State Information for VA

Chris Riley by Chris Riley Updated on August 15, 2019. In nauticalknowhow

Age Restrictions:

PWC operators must be at least fourteen years old. PWC operators between the age of 14 and 16 must have proof of successful completion of an approved Boating Safety Course in order to operate a PWC. Successful completion of this Basic Boating Course meets Virginia’s boater education requirements.


All boats propelled by machinery, including gasoline, diesel and electric motors, and principally operated on Virginia waters must be registered and issued a Virginia Certificate of Number (Registration) by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

You must have at least a temporary Certificate of Number before your boat can be operated in state waters. Upon receipt, the permanent Certificate of Number must be signed and carried onboard when the operating. If a boat has been previously registered in Virginia, the new owner may operate the vessel for thirty days from the date of purchase with a dated bill of sale and the valid Certificate of Number of the former owner. The Certificate of Number must be renewed every three years.

The number issued to your boat appears on the certificate and is to be displayed on each side of the forward half of the vessel. Decals are furnished with each Certificate of Number and indicate the month and year of expiration and the registration number assigned to your vessel. The decal must be displayed within 6 inches of the registration number on the boat for which they were issued. Only the current decal may be visible.

In addition, all watercraft 15 feet or more in length and powered by a motor in excess of 25 horsepower, and any sail-powered vessel in excess of 18 feet in length must be issued a Certificate of Title.

Vessels documented by the US Coast Guard cannot be titled or registered in Virginia.

Vessels currently registered in another state and not kept in Virginia for more than 90 consecutive days are not required to be registered in Virginia.

Registration & Titling fees

Registration Fees
Registration of watercraft less than 16 feet length $27
Registration of watercraft 16 to less than 20 feet length $31
Registration of watercraft 20 to less than 40 feet length $37
Registration of watercraft 40 feet length and longer $45
Livery of up to 10 watercraft $27
Livery of more than 10 watercraft $21

* There are additional fees not listed in table
More than 1 registration card per boat may be issued ($9.00 fee for 3-years).

Virginia – Required Equipment:

Every vessel operating in the State of Virginia shall carry and use safety equipment in accordance with U. S. Coast Guard requirements as specified in the Code of Federal Regulations. Additionally, every vessel shall display the lights and shapes required by the navigation rules.

Muffling Device

The exhaust of an internal combustion engine on any motorboat shall be effectively muffled. The muffling device shall exhaust at or below the water line or it shall be equipped with mechanical baffles. The use of cutouts is prohibited.

Backfire Flame Arrestor

All vessels with inboard gasoline engines must be equipped with an approved backfire flame arrestor that is securely fastened.

Visual Distress Signals (VDS)

Vessels 16 feet or more in length are required to carry VDS while operating on the coastal waters up to a point where the water narrows to less than 2 miles wide. Boats may carry devices suitable for day use and devices suitable for night use, or devices suitable for both day and night use. Between sunset and sunrise, VDS suitable for night use must be on board boats less than 16 feet while in coastal waters.


Ventilation is required on most all boats which have a gasoline engine, installed fuel tank(s) or both. Before starting engine, operate blower at least 4 minutes and check engine compartment bilge for gasoline vapors.

Marine Sanitation Devices (MSD)

Vessels with installed marine toilets must have an installed MSD. Pump-out stations are available at most marinas. It is a criminal violation of law to pump sewage into Virginia waters.

Virginia – Personal Flotation Devices:

At least one (1) US Coast Guard approved Type IV (ring buoy OR seat cushion), per boat, is now required on all recreational boats regardless of size, in ADDITION to the wearable PFD required for each person onboard. (Does not apply to personal watercraft (jet skis), canoes, kayaks and inflatable rafts.)

All personal watercraft (PWC) operators, passengers and persons being towed must wear an approved Type I, II, III or V PFD. Inflatable life jackets are prohibited from being used while skiing, riding on or operating a PWC, or by anyone younger than 16.

Each required Type I, II, or III wearable PFD, and Type IV throwable PFD, must be readily accessible. “Readily Accessible” means the PFDs are stowed where they can be easily reached, or are out in the open ready for wear. A readily accessible PFD cannot be in a protective covering or under lock and key.

Serviceable Condition

A PFD is considered to be in serviceable condition only if the following conditions are met:

  1. No PFD may exhibit deterioration that could diminish the performance of the PFD, including:
  • Metal or plastic hardware used to secure the PFD on the wearer that is broken, deformed, or weakened by corrosion:
  • Webbing or straps used to secure the PFD on the wearer that are ripped, torn, or which have become separated from an attachment point on the PFD; or
  • Any other rotted or deteriorated structural component that fails when tugged.
  1. No PFD, including the components of a hybrid inflatable PFD, may exhibit:
  • Rips, tears, or open seams in fabric or coatings, that are large enough to allow the loss of buoyant material;
  • Buoyant material that has become hardened, non-resilient, permanently compressed, waterlogged, oil-soaked, or which shows evidence of fungus or mildew; or
  • Loss of buoyant material or buoyant material that is not securely held in position.
  1. In addition to meeting the requirements above, an inflatable PFD, including the inflatable components of a hybrid inflatable PFD, must be equipped with:
  • Except as provided in subparagraph 4 below, a properly armed inflation mechanism, complete with a full inflation CO2 cartridge and all status indicators showing that the inflation mechanism is properly armed:
  • Inflatable chambers that are all capable of holding air;
  • Oral inflation tubes that are not blocked, detached, or broken;
  • A manual inflation lanyard or lever that is not inaccessible, broken, or missing; and
  • Inflator status indicators that are not broken or otherwise nonfunctional
  1. The inflation system of an inflatable PFD need not be armed when the PFD is worn inflated and otherwise meets the requirements of 1 and 3 above.

The Marine Environment

  • Nuisance aquatic species, such as zebra mussels and hydrilla, can spread quickly, replace native species and damage water resources. Properly cleaning boats and equipment after each use can prevent the spread of invasive marine species.
  • Submersed aquatic vegetation (or SAV) are underwater plants often found in shallow (usually less than 6 feet) areas. They are important habitat for fish and shellfish, particularly the blue crab, and are a food source for several waterfowl species. Scientific studies have shown that SAV beds can be scarred by boat propellers or by larger craft if they run aground. When operating your boat in shallow areas, particularly at low tide, be careful to avoid damaging SAV.
  • Stay 50 feet away from dolphins and 300 feet from whales.

Boating While Intoxicated:

A boater with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more shall be presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. The penalties include fines up to $2,500, imprisonment of up to twelve months, revocation of the privilege to operate a watercraft on the waters of the state for up to a three year period, and enrollment in The Virginia Alcohol Safety Program.

By operating on Virginia waterways, you are deemed to have given consent to a breath and/or blood test to determine the amount of alcohol and/or drugs in your blood. Refusal to submit to a test may constitute grounds for the revocation of your boating privileges.

Speed Limits and Reckless Operation:

Safe Speed:

A safe speed is a speed less than the maximum at which the operator can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and stop within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

In establishing a safe operating speed, the operator shall take into account:

  • Visibility
  • Traffic density
  • Ability to maneuver the vessel (stopping distance and turning ability)
  • Background light at night
  • Proximity of navigational hazards
  • Draft of the vessel
  • Limitations of radar equipment
  • State of wind, sea and current

No vessel shall be operated within Virginia in a reckless or negligent manner. Always maintain a good lookout for other boats and swimmers.

It is unlawful to operate any motorboat or personal watercraft at greater than “no wake” speed when within 50 feet or less of docks, piers, boathouses, boat ramps, or people in the water. Additionally, personal watercraft must come to “no wake” speed when within 50 feet or less of vessels other than personal watercraft. “No wake” is defined as “The slowest possible speed to maintain steerage and headway”. This change does not prohibit the pulling of a skier with a rope less than 50 feet.

UnSafe Practices

It is unlawful to allow any person to ride or sit on the bow, gunwales, transom, or on the decking over the bow of the vessel while under power unless such motorboat is provided with adequate guards or railing to prevent passengers from falls overboard. Passengers or other persons aboard a watercraft may occupy these areas of the vessel to moor or anchor the watercraft, to cast off, or for any other necessary purpose.

Slacken Speed

Operators shall reduce speed to avoid endangering persons or property by the effect of the motorboat’s wake when approaching or passing vessels under way, lying to, at anchor, or made fast to the shore; or when approaching or passing piers, docks, or boathouses; or when approaching or passing persons in the water or using water skis or surfboards.

Accident Reporting:

Any accident involving death, disappearance or personal injury, or damage greater than $2000 must be reported. A “boating accident” includes, but is not limited to, capsizing, collision, foundering, flooding, fire, explosion and the disappearance of a vessel other than by theft. Accidents involving the death or disappearance of a person should be reported immediately, accidents resulting in treatment beyond first aid must be reported within 48 hours. Other accidents must  be reported within 10 days. Notify the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in Richmond, VA or the most immediately available Game Warden of:

  1. The date, time and exact location of the occurrence;
  2. The major details of the accident including the name of each person who died or disappeared;
  3. The name of each person who died or disappeared;
  4. The number and name of the vessel; and
  5. The names and addresses of the owner and operator.

When the operator of a vessel cannot give the notice required by the foregoing, each person, on board the vessel shall notify the Department or a member of its law-enforcement force, or determine that the notice has been given.

Operator must report any accident involving $2000.00 or more in damages.

Duty to Stop and Render Assistance

Every boat operator involved in a marine accident must stop and render assistance as may be practicable to minimize the effects of the accident. Name, address and vessel identification must be given to injured persons and/or the operator of the other vessel.

Virginia – Water Skiing:

Each person engaged in water skiing (or anyone towed through or on the water behind a boat) must wear a U. S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III or V PFD unless there is a dedicated observer, in addition to the operator, who is in a position to observe the progress of the skier. When being towed by a PWC, all skiers must wear a PFD at all times. Inflatable life jackets are prohibited.

Water skiing (or towing of people on other devices) is allowed only between one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.

A person being towed on water skis or other devices may not operate in a reckless manner or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription narcotics and illegal drugs. The operator of the boat may not manipulate or control the boat so as to cause the person(s) being towed to collide with any object or person.

Virginia – Personal Watercraft:

Persons less than 14 years of age shall not operate a Personal Watercraft. Persons aged 14 or 15 must present proof of passing an approved boater education course, carry it on their person when operating and present it to a law enforcement officer upon request.

Each person on a Personal Watercraft (PWC) or being towed by a PWC must wear a Coast Guard approved PFD.

Additionally, the operator must wear a lanyard type cut off switch provided by the manufacturer which will shut off the PWC should the operator fall off. PWC operators must carry a USCG-approved fire extinguisher and a sound producing device onboard.

It is illegal to operate a PWC from sunset to sunrise. You may not carry passengers in excess of the number for which the craft was designed. It is also unlawful to carry more passengers than the PWC is rated to carry.

Always carry the registration card when operating a PWC and do not operate while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The operator of a Personal Watercraft should operate in a reasonable and prudent manner. This includes being aware of other boats in the operating area, awareness of environmental concerns and respecting the rights of shoreline property owners. The PWC operator should not follow other boats closely and should not jump the wake of other boats. Remember, the operator of a PWC will not be able to steer a PWC when the throttle is released or the engine is cut off.

Reckless operation of a PWC includes: weaving through other vessels which are underway, stopped, moored or anchored while exceeding a reasonable speed; to follow another vessel or skier, cross the path of another vessel, or jump the wake of another vessel more closely than is reasonable and prudent; to cut between the towing vessel and a skier, or to spray or attempt to spray an object or person with the wash or jet spray of the PWC.




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