Celebrating the 4th on the water?
July 2, 2009
A long weekend smack in the middle of summer means barbecues, bonfires and plenty of boating.
Utah is home to more than 100 bodies of water that are considered boatable. Whether you’re heading out for an afternoon on the Jordanelle or trekking to Lake Powell for an overnighter, you’ll want to brush up on state laws and important safety measures before hitting the open water.
In this article, Jordanelle Reservoir park manager Laurie Backus helps review the rules of waterways and important safety information for motorboats between 16 and 26 feet long.
Utah boating laws and regulations vary depending on the length and type of the boat. For a complete list of Utah laws concerning all motorboats, sailboats and personal watercrafts, visit http://www.boatus.org/onlinecourse/statelaws/Utah.html .
Know before you go
First things first: Before you get to the docks, make sure your vessel is registered and numbered by the state of Utah. Otherwise, you’ll be steering your craft straight back to the garage.
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"The bow number, which is basically a license plate for your boat, needs to be displayed properly," says Backus. "There are rules on where it has to be placed, height restrictions, and it must be plain, bold and a contrasting color." Current registration decals and a capacity plate must also appear on the boat.
Boat operators must keep registration paperwork and proof of insurance onboard, Backus notes. Insurance is required for boats of 50 horsepower or above.
Registration expires annually and may be obtained by presenting the proper application form, fee, and validated tax certificate to the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles. For more information, go to http://www.dmv.utah.gov .
The other thing you’ll want to do is stock the boat with required safety equipment. Make a list and check it twice. Skipping an item or two is grounds for a citation from park rangers, county officials, or sheriff’s deputies who patrol the water, says Backus.
According to the Utah State Parks website, boats must contain a marine-approved fire extinguisher, spare propulsion (paddle, oar or motor), a horn or whistle capable of producing a four-to-six second blast of sound, one personal flotation device for each person on board, and at least one ring buoy. The boat must feature proper navigation lights, a portable water-bailing device, muffler, a marine flame arrester and air filters.
Utah State Parks advises boaters to bring along a flashlight, first-aid kit, boarding ladder, tool kit, extra line (rope), spare spark plugs, spare bilge plugs, spare propellers, anchor, visual distress signals, additional life jackets, spare bailing bucket, VHF marine band radio, and a copy of the Navigation Rules.
In Utah, motorboat operators must be 16 years or older. A person under 16 may operate the boat only when accompanied and directly supervised by a responsible person who is at least 18 years old. Utah State Parks and Recreation recommends but does not require a boating safety course for adult operators. To take Utah’s boating course online, go to http://www.boat-ed.com/ut .
There is currently no requirement for a boating license or permit. But Backus says that legislators are pushing for a statute that would require a boating endorsement on people’s driver’s licenses, much like a motorcycle endorsement.
The operator may not be intoxicated or have an open container of an alcoholic beverage while the boat is in operation. Arrest and conviction of boating under the influence (BUI) may result in the loss of your motor-vehicle driver license, a fine, mandatory jail sentence, community service work and rehabilitation assessment.
Passengers may consume alcohol aboard the boat as long as they are of age and do not plan to operate the boat.
It is illegal to load a boat in excess of the maximum capacity stated on the capacity label or in the owner’s manual. This includes a total weight of persons, motor, and gear, or the total number persons on board. The capacity includes people being towed behind the vessel, says Backus.
Depending on which body of water you are visiting, your four-legged friends may or may not be allowed. "That depends on the people that own the water," says Backus. Dogs are allowed at the Jordanelle but they are not allowed at Deer Creek.
Rules of the waterways
Whenever a boat comes within 150 feet of another boat, a person in the water, a water skier towed by another boat, a fisherman, a launch ramp, a dock or a designated swimming area, the operator must slow the vessel to a wakeless speed. Idle zones are marked by orange buoys and failure to comply will result in a ticket. "There are rules of the water just like on the road," says Backus.
Boat operators must maintain a proper lookout and a safe course of travel when towing a person on water skis, wakeboards, inner tubes or other devices. All persons being towed behind a motorboat must wear properly-fitting life jackets.
An observer who is at least eight years old must be on board to watch and communicate with the skier. "That observer must have an approved orange flag in hand that they hold up when someone is floating in the water," Backus explains. She notes that it’s not safe to tow people in a non-standing position within 20 feet of the stern of the boat due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Towed devices may be used only between sunrise and sunset.
Utah laws prohibit disposing of litter, toxic fluids or human waste in the water or on land adjacent to the water. "The most responsible thing is to take your trash home with you," says Backus.
In order to prevent the spreading of aquatic diseases and aquatic nuisance species such as quagga and zebra mussels, Utah State Parks recommends that boaters decontaminate boats and equipment before and after entering the water.
Upon arriving at a body of water, boat operators must complete a self-inspection survey and place it on the dash prior to launch. "It asks if you have been to certain bodies of water in the last 30 days, and if you meet the criteria, the boat must be decontaminated," explains Backus.
Bodies of water such as Lake Mead in Nevada and Electric Lake in southeastern Utah have tested positive for invasive mussels. The self-decontamination process involves cleaning mud, plants and debris; draining the ballast tanks, bilge, livewells and motor; and drying the boat for seven days. Alternatively, a professional service can wash the boat with scalding water and flush the circulation systems. The Jordanelle provides a decontamination service Thursday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Backus says people shouldn’t rely on eyesight alone to check for aquatic hitchhikers. "When the mussels are babies, they’re microscopic," she says. "You have no idea if they’re there or not."
To learn more about invasive species and which waters are affected, log on to http://wildlife.utah.gov/mussels.