Laws and Regulations Governing Boating in the State of Michigan


The Handbook of Michigan Boating Laws and Responsibilites

  • Travel around the lake is always in a counterclockwise demonstration
  • When passing another watercraft, always pass on its port (left) side.
  • Motorboats must give way to non-motorized vessels such as sailboats, rowboats, sailboards and kayaks. In general, larger boats are to give way to smaller boats.
  • Michigan law states that watercraft must stay at least 100 feet from shore, docks, rafts and anchored boats unless traveling at a no-wake speed (5 mph).
  • A boat or personal watercraft pulling skiers, tubers, etc. must have a spotter — a person other than the driver — to watch those being towed.
  • Age limits for operating a boat — A person who is 12 or more and less than 14 years of age may operate a PWC only if:
    He or she obtained a boating safety certificate prior to January 1, 1999 or....
    ALL of the following conditions are satisfied:
    • The person is accompanied solely by his or her parent or legal guardian.
    • Both the person and the parent or legal guardian have obtained a boating safety certificate
    • The PWC is equipped with a lanyard-type ignition safety switch and the parent or legal guardian has the lanyard attached to his or her person, clothing or PFD.
    • The PWC is designed to carry at least two persons.  
  • Maximum boating speed on an inland lake is 55 miles per hour.
  • Watch your wake! It can capsize a small boat and cause damage along the shoreline — for which the driver and owner of the boat can be liable.
  • ALCOHOL/DRUGS— It is illegal to operate a boat under the influence of intoxicating alcohol or controlled substances. The owner of a boat driven by a person under the influence can be held responsible for damage done by that person.


The following items are required by Michigan law and a boater can be ticketed for not having them on board.

LIFE JACKETS OR PFDs. (Personal Floatation Devices)— One for each person on board.

THROWABLE PFD (Ring, cushion) — Required on any boat 16' or longer

LIGHTS — Required between sunset and sunrise.

  • Powered Boats:
    One white light aft, higher than the bow light Combination bow light— green to starboard, red to portside
  • Non-Powered Boats:
    One white light aft, higher than the bow light Combination bow light— green to starboard, red to portside

MUFFLER — Noise from any boat cannot legally exceed 86 decibels at 50 feet from the boat.

WHISTLE/HORN — a boat 16' or long must have a whistle or horn capable of being heard for at least 1/2 mile. It is also recommended for smaller boats.


The following are not required by law, but are highly recommended for safe boating:



TOW LINE (very handy if you run out of gas or your engine fails

Operation of Personal Water Craft

Can a PWC Pull a Tuber?

A two-person PWC cannot pull a tuber.

Only a three-person wave runner can since there must be a seat for the tuber if a rescue is needed. The second person in the PWC must face the tuber at all times.

The following is from Michigan Handbook of Boating Laws and Responsibilities: Vessel Capacity
Always check the capacity plate usually near the operator’s position or on the vessel's transom. This plate indicates the maximum weight capacity or maximum number of people that the vessel can safely carry. Personal watercraft (PWC) do not have a capacity plate. Always follow the recommended capacity in the owner’s manual and on the manufacturer’s warning decal.

PWC Safety and Courtesy
by Steve Ahonen

As with pontoon boats, ski boats or any other watercraft on our lake, there are guidelines in place to govern safety if not common courtesy. Because of their size, speed and maneuverability personal watercraft (PWC) represent a significant challenge to all people who enjoy our lake. That is not to suggest PWCs should be outlawed, but if we PWC owners and operators will follow a few simple guidelines we would maximize the safety of all persons using our lake.

All watercraft must travel in a counterclockwise direction. Please attempt to stay a minimum of 100 feet from shore. I know this can be particularly challenging in certain areas of the lake.

When overtaking another boat please take extra caution when doing so, slowing down if necessary. Also, try to make certain, whenever possible, to gain visual acknowledgment from the operator of the boat being overtaken. When a boat being passed is heading toward shore it may give the appearance of cutting you off. Remember, you can see them much more easily than they can see you.

Jumping a wake may be fun, but it could be construed as reckless behavior-regardless of your distance from the boat generating the wake. So if you're going to do this, beware of the significant penalties being assigned by the Oakland County Sheriffs Marine division. They have been out this year and after witnessing numerous violations vowed to return regularly.

Do your best to avoid the anglers. You should stay at least 100 feet from them. Although the size of our lake makes this difficult, please slow down if you are in their space.

Use common sense. Keep your head up, looking forward without forgetting to look beside as well as behind you. These awesome machines can move very quickly. It is law that every person on a PWC must have a life vest on.

If you are allowing a friend or anyone to borrow your machine you can also be ticketed for any infraction, even if you were not on the boat!

Please don't drink and drive. The statistics are overwhelmingly against you if your faculties are challenged in any way.

Following these general guidelines will help preserve everyone's right to use the lake in a safe and enjoyable manner.