If you love spending time on still, quiet waters where the fish is abundant and there is no fear of powerful currents, lake boating is a perfect idea. Lakes provide calm waters, are gentle on boats and offer a wide range of unique flora and fauna.
But can you boat on any lake?
We’ve researched the boating rules of 20 lakes.
So, are boats allowed on lakes?
Boats are allowed on many lakes all over the world. However, several factors determine the boats allowed, the time boaters can use the lake, and the activities they can do in the water.
In this article, we reveal the different rules guiding the use of boats on some of the most popular inland water bodies in this part of the world.
20 Popular Lakes And Their Boating Rules
Now, let’s look at some of the most popular lakes and their boating rules. Each lake has different rules based on its peculiarities and function to the community.
Besides general safety regulations for boating, boaters who want to use these lakes must follow these guidelines.
1. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a magnet for many fun-loving boaters thanks to its glistening waters and serenity.
While the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) allows boats on the lake, boaters must adhere to a 60-foot no-wake zone from the shore around the entire lake.
The speed limit is 5 MPH, and this is strictly enforced by patrol boats.
Boaters need to keep their boats between the white buoys that mark underwater obstructions and the shoreline. Starting from 2018, boaters who wish to use Lake Tahoe must carry a lifetime California Boater Card and pass an approved boating safety exam.
You also need to fulfill the inspection requirements before you arrive at any of the lake’s launch facilities and buy a Watercraft Inspection Sticker.
2. Crater Lake
Crater Lake is a national park preserved for scientific research and sightseeing. It is one of the most beautiful places in the United States.
Therefore, it is closed to private boats and other floatation devices.
However, there is an abundance of interpretive boat tours and research vessels on the lake. If you want to see the lake in all its gloriousness, the best way is by boat although you can scuba dive.
The good news is Lost Creek Lake, Diamond Lake and Klamath Lake are not too far away from the Crater Lake and these have little to no restrictions on boating.
3. Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California and one of the few inland water bodies with high salinity. The lake’s recreation area has always been a hotspot of boating activities but lost its glory because of rapid recession.
Every boat type is permitted here except for places that are restricted for environmental reasons.
The authorities of the actively encourage boaters to visit as its receding waters had pushed them off to other places.
4. San Luis Reservoir
Boating is not allowed in most parts of the San Luis Reservoir because it gets very windy most of the time and this makes it unsafe for boats.
In fact, the wind can be so powerful picnicking or camping is a bad idea as you have to tie down your table, tents, chairs, and cutlery to prevent them from being blown away.
Boating of any kind is highly restricted on the dam except for small watercraft on certain days of the week.
The lower part of the lake, the Los Banos O’Neill Forebay is great for windsurfing and has some great sandy beaches where you can pitch your tent and other conveniences.
There are warning signs on the reservoir to warn off vessels when the wind picks up. Red lights mean to leave the water immediately.
There are 10 mph zones on the main reservoir and the O’Neill Forebay and a 5 mph restriction on all of Los Banos Creek Reservoirs and boats within 200 feet of the shoreline.
Before entering the park, officials must inspect your boat for invasive species. You also need to carry a personal flotation device for each passenger. All watercraft on the San Luis Reservoir must maintain a minimum distance of 500 feet from the dams and water structures.
5. The Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake is a popular attraction in Utah. Motorboats, sailboats and every other watercraft may use it year-round but there are restrictions.
Because the lake is home to millions of migratory birds, some parts such as the islands are off-limits during the breeding period to prevent human interference.
Also, only registered and insured boats can use the lake and you need to have the required equipment and training as specified by the State Park authorities.
6. Klamath Lake
Boats are allowed on Klamath Lake.
In fact, it is one of the few places where you can still find operational steamboats plying the waters.
However, motorboat racing is restricted to designated test areas. There is also a 10 mph speed limit for motorboats on parts of the Pelican Bay, Crystal Creek, Harriman Creek, and Recreation Creek.
In Moore Park Marine, boats must maintain a slow-no wake maximum of 5 mph.
7. Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake is controlled by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Council and they have strict rules regarding boating on their Reservation.
Before you can boat on the lake, you must get a permit from the council.
In restricted areas, it is unlawful to operate any watercraft at speeds over 5 mph. Boaters cannot operate on the water one hour after sunset and one hour before sunset. There is a long list of requirements and restrictions which boaters must follow while using this lake.
Failure to adhere to the rules attracts fines up to $5000.
8. Lake Arrowhead
To use a boat on this lake, you must be a registered member of the Arrowhead Lake Association (ALA). You also need to register your boat with the ALA and own a valid Boat operator license even if you want to use a kayak or canoe.
Boaters must wash their vessels at least 100 feet away from the lake before entry if they use it elsewhere and watercrafts must move counterclockwise in the water.
You must observe slow, no-wake speed within 100 feet of anchored boats, docks, swimming areas, and the channel between the lake’s small and large portions.
PWCs, tubing and other water sports devices must cease operation one hour before sunset and every person on the water must have a personal flotation device.
9. Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone allows most boats and watercrafts entry but there are restrictions.
Starting from 2019, the authorities of the park banned boats with sealed internal water ballast tanks to prevent aquatic invasive species (AIS) from contaminating the lake’s fragile ecosystem.
Boats and angler float tubes require a permit and a free AIS inspection. If your boat is dirty and the inspectors cannot decontaminate it properly, you won’t be allowed entry into the lake.
Also, vessels must not exceed 40 feet long. Personal watercraft, jet skis, submersibles, and airboats are prohibited in the Yellowstone.
You want to clean, drain and dry your boat before arriving at the lake to make inspections easier.
10. White Rock Lake
At White Rock Lake, outboard motors must not exceed 10.5 HP. If your boat has a larger engine, the authorities advise you use electric trolling motors to navigate the water.
Surfboards, water skis, sailboards, and related equipment must not be used on the lake.
However, the lake is a beehive of boating activity as the White Rock Boat Club organizes several events year-round.
11. Mono Lake
Mono Lake is open to motorized and non-motorized watercrafts of all sizes. However, there are some restrictions to protect the wildlife, public property and people who use the lake.
From April 1 to August 1, the islands and water within one mile of the lake’s islands are closed to protect nesting birds.
You also need to maintain at least 200 yards distance from Osprey nests and 100 yards distance from flocks of migratory birds. Creek deltas with birds are also out of bounds and you must avoid Tufa towers and underwater towers.
12. Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake is open only to watercrafts of 26 feet long and below.
The lake has a 35 mph speed limit and 10 mph speed limit from sunset to 7:00 AM.
There is a 3mph speed limit in Mallard Lagoon, Canvasback Cove and Papoose Bay. Also, the use of PWC is limited to between 7:00 AM and sunset and you must maintain a 100-foot distance from other watercrafts while moving at wakeless speeds.
Non-motorized boats not longer than 12 feet and float-tubes are restricted to 5 mph between the shore and buoys. Plus, you need a permit before launching your boat.
13. Utah Lake
Boating regulations at Utah Lake are the same for every other water body in the state with slight variations.
All watercrafts including motorboats, PWCs, sailboats and floating tubes are allowed on the water.
However, the vessel must be registered, have valid insurance, and the operator must meet age and other legal requirements. Also, you cannot operate your boat at greater than slow-wakeless speed within 150 feet of a dock, swimming area, water-skier, another vessel or a person fishing from the shore. All other safety requirements apply.
14. Lake Cle Elum
Cle Elum, Washington is best used for kayaking and canoeing.
During the summer, irrigation demands cause the water level to drop drastically, making it impossible to launch boats.
However, boaters can follow a dirt road to the water. There is little information about boating regulations on the lake but we believe it will be similar to regulations at other Washington water bodies.
15. Lake Erie
There are no restrictions for boating on Lake Erie.
As one of the most populated and fish rich water bodies with a warm temperature, the lake hosts every type of watercrafts including trawlers, yachts and more.
Apart from general boating rules, there is no extraordinary boating rule for the lake. This place is one of the best places to have fun for the residents of Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Ontario.
16. Lake Hefner
Boaters need a boat permit and a fishing permit to use this lake even if you don’t plan on fishing.
Watercrafts of 12 feet length and below are limited to 5 mph on the lake. The Oklahoma City Council continues to update the rules guiding access to Lake Hefner and other water bodies in its domain.
17. Lake Las Vegas
Lake Las Vegas is a privately owned 320-acre artificial lake. It serves three resorts built around it and only people who stay at the hotels have access to the lake.
You can’t bring your boats here but it is possible to rent everything from Jet Skis to speed boats.
General boating rules used in other parts of the city apply here.
18. Lake Woodlands
This is a wildlife lover’s paradise with plenty of low-hanging trees.
Because of its delicate nature, no powerboats are allowed on Lake Woodlands except electric trolling motors.
The water is shallow and there is a lot of restriction for larger watercrafts. If you are not the paddling type, Lake Woodlands may not offer the excitement you crave on the water.
19. Lake Michigan
Except for rowboats, non-motorized privately owned canoes and kayaks a few exceptions, all boats operating on Lake Michigan must have a Michigan Certificate of Number.
You also need validation decals that qualify you to operate your watercraft in the state’s public waters.
Boaters must also have personal flotation devices for each person on board and you must adhere to the speed limits. Michigan takes reckless operation on its lakes seriously. You want to familiarize yourself with the rules to prevent a run-in with law enforcement.
20. Lake Placid
Lake Placid is part of the Adirondack Park, and it is one of the thousands of other lakes in New York.
To be on the lake, you must register your boat with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.
Kayaks and out-of-state vessels are however exempted from the registration.
If you are transporting the boat with a trailer, you must register the trailer with the DMV. You also have to be 18 years or older to operate a boat on the lake. Speed limits include 5 mph within 100 feet of a dock, shore, pier, anchored boat or float.
A noise level of 90dB is the maximum acceptable on the lake and you must clean, drain and treat your watercraft before launching in the water to prevent invasive species.
3 Factors that Determine Boat Access to Lakes
Environmental agencies use different criteria to determine whether to allow boats to use a lake and when. Here are some considerations that affect the accessibility of these inland water bodies.
1) Lake Elevation
The size of a water body is an important determinant of its suitability for boating and other marine activities.
Water bodies such as the Great Lakes are large enough to carry ocean-going barges in some places. But there are many lakes which are smaller and less accommodating.
To ensure the safe use of the lake, regulators will only allow boaters to use the water at certain elevations.
If the water level is too high such as after heavy rains or winter runoff from nearby mountains, boating can be too dangerous.
When the water level is shallow, boats pose a big risk to lake wildlife because of increased turbidity, pollution and propeller blades.
Environmental agencies balance keeping the lake accessible to the public without compromising the water quality and the wellbeing of the wildlife.
2) Public Safety Concerns
Because of their freshwater, lakes serve as reservoirs for their host communities. Many cities get their drinking water and irrigation from inland water bodies such as lakes and rivers and allowing boats can create public safety concerns.
With or without strict rules, people will still pollute the water, disturb the wildlife and sometimes damage critical infrastructure used for the public good.
Many lakes have speed restrictions near projects on the water body to prevent accidents to people and damage to public facilities.
3) Water Quality Concerns
As said earlier, boats can be a huge source of concern for the water quality of lakes. Because lakes are shallower and get most of their water from inland waters and runoff, they contain a high amount of sediment.
Noisy and water-disrupting outboards disturb silt sedimentation, increase turbidity and make the water less suitable for wildlife and human use.
High turbidity reduces sunlight penetration, decreasing the ability of water plants to photosynthesize. It also reduces oxygenation of the water, reducing the amount of life-giving gas to aquatic animals.
Boats release carbon monoxide and oil leaks into the water, making it unsafe for human and wildlife.
Noise pollution is also a major concern in many places, especially with the use of Personal Water Crafts because of their Jet Propulsion systems.
In places where regulation is lax, people have been known to defecate and throw beer and soft drink bottles into the water. All of these create problems for other people and the wildlife, leading authorities to restrict the use of such water bodies for the overall good of everybody.
We hope you now know what to expect in most lakes in the country. Many of these water bodies accept boats, but they may have restrictions on the propulsion, size, speed and operator qualifications.
Have fun and stay safe on the water!
I’ve always lived on the coast and have loved boating since my dad took me sailing as a toddler. Together with my wife I’ve rebuilt two RVs in which we travel as much as we can. We’ve filmed and interviewed tiny houses and RVs since 2011. Read our personal story here.