Michigan Boating Safety Requirements


Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs aka Life Jackets)

  • Michigan boaters are required to carry at least one U.S. Coast Guard approved Type IV PFD (ring buoy OR seat cushion) on all recreational boats that are 16 feet in length or greater, in ADDITION to the wearable PFD required for each person on board.
  • Vessels which are less than 16 feet in length, as well as all canoes and kayaks have the option of either carrying a Type I, II or III wearable PFD onboard for each passenger or a Type IV throwable PFD for each passenger.
  • Someone being towed behind a vessel is considered to be on board.
  • All PWC occupants must be wearing their PFD while underway.

Children: All boaters or passengers under 6 years of age must be wearing their PFD, either Type I or II, while the vessel is underway.

Boating Age Requirements

In Michigan, no one may operate a motor powered vessel over 6 hp if they are under the age of 12 years, except under the following condition:

  • The motor powered vessel is greater than 6 hp but no more than 35 hp and they are under the direct supervision of a responsible individual who is at least 16 years of age.

Note: In the state of Michigan, under no circumstance may anyone under the age of 12 operate any vessel with a motor greater than 35 hp.




In addition, no one may operate a motor powered vessel over 6 hp if they are between the ages of 12 and 15, except under the following conditions:

  • If they have successfully completed a state approved Boating Safety Course and have their Boating Safety Certificate onboard with them, or;
  • If they are under the direct supervision of a responsible individual who is at least 16 years of age.

There are no restrictions for all boat operators aged 16 years or older operating a motor powered vessel on Michigan waters.

Alcohol & Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

A boater who meets any of the following conditions will be considered to be boating while intoxicated (BWI):

  • If the boater’s blood alcohol concentration is found to be 0.10% or more through the administration of either a breath, blood or urine test.
  • If the boater’s blood alcohol concentration is found to be 0.07% but less than 0.10% through the administration of either a breath, blood or urine test, the boat operator may still be found to be BWI if the Officer has further reason to believe they are under the influence.



BWI is a considered to be a misdemeanor offense if convicted. However, in the event of a third or subsequent conviction within a span of 10 years the offense is considered to be a felony, and will consist of significantly more severe punishment.

In addition to the above, if a person dies or is seriously injured as a result of someone who is BWI that boat operator will be guilty of having committed a felony if convicted.

By operating on Michigan’s waterways, an operator is deemed to have given consent to submit to a breath and/or blood test to determine the amount of alcohol and/or drugs in their blood when requested to do so by a law enforcement officer.

Michigan Boat Registration

All vessels propelled by machinery, including gasoline, diesel and electric motors, and principally operated on Michigan waters must be registered and issued a Michigan Certificate of Number (Registration) by the Michigan Secretary of State.

All vessels 20 feet and longer and all watercraft with permanently affixed engines regardless of length must be titled, and issued a certificate of title by the Michigan Secretary of State. Watercraft not required to be titled may be titled as an option.

Certificate of Number

Boat owners must have at least a temporary Certificate of Number before they can operate in state waters. Upon receipt of the Certificate of Number please note the following:

  • It must be signed and carried onboard when operating the vessel.
  • It is valid for three years and expires on March 31st of the third year.
  • The Michigan Secretary of State must be notified within 15 days if the boater changes residences.
  • The Michigan Secretary of State must be notified within 15 days if the boat is sold or changes ownership; or if the vessel is destroyed or abandoned.



Also note that the boat owner must obtain their boat title before they can obtain their Certificate of Number. If their vessel is 20 feet in length or longer and is permanently affixed with a motor their boat must be titled.

The Certificate of Number, validation decals and title are obtained by submitting the proper application and fee to any Secretary of State branch. For details more details on obtaining or renewing a Certificate of Number please contact the following number, 1-517-322-1460 or visit the following link: www.michigan.gov/sos/0,1607,7-127--34560--,00.html

Cost to Register a Boat in Michigan

Successful registration results in a Certificate of Number, physical boat numbers and a decal. 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 or a hyphen.

For Example: MC 1234 BX or MC-1234-BX. This is a federal and state requirement.

The decal which is provided to you by the Secretary of State should be displayed on both sides of the boat 3 inches beyond the last letter of the assigned number.

Lack of the correct documentation may result in delays and fines.

Make sure all boats are properly marked and documented. It’s important to keep your papers with the boat – be particularly aware when transferring ownership of your vessel.

Aquatic Nuisance Species

Non-native aquatic species, plants, fish and animals are invading Michigan’s 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 can:

  • Inspect your boat and remove aquatic plants or animals before you leave 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.
  • Report new infestation of non-native aquatic species to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Personal Watercraft Laws & Regulations

Do not underestimate PWCs – 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:

  • The operator as well as all passengers of a PWC must be wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved type I, II, III or V PFD at ALL times. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for this activity.
  • Children under 7 years of age are not permitted to ride on or be towed behind a PWC unless a parent, guardian or a person designated by the parent or guardian is present.
  • When towing someone on a tube or on water skis, there must be capacity on the PWC to accommodate the operator, the observer as well as the tuber/skier(s).
  • PWCs must come to "no wake" speed when within 200 feet or less of the shoreline when operating on any of the Great Lakes bordering Michigan.
  • It is illegal to operate a PWC in areas where water levels are less than 2 feet, unless operating at “no-wake” speed. Exceptions to this rule include when the PWC is either being launched or docked.
  • PWC operators in Michigan must not exceed “no wake” speed when crossing behind a vessel, if they are within 150 feet or less of that vessel.
  • PWC operators in Michigan must not exceed “no wake” speed when operating within 100 feet of docks, rafts, designated swimming areas, people in the water, and vessels that are moored, anchored or drifting.




Hours of Operation

In Michigan, personal watercraft cannot be operated between sunset and 8:00 AM.




Age Requirements

In Michigan, no one may operate a personal watercraft (PWC) if they are under the age of 12 years, under any circumstance.

All persons who are 12 and 13 years of age may only operate a personal watercraft, under the following conditions:

  • They had successfully completed a state approved Boating Safety Course and were issued a Boating Safety Certificate before January 1, 1999, or;
  • They are accompanied onboard the personal watercraft by their parent or legal guardian and both themselves and their parent or guardian have obtained their Boating Safety Certificate. Additionally, the PWC must be rated for at least two people and must be fitted with a safety lanyard which is attached to the parent or guardian (either to their clothing or their person).

For all persons who are 14 years of age or older and born after December 31, 1978, they may only operate a personal watercraft if they have successfully completed a state approved Boating Safety Course and have been issued their Boating Safety Certificate.

Note: Persons born prior to December 31, 1978, are not subject to any restrictions when operating a personal watercraft.