operate a PWC facing backwards. No person may operate a PWC from sunset to sunrise.

  • PWC designed to seat three people may tow persons engaged in water skiing or similar activity. PWC towing of stranded or disabled boats is allowed if speeds do not exceed no wake.

  • Operation of a PWC within 100 feet of another boat is allowed only if the PWC speed does not exceed no wake and neither boat is involved in any type of water skiing or similar activity. A PWC that is towing persons engaged in water skiing or similar activity must follow the same rules as any motorboat pulling a skier.

  • No person may operate a personal watercraft faster than no wake within 200 feet of shore on any lake in Wisconsin.

Boating Restrictions

It is unlawful to operate a motorboat:

  • within 100 feet of any swimmer, diver, dock, raft, pier at a speed in excess of “no wake.”

  • at a speed in excess of no wake from one-half hour after sunset to sunrise.

  • while a passenger is sitting on the gunwales, tops, backs or sides of seats, or on the decking over the bow while under way, unless such person is inboard of guards or railings sufficient to prevent the person from being lost overboard.

  • in a repeated circuitous course within 200 feet around any other boat or swimmer, or in a manner to create hazardous wakes.

  • while under the influence of an intoxicant or a controlled substance, or to use water skis or similar devices. In Wisconsin, all motor boat operators are deemed to have given consent to a blood alcohol test.

It is unlawful to operate any boat:

  • beyond the safe carrying capacity of passengers, or in a negligent or reckless manner so as to endanger anyone’s life or property

  • within an area clearly marked by buoys as a restricted use area, except in the case of emergency.

  • if there are any aquatic plants or zebra mussels attached.

It is illegal:

  • to allow any person who is physically or mentally incapable of operating a boat under prevailing circumstances to operate your boat.

  • to anchor an unattended boat or similar structure in any channel or traffic lane established and legally marked so as to interfere with the safe passage of any other boat.

  • to unnecessarily use any sound-producing device on a boat, or to use a siren except on authorized patrol boats.

  • to throw refuse into the water or upon public or private property.

  • to operate contrary to any legally posted municipal boating ordinances.

Residents who are 16 years of age or older need a license to fish in any Wisconsin waters. A license is valid from April 1 to March 31. Fishing regulation pamphlets are available from the DNR. Fishing regulations must be followed.

Skin Diving/Swimming
Diving activities must be marked by a regulation diver’s flag, displaying one diagonal white stripe on a red background. The flag must be clearly apparent at a distance of 100 yards. It is unlawful to engage in underwater skin diving, scuba diving, or swimming outside a marked swimming area or beyond 150 feet from shore unless the location of such swimming or diving is marked. No person diving or swimming shall swim in any channel or established navigation lane or interfere with someone fishing. Boaters must stay 100 feet from divers unless the boat is part of a skin diving operation. A boat should accompany any swimmer crossing our lakes.

Swimming Rafts and Water Trampolines
Rafts and trampolines must be located within 200 feet of the owner’s shoreline and may not interfere with public rights or other property owners’ riparian rights. A raft more than 200 feet from shore must be lit with a white light from sunset to sunrise. If a trampoline is more than 200 square feet in surface area or 38 inches in height, a permit from the DNR is required.

Waterway Markers/Buoys
All official waterway markers, such as signs and buoys, are designed to assist boaters by marking unsafe areas, directing traffic through channels, preventing accidents, and protecting resources. Regulatory buoys are white and orange. Orange diamonds have warnings suc~ as “shallow area” and orange circles indicate a controlled area such as “no wake.” Green and red companion buoys indicate a channel. It is illegal to move, tamper with, or destroy any official marker or to tie a boat to any marker. Notify the Water Patrol if a buoy is moved or rmssmg.

Boating accidents should be reported to the Water Patrol. Any boat involved in an accident must render assistance to persons affected. When a boating accident results in injury or damage in excess of $2,000 to boats or other property, each operator involved in such accident shall give notice of the accident without delay to the Water Patrol or to local law enforcement and shall file within ten days a written report on DNR Form 4100-20 (available from local law enforcement) and send it to DNR-Boat Safety, Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707.

For additional information, contact the Water Patrol, DNR Water Management Specialist office, 715-524-5246, or visit the DNR website:

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