It's the Law


Tennessee law states that it is unlawful to operate a watercraft in a reckless, negligent, or dangerous manner. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to six months in jail. Specifically, the following operating practices are illegal.

Unlawful Operation


Reckless Operation of a vessel is any act that endangers the life, limb, or property of another person. Examples of illegal, reckless operation are:

  • Operating a vessel in a swimming area
  • Weaving your vessel through congested waterway traffic
  • Steering toward another object or person in the water and swerving at the last possible moment in order to avoid collision or spray others nearby
  • Jumping the wake of another vessel in a way that endangers another's life, safety, or property
  • Chasing, harassing, or disturbing wildlife with your vessel

Improper Speed or Distance is not maintaining a proper speed and distance while operating a vessel. Specifically, it is illegal to:

  • Operate at an excessive rate of speed in crowded or dangerous areas or during periods of restricted visibility.
  • Operate a vessel at greater than "slow, no wake speed" in any areas marked as "No Wake."
  • Operate within 300 feet of a commercial vessel dock at greater than "idle speed."
  • Jump the wake of another vessel within 100 feet of that vessel.

“Slow, No Wake Speed” or “Idle Speed” means the slowest speed at which it is still possible to maintain steering. The vessel should not produce a wake at this speed.

Riding on the Bow, Gunwales, or Transom is allowing passengers to ride on a vessel in places where there may be a chance of falling overboard while underway at greater than idle speed.

Unsafe Condition is operating a vessel in a condition that causes a hazard to the occupants or others on the waterways. For any of these problems, an enforcement officer may instruct the operator to immediately take corrective action or return to the nearest mooring.

  • There are insufficient personal flotation devices, fire extinguishers, backfire flame arrestors, ventilation, or navigation lights.
  • The vessel is overloaded or overpowered.
  • Any other unsafe condition exists.