When you own a pontoon boat, you’re naturally going to be focussed on the fun and leisure time that you can have with it.

But as with any boat or water activity, you are responsible for the safety of yourself, your passengers, and other users on the water. You should always be fully aware of what your responsibilities should be, and nobody should even consider buying a pontoon unless they are prepared to understand the rules and legislation with regards to safety and the law.

Just like driving on the road, there are federal rules for the waterways. Pontoon boat regulations tend to start with those set out according to the U.S. Inland Rules which govern federal waters around the United States.

On a state by state level, all states have adopted the U.S Inland Rules virtually word for word, but there will be some variance to the guidelines on what you can and can’t do, depending on where you are in the United States.

Sticking to the rules and regulations should be relatively simple, and in most cases just requires common sense and a degree of knowledge on what’s right and what’s wrong including weight calculations, towing, operation, and behavior.

But, you should be aware of exactly what’s required from you legally as a pontoon boat owner in your state… and if you intend to take your pontoon boat elsewhere in the country, it pays to have the required knowledge, so you stay safe and on the right side of the law.

Some of the more common rules that will be different depending on what state you are in include:

  • How you grant the right of way
  • How you pass on a particular side depending on a scenario
  • How old you have to be to captain a pontoon boat
  • How many life jackets are needed for passenger numbers
  • How alcohol and drug limits differ legally
  • How you are permitted to tow the pontoon
  • What boating license you will need
  • How much the weight of your pontoon boat is
  • What type of insurance you will be required to hold
  • Plus, the speed limits in place for towing a trailer

Pontoon Boat Safety Rules – State by State

Below is a table that contains links to every US state where you can find out what the pontoon boat regulations and safety rules are in that area.

Please familiarize yourself with the rules and stick to them. As a pontoon boat operator, you can be heavily fined or even jailed if you exhibit reckless and unlawful behavior. In the worst case, your actions could lead to serious injury or even death.

AlabamaLouisianaOhio
AlaskaMaineOklahoma
ArizonaMarylandOregon
ArkansasMassachusettsPennsylvania
CaliforniaMichiganRhode Island
ColoradoMinnesotaSouth Carolina
ConnecticutMississippiSouth Dakota
DelawareMissouriTennessee
FloridaMontanaTexas
GeorgiaNebraskaUtah
HawaiiNevadaVermont
IdahoNew HampshireVirginia
IllinoisNew JerseyWashington
IndianaNew MexicoWest Virginia
IowaNew YorkWisconsin
KansasNorth CarolinaWyoming
KentuckyNorth Dakota

I appreciate that some of these pontoon boat safety rules can be very hard to digest, and I certainly don’t recommend them as bedtime reading. But please try to get your head around them in the state that you are already in or planning on going to anytime soon.

At the very least, make sure that you keep your speed down to an acceptable and safe level, keep your distance from other water users, be alert, don’t captain your boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and keep your passengers in check at all times.

You might also be interested in a list I put together containing all the must have items you should carry on your pontoon boat, some of which will be required by state law. The list is designed to keep you safe, and to help with any situation you might have whilst out on the water.

More importantly though, I’ve also put together a checklist of pontoon boat safety equipment. These are legally required to be carried on your boat at all times so go check that list out and make sure you’ve got everything covered.