Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Safe Operation

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New York is rich with opportunities to get on the water. Each year an increasing number of people are using boats for their recreation. If you use a motor boat or a non-powered craft such as a canoe, kayak or the current trend, the paddleboard you need to be aware of your abilities and the environment around you. If you have not taken a boating safety course, we strongly suggest that you take one. Taking a boating course can teach you how to have a safe and enjoyable experience on the water.

We have posted our textbook on this website and invite you to view the course material. While it is geared toward mechanically propelled vessels it has a lot of material for all boaters. Some of that information is posted on this page.

Life Jackets

The one piece of safety equipment that all boats must carry is the life jacket. Studies show if you choose to wear a life jacket and you fall overboard, it increases your chance of survival. Many fatalities occur in accidents where the person did not wear a life jacket.

Every vessel including canoes, kayaks and row boats operated in NYS must have on board one USCG approved wearable life jacket for each person aboard.

All PFDs carried on board your vessel must be serviceable, readily accessible, and of the appropriate size for the wearer. A serviceable PFD must be free of rot, tears, punctures, or waterlogging. All straps and buckles must be attached and fully functional. Readily accessible means the PFD must be quickly reachable in an emergency situation. Never store life jackets in plastic bags or under lock and key while under way.

Who must wear a life jacket

The best option is to always wear a lifejacket, however the law requires that

  • Children under the age of 12 aboard pleasure vessels less than 65 feet in length, canoes, kayaks or rowboats unless in a totally enclosed cabin.
  • Everyone being towed (wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, etc.)
  • Everyone aboard pleasure vessels less than 21 feet in length, including rowboats, canoes, and kayaks, while underway between November 1st and May 1st.
  • Everyone aboard a Personal Watercraft.

Required Equipment

All vessels require some type of safety equipment. This equipment is to give you basic survival in case of an accident.

Equipment Lists: Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that is colorless, odorless and tasteless. On boats, CO is emitted by engines, gas generators, cooking ranges and heaters. The build-up of CO inside boat cabins, partially enclosed cockpits, beneath swim platforms or other enclosed areas is potentially deadly. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the symptoms of sea sickness, which makes it dangerously easy to ignore. New York State strongly recommends the use of carbon monoxide detectors in enclosed areas of your boat to keep you and your passengers safe.

For more information on carbon monoxide and safe boating, visit:

Float Plan

Your Float Plan

Before venturing out on any voyage aboard your vessel be certain to write down a float plan and leave it with a reliable person who can follow up in the event you don't return on time. Items that should be included in any float plan include: who's on board, where you are going, when will you leave and at what time are you expected to return. The more information you can provide will better improve the likelihood that search units will be able to locate you in the event you break down or need assistance. Should your plans change during your trip, be certain to notify the individual with whom you’ve filled your float plan.

To see why Bernadette and Carol highly recommend a float plan click here


Vessel Speed is generally limited to 5mph when within 100 feet of the shore, a dock, pier, raft, float, or anchored boat. Local laws and ordinances may further regulate the speed of boats operated within specific areas; check with authorities regarding local regulations.

When no speed limit is posted, vessels must always be operated in such a fashion so as not to endanger others. A vessel must be able to stop safely within the clear space ahead. A vessel operator is always responsible for any damage caused by the vessel's wake.

Bow Riding

Bow Riding is extremely dangerous, unless the vessel has an open bow with seating designed specifically for passengers. If the boat hits a large wake or wave, or makes a sudden, sharp turn, the person riding the bow may be thrown overboard. Operators should insist that their passengers take a seat, and stay in that seat, while the boat is underway. Other unsafe places to be seated are on the transom and gunwales.

Termination of Voyage

Law enforcement officers may terminate the voyage of any boat, including a rowboat, canoe or kayak if there is an imminently hazardous condition aboard the boat. The police officer will direct the operator of the boat to the nearest safe anchorage, dock or mooring. The boat cannot proceed any further until the condition is corrected.

Boating while Intoxicated

No one may operate a vessel on the waters of NYS while impaired or intoxicated through the consumption of either alcohol or drugs. New York law now prescribes heavy fines, imprisonment, and the suspension of operator privileges for violators.

It is important to realize that on the water, even small amounts of alcohol may greatly impair one's ability to function in three critical areas: balance, coordination, and judgement. Compound this with such environmental stressors such as glare, heat, vibration, and engine noise and you can become quickly fatigued, greatly slowing your reaction time. Your ability to judge speed and distance are also impaired which can limit your ability to track moving objects.

Is there an open container law for boats? No there is not.


Overloading any boat will decrease stability and reduce performance. A capacity plate placed aboard vessels less than 21 feet in length will tell you just how much weight and/or people the boat may safely carry. At no time should the capacities of the vessel be exceeded.


Operators should also strictly follow the manufacturer's recommendations for engine size. A larger engine may make your boat run faster, however it may not have been designed to handle the weight or stress.

Insufficient number of Life Jackets

As the operator of a boat you are required to have a life jacket for each person on board. The life jacket must be the proper size, straps, ties and zippers in good shape and no tears or rips in the fabric and readily accessible.

Behaviors to Avoid when operating a Personal Watercraft

These behaviors are not illegal, but contribute to a negative image of PWC.

  • Operating continuously in one location
  • Operating in groups
  • Operating too close to shore, docks, marinas
  • Operating too close to fishermen, or paddlers
  • Operating in and around launching areas
  • Starting too early-sunrise is early in summer
  • Operation near environmentally sensitive areas or disturbing wildlife
  • Forcing larger craft to maneuver unnecessarily or excessively, especially commercial vessels

Facilities and Access

Boat Launch Sites - an interactive listing of the launch sites operated by New York State Parks and the Dept. of Environmental Conservation. Searchable by waterway or county, a brief description of the site is provided.

Marinas in State Parks

Many New York State Parks have marinas and launch sites within their property. To find out which parks may have boating opportunities follow this link Marinas in NY State Parks. Put a check mark in the box for marinas and/or boat launch and click search.

Information on that park will show up. If the explanation in Amenities & Activities is not sufficient contact the park directly. If the park office is not answering or is not open you need to contact the regional office.


You can prevent many accidents if you communicate with your passengers. Before you allow passengers on your boat, explain your rules. Before you cast off, show them where you keep your safety equipment, and make sure they know how to use it. Find out if any of your passengers have any knowledge of first aid procedures. Well informed and well-behaved passengers help ensure a safe voyage. Most accidents can be prevented by following good boating safety practices.

Just as there are laws and rules about reporting automobile accidents, there are laws and rules about reporting boating accidents too.

If your vessel is involved in an accident you may need to file an accident report to:

Law Enforcement
  • Injury beyond first aid
  • Death or disappearance
New York State Parks (Written Report)
  • Injury beyond first aid
  • Death or disappearance
  • Damage to anyone party in excess of $1,000

In all accidents parties are required to exchange information. If the other party cannot be located or if they are incapable of receiving such information then the accident must be reported to law enforcement as soon as physically able.

Recreational vessels operating in a commercial capacity are not exempt from any of these provisions.

Rendering Assistance (Good Samaritan Law)

According to Section 41.3 of the Navigation Law:
It shall be the duty of every master or pilot of any vessel to render such assistance as he can possibly give to any other vessel coming under his observation and being in distress on account of accident, collision or otherwise.

If you come across another vessel that is in distress, the law requires you to assist them to the best of your abilities. You are excused from this duty if such assistance:

  • endangers your own vessel
  • endangers your passengers
  • interferes with other rescue efforts or law enforcement
  • will cause further or more extensive damage

Even if you determine that there is a risk to your vessel and passengers you should stay at the scene until a competent rescue team comes on the scene and releases you.

If you find that you must put someone in the water to assist another vessel or passenger make sure they are wearing a life jacket.