Boating Safety: What Does Virginia Law Require?

Author: Paul D. Hux, Chesterfield, VA Personal Injury Attorney

Boating Safety: What Does Virginia Law Require?The weather is warmer and pollen season has passed.  It’s time to hit waterways with family and friends (and the dog) on the boat.  But before you put your boat in the water there are a few rules with which you should be familiar.

In 2007 the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that requires operators of personal watercraft (PWC)[1] and motorboats to complete a boating safety education course.[2]  For help finding a boating safety class click here

Virginia watercraft and motorboat training requirements

Who has to complete this course, and by when?

  • As of July 1, 2014,
    • all PWC operators age 14 years and older
    • all motorboat operators age 45 and younger
  • As of July 1, 2015:
    • All PWC operators age 14 and older
    • All motorboat operators age 50 and younger.[3]

Boating laws and safety

The state of Virginia takes boating laws very seriously.  Here are some other rules to keep in mind while boating.

  1. It is illegal to operate a motorboat or PWC while intoxicated.[4]
  2. It is illegal for someone under the age of 21 to operate a motorboat or PWC with a blood alcohol content greater than 0.02.[5]
  3. If you are involved in a boating accident you have a duty to stop and offer assistance, and in some cases report the accident to the Virginia Department for Game and Inland Fisheries.[6]  For a copy of the Accident Report Form click here.

According to the United States Coast Guard, the top five primary factors contributing to boating accidents are: operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and machinery failure.[7]

The importance of life jackets

“Where cause of death was known, seventy-seven (77) percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, eighty-four (84) percent were not wearing a life jacket.”[8] 

The U.S. Coast Guard makes the following recommendations for life jackets:

  • It should be U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • It should be the proper size for the wearer
  • It should be in good and serviceable condition, and
  • It should be properly stowed so that it is readily accessible.[9]

For more tips regarding life jacket safety click here.  For more information about boating safety from the U.S. Coast Guard click here.  For more information about boating safety from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries click here.

About the Author: Paul Hux is a partner and trial attorney at Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen. His practice is dedicated entirely to plantiff's personal injury, including car accidents, wrongful death, and traumatic brain injuries. Paul works out of the Midlothian/Chesterfield branch of the firm and has been practicing personal injury law for more than 20 years.


[1] Under Virginia law, a “personal watercraft” is a motorboat less than sixteen feet in length which uses an inboard motor powering a jet pump, as its primary motive power and which is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on, rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside, the vessel. See Va. Code Ann. §29.1-738, available at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+29.1-700.

[2] See Boating Safety Education Requirement, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, available at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/education/requirement/ (last visited Apr. 17, 2015).

[3] See id.; See also Va. Code Ann. §29.1-735.2, available at http://leg1.state.va.us/000/cod/29.1-735.2.HTM.

[4] See Va. Code Ann. §29.1-738, available at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+29.1-738.

[5] See Va. Code Ann. §29.1-738.02, available at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+29.1-738.02.

[6] See Reporting a Boating Accident, Va. Dep’t of Game and Inland Fisheries, available at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/accident.asp (last visited Apr. 17, 2015); see also Va. Code Ann. §29.1-739, available at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title29.1/chapter7/section29.1-739/.

[7] Recreational Boating Statistics, U.S. Coast Guard 1, 6 (2013), available at http://uscgboating.org/statistics/accident_statistics.php.

[8] Id.

[9] See How to Choose the Right Life Jacket, U.S. Coast Guard, available at http://uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php (last visited Apr. 17, 2015).

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