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Boating Rules & Safety on Lake Havasu

boating rules and safety tips
Proper safety equipment is a legal requirement on all Arizona lakes

In this section

Arizona Boating Laws | Boating Safety Classes | Boating Safety Tips | Bridgewater Channel City Ordinances | Designated Captain Program | Emergency Watercraft Towing | Operating Under the Influence (OUI) | Required & Recommended Boating Equipment | Specifically for PWCs

Lake Havasu City is a great place to live, work, shop, and vacation, but when you're out on the lake, it's important to remember that there are laws governing the waterways and failing to know or follow the laws comes with consequences.

In 2013 there were 108 watercraft accidents in Arizona involving 158 vessels and 86 individuals reporting injuries. The leading causes for accidents over the last 18 years are operator inattention, operator inexperience, passenger/skier behavior, and alcohol (with alcohol being the number one cause of boating deaths). Out of the overall Arizona statistics, Lake Havasu experienced 9 accidents (4 with injuries) and 2 deaths. Simple common sense can make the difference between a fantastic weekend or a potentially negative experience.

Just like driving a vehicle through other states, all boaters, whether from Arizona or coming from another state, are required to know Arizona state and local laws governing the lake. Not only is it the law, it's vital to ensure the safety of all boaters and everyone enjoying the lake.

The best way to begin your boating safety education is to download the following publications:
AZ Boating Laws & Regulations
Published by the AZ Game & Fish Dept. (AZGFD)
(web version here)
Boater's Guide to Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats
Published by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
Additionally the AZGFD website is a great place to start to gain important information about boating safety, laws, and regulations.

Please be aware that this section is very comprehensive, and for good reason. There are three agencies of law that all boaters in Arizona are regulated by:

Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 5 ("A.R.S." and is state law),
Arizona Game & Fish Commission Rules ("AZGFD"), and
U.S. Coast Guard Federal Regulations ("CFR")

This section of our website is dedicated to breaking down the very comprehensive law into laymens' terms. However, it is advised that if you don't understand any law or statute that applies to you, to contact the appropriate agency for clarification.

Boat safety classes

If you're a new or novice boater, it's recommended that you takie a boating safety class to get you oriented with the basics of boating. "Boaters who have completed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrator (NASBLA)-approved course, certified by the state in which they reside, are 70 percent less likely to be involved in a boating accident." (excerpt from the AZGFD website). According to 2013 AZGFD statistics, 158 watercraft operators were involved in an accident. Of those, 108 people involved in an accident had no boating education.

The AZGFD's Boating Safety Education courses can be done either online or in a classroom setting and include instruction on the basic skills required to safely operate a boat or PWC, trailering your vessel, navigational rules, buoys, anchoring, legal requirements, boating emergencies, watersports, and paddling (click here for more information). Most insurance companies offer a discount on your boat or PWC insurance rate for completing a boating safety course. Boating safety education classes are available year-round and statewide. Call 623-236-7235 or toll free 800-824-2456 for more information.

Legally required equipment (Federal, state, and local laws)

Boating safetyAll watercraft vessels are legally required to carry or have installed on their vessel certain equipment. Details after each item link to the corresponding state law. The Arizona Revised Statutes are also supplemented by the AZGFD's Commission Rules and the U.S. Coast Guard Federal Regulations, so all resources should be utilized when reviewing the law. The list below pertains to most watercraft on Lake Havasu.

  • Wearable Personal Flotation Devices (Life Vests): Coast Guard-approved, Type I, II, III or V, and one for each occupant on board. The life vests must be easily accessible and in good working order (A.R.S. §5-331).
  • Throwable Personal Flotation Device: At least one Coast Guard-approved, Type IV (this would include a cushion or ring buoy), easily accessible and in good working order (AZGFD's Commission Rules, Section R12-4-511). These devices are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble.
  • Fire Extinguisher: All watercraft under 26' and using any volitale liquid (gas, diesel, etc.) shall have on board a Coast Guard-approved Type B-1 fire extinguisher in a condition available for immediate and effective use. Vessels 26' to less than 40' in length must have two Coast Guard-approved Type B-1 fire extinguishers (A.R.S. §5-332). Do not place fire extinguisher(s) near the engine compartment. For vessels 40' and larger, please refer to the Arizona Boating Laws & Regulations Publication.
  • Navigation Lights: From sunset to sunrise, all watercraft shall display navigation lights - bright white on the aft (top) and a combination light at the bow (front) of the boat, green to starboard (right) and red to port (left) (A.R.S. §5-333).
  • Flame Arrestor: All watercraft using gasoline as fuel, except outboard motors, shall attach to the carburetor(s) a backfire flame arrestor approved for marine use and suitably secured to the air intake (A.R.S. §5-334).
  • Blower: All watercraft, except open boats, using gasoline or other flammable fuel, shall have a blower (fan) to evacuate any explosive or flammable gases from the engine compartment (A.R.S. §5-335).
  • Muffler: Watercraft must have mufflers to prevent excessive or unusual noise (A.R.S. §5-336).
  • Sound-Producing Device (horn): Arizona law does not require vessels to carry a sound-producing device, however, federal law does require vessels operating on federally-controlled waters (such as the Colorado River and lake system) be equipped with sound producing devices. Every vessel less than 65.6' (including PWCs) must carry on board a whistle, horn, bell, or other device effective to create a sound signal audible for at least one-half mile (CFR Title 33 §83.33).
  • Visual Distress Signals (VDS): Vessels on federally-controlled waters (such as the Colorado River and lake system) must be quipped with Coast Guard-approved VDS equipment, readily accessible and in good working order. Exceptions to day signal requirements include: Vessels less than 16' in length, non-motorized open sailboats less than 26' in length, and manually-propelled vessels. All vessels, regardless of length or type, are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset to sunrise (this would include flares or smoke signal devices) (CFR Title 33 §175.101).
Equipment Paddlecraft PWC Boats <16' Boats 16'+
Arizona Required Equipment Checklist
Max. Capacity Plate   X X X
Registration Decals   X X X
Life Jackets (PFDs) (Type I, II, III, V) X2 X1 X2 X2
Throwable PFD: Type IV       X
Type B1 Fire Extinguisher   X X X
Backfire Flame Arrestor   X X3 X3
Ventilation System   X X X
Muffler   X X X
Horn, Whistle, or Bell X4 X4 X4 X4
Daytime Visual Distress Signals       X4
Nighttime Visual Distress Signals   X4 X4 X4
Navigation Lights X X5 X X
Rev. 03/16

Emergency watercraft towing

Breaking down while on the water is not only inconvenient, it can also be very dangerous, especially if the boater is faced with strong winds or monsoon conditions that can push a disabled boat into rocks and other dangers. Both Sea Tow and Vessel Assist offer annual memberships that provide boaters with coverage for emergency situations. Coverages may include watercraft towing, fuel delivery (if you run out of gas), ungroundings, jump starts for dead batteries), and detanglements (if a rope gets tangled around your prop). For a nominal yearly fee, your vessel is covered and you have the security of knowing you're just a phone call away from help if disaster strikes.
TowBoatUS
928-727-3215
Sea Tow
800-4-SEATOW (473-2869)
Warning: While the boating community look out for each other, many boat insurance policies will be nullified if a boater tows another vessel in distress if the disabled vessel is larger than the tow vessel. Boaters are urged to carefully check their boat insurance policies before considering towing a vessel in distress. Proper insurance coverage can mean the difference between piece of mind and thousands of dollars in costly charges if the worst-case-scenario happens - a sunken vessel. Vessel salvage without insurance runs approximately $185 per foot + HAZMAT fees + the cost of towing the vessel after it's recovered.

Boating safety tips

  • Almost all boating accidents occur because drivers are not paying attention to other watercraft on the waterways. Always check around you frequently, look behind you, and know where and when other boaters are approaching you. NEVER MAKE AN ABRUPT TURN WITHOUT LOOKING TO MAKE SURE YOU CAN DO SO WITHOUT PUTTING ANOTHER BOATER AT RISK OF COLLISSION!
  • Watercraft and PWC's don't have brakes! When facing a potential collision, a watercraft operator can only rely on throttle and steering to avoid a collision.
  • Children under 12 must wear a life vest at all times while underway on any vessel. The life vest must be fully and properly fastened.
  • Every person being towed behind a vessel (either on water skis, wakeboard, tube, or other similar device) must wear a life vest at all times while being towed.
  • Lake Havasu has a counter-clockwise rotation; this means you should always stay to the right of the lake. When crossing over to the other side of the lake, always check behind you to make sure you will not be crossing another vessel's path.
  • Sailboats and non-motorized vessels always have the right-of-way.
  • Larger vessels (big boats) always have the right-of-way over smaller vessels (PWC's).
  • Vessels towing another vessel have the right-of-way over all motorized vessels.
  • When approaching another motorized vessel head-on, always keep to the right and "show your side." This means make a significant turn so the other vessel can clearly see that you are keeping to the right of them.
  • All motorized vessels give off carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is very toxic. Do not swim near the back of the boat when the motor is running. Know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning!
  • Don't sit on the gunwale, bow, seat backs, motor cover, or any other area not designated for seating, it's not only dangerous but illegal. Propellers don't just "shut off". If you fall off the back of the boat while underway and get hit by the prop, you risk the danger of injury or death.
  • If someone is in the water and is in distress, be cognizant of their size and your ability to help them. Many people panicking in the water will try to "climb up" someone who is coming to their aid. For your safety as well as the person in the water, it's best to use your throwable personal floation device and throw it to them rather than try to bring them in yourself if there's a chance they may take you down in their panic-state.
  • It is a federal, state, and local offense to throw garbage, plastic, debris, cigarette butts, or other trash into any Arizona waters or shorelines. Please don't be a litterbug! The Lake Havasu Marine Association has placed trash bags around the lake and along the shorelines that are free to grab. Please, "pack it in, pack it out."

Designated Captains Program

The Lake Havasu Marine Association offers a program that allows boaters to hire a Designated Captain to operate their privately-owned or rented boat for the day. Designated Captains are necessary, logical, and much needed in order to minimize the number of intoxicated boat operaters on the water, especially on busy holiday weekends. The cost of hiring a Designated Captain pales in comparison to what an OUI (Operating Under the Influence) citation will cost the driver of a boat. For more information, click here.

Federally Controlled Waters include coastal waters, The Great Lakes, territorial seas, and waters which are two miles wide or wider and are connected directly to one of the waters listed.