Illinois Boating Safety Requirements

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs aka Life Jackets)

  • The Illinois Department of Natural Resources requires one wearable Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person aboard all vessels. Ensure PFDs are readily accessible.
  • In addition to the above requirement, Illinois boaters are required to carry at least one Type IV (throwable device) PFD aboard any vessel 16 feet or longer (with the exception of canoes and kayaks).
  • A Type V PFD is approved for restricted use and may be substituted for a type I, II or III only when used for the activity specified on the label and must be worn.
  • Flotation devices that are ripped or in poor condition are not considered approved.
  • Everyone on a personal watercraft or specialty prop-craft must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III or V PFD

CHILDREN: All boaters or passengers under 13 years of age must be wearing their PFD while on the deck or in the cockpit of a vessel underway that is less than 26 feet in length.

Boating Age Requirements

No one under 10 years of age may legally operate any type of motorboat.

Persons aged 10 or 11 years may not operate any type of motorboat unless they are supervised by a parent or a guardian, or a competent adult who is at least 18 years old, designated by a parent or a guardian.

No one who is at least 12 and less than 18 years of age may operate a motorboat unless:

  • They have in possession a valid Boating Education Certificate of Competency issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, or
  • They are under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian, or a competent adult who is at least 18 years old, designated by a parent or guardian

Alcohol & Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

A boater with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or more shall be presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. This also applies to persons under the influence of any of the following:

  • Any controlled substance
  • Alcohol and any combination of controlled substances
  • Any substances which mentally or physically impair a person’s normal functioning.
  • There is severe injury to any person as a result of the offense;
  • The person convicted has a prior OUI conviction.
  • If the death of a person occurs while the operator is OUI, penalties increase to a class 2 felony.

Additionally, if an operator is convicted of OUI while a child under the age of 16 is on the vessel, they will face a mandatory minimum fee of $500, as well as a minimum 5 days community service, in addition to the penalties stated above.

By operating a boat or PWC on Illinois waters, you have consented to be tested for alcohol or drugs if requested by a law enforcement official. If you refuse to be tested, you will be subject to suspension of the privilege to operate a watercraft for a minimum of 2 years.

Illinois Boat Registration

The Office of Law Enforcement of the Department of Natural Resources is responsible for regulating the state boating laws of Illinois.

All vessels must have an Illinois certificate of registration and expiration decals to legally operate on public waters in Illinois.

Exceptions for the boat registration requirements include:

  • A watercraft which has a valid marine document issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, EXCEPT any documented vessel used upon Illinois waters for more than 60 days in a calendar year.
  • Vessels registered in another state and operated on Illinois waters for not more than 60 consecutive days.
  • Sailboards
  • Non-powered watercraft owned and operated on water located entirely on land belonging to the owner of the watercraft.*
  • Vessels operated on private lakes
  • Vessels owned by the federal government.
  • Non-profit organization-owned canoes or kayaks*
  • A watercraft from another country other than the United States temporarily using the waters of the State.
  • A vessel used exclusively as a ship’s lifeboat; and
  • Watercraft competing in a race approved by the Department of Natural Resources.

*Although canoes and kayaks that do not have a mechanical means of propulsion, and vessels that are federally documented do not have to display the registration number, they are still required to display the registration decal.

Certificate of Number

The certificate of registration indicates the number that must be displayed on the bow of the vessel. The certificate must be kept on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the boat or PWC is being operated.

Registration information must be kept current:

  • The boats registration is valid for a period of three (3) years. All certificates expire on June 15 of the third year.
  • If you change address, you must notify the Department of Natural Resources within 15 days of the change.
  • You must report to the local Department of Natural Resources within 15 days if your boat is destroyed, or transfers ownership.
  • If you lose or destroy your certificate of registration or decal you must apply to the Department of Natural Resources for a duplicate.

Cost to Register a Boat in Illinois

Successful registration results in a Certificate of Registration, physical boat numbers and a decal. Registration MUST be kept on board the watercraft at all times.

Boat numbers must:

  • Be affixed on both sides of the bow;
  • Be block letters, three inches high and contrasting with the color of your boat;
  • Letters must be separated from the numbers by a space; and
  • Read from left to right.

For example: IL 1234 BX. This is a federal and state requirement.

Decals must be affixed on both sides of the boat, preferably to the right side of and within three inches of the registration number. Decals include the month and year of expiration. Only the current decal may be displayed.

Please note that non-powered canoes and kayaks are not required to display registration numbers, they are only required to display decals.

See the following table for a list of registration fees.

Boat Class Renewal New & Transfer Renewal

Class A – ALL Canoes/Kayaks



Class 1 – All other watercraft less than 16 ft



Class 2 – 16 ft to less than 26 ft



Class 3 – 26 ft to less than 40 ft



Class 4 – 40 ft and over



Aquatic Nuisance Species

Non-native aquatic species, plants, fish and animals are invading Illinois’ waters. These pests can increase dramatically under the right conditions, displacing native species, clogging waterways, and impacting navigation and recreation. Once introduced, they are nearly impossible to eliminate. Hydrilla, Egeria Densa, water hyacinth and zebra mussels are nuisance species that can be accidentally transported by recreational boaters when caught in propellers, intakes or attached to hulls.

To help prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species from one body
of water to another, you should:

  • Remove aquatic plant and animal materials from your boat before leaving any body of water.
  • Flush raw-water cooling systems and clean sea strainers before moving your boat from one body of water to another.
  • Empty bait buckets and remove any plant fragments from bait wells, fishing gear, trailers, dive gear or props. Dispose on land into a garbage receptacle.
  • Drain water from your motor, live wells and bilge.
  • Wash your boat before putting it into a new body of water; and
  • Report new infestation of non-native aquatic species to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Personal Watercraft Laws & Regulations

Do not underestimate Personal Watercrafts (PWC) - they are very powerful for their small size and demand the same respect as any boat. In fact, PWC operation must adhere to the same rules and regulations as any other powerboat - including registration with the state and a B-1 class fire extinguisher aboard. PWCs have some additional requirements:

Each person riding on a PWC must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable personal flotation device. Recommended PFDs are designed to withstand the impact of hitting the water at high speed.

PWCs must either be equipped with an ignition safety switch or have a self-circling feature in case the operator falls off. An operator of a PWC equipped with lanyard-type ignition safety switch must always attach the lanyard to his or her person, clothing, or PFD.

It is illegal to operate a PWC while you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

You must operate a PWC in a reasonable and prudent manner. It is illegal to endanger human life, safety, or property. You may not:

  • Weave through congested traffic,
  • Follow a vessel that is towing other individuals,
  • Jump the wake of another vessel,
  • Cut between a boat and an individual being towed,
  • Cross paths with another vessel when vision is obstructed,
  • Steer toward an object or person in the water and turn sharply at close range, or
  • Operate while facing backwards.

Hours of Operation

Operation of a PWC is prohibited between sunset and sunrise.

Age Requirements

Personal Watercraft (PWC) operators in Illinois must be at least 10 years of age. Persons who are at least 10 years of age but less than 12 must be under direct control of a responsible person who is at least 18 years of age in order to operate.

All persons who are at least 12 years of age but less than 18 must either complete a boating safety course and have a Boating Safety Education Certificate, or be accompanied and under the direct control of a responsible person who is eighteen or older, in order to operate a PWC.