It's the Law


In addition to the laws mentioned previously, here are some other Wisconsin regulations that apply when vessel operators are on the water. Please also see Requirements Specific to PWCs.

Unlawful Operation


Wisconsin law states that these dangerous operating practices are illegal.

Negligent or Reckless Operation of a vessel or the reckless manipulation of water skis, a surfboard, or a similar device is operating in a manner that causes danger to the life, limb, or property of any person. Examples of negligent or reckless operation are:

  • Jumping the wake of any vessel that is towing a person on water skis, inner tube, wakeboard, or other similar device
  • Operating a vessel within any area marked off or set aside as a prohibited area or a swim area
  • Operating a motorboat, other than a PWC, at a speed in excess of “slow, no wake speed” within 100 feet of the shoreline of any lake
  • Weaving your vessel through congested waterway traffic
  • Operating a vessel in a manner that creates hazardous wave or wake conditions while approaching or passing another vessel
  • Steering toward another object or person in the water and swerving at the last possible moment in order to avoid collision
  • Chasing, harassing, or disturbing wildlife with your vessel

Operating a Boat With a Person Riding on the Bow, Deck, or Gunwale is allowing the operator or passengers to ride on the bow, gunwale, transom, seat backs, seats on raised decks, or any other place where there may be a chance of falling overboard.

Overloading is loading the vessel beyond the recommended capacity shown on the capacity plate installed by the vessel manufacturer. The operator must limit the vessel’s load to the total weight or maximum number of persons shown on the capacity plate, whichever is more restrictive.

Overpowering is providing more power than is needed. It is illegal to sell, equip, operate, or allow others to operate a boat with any motor or other propulsion machinery beyond its safe power capacity.

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

  • Operate a vessel at a distance from other vessels or at a speed that exceeds safe and reasonable limits given the waterway traffic, marked speed limits, weather, and other boating conditions.
  • Exceed the speeds posted or charted in any specific zone or area.
  • Operate a vessel repeatedly in a circuitous manner within 200 feet of another vessel or person in the water.
  • Operate a vessel within 100 feet of the shoreline, any dock, raft, pier, or restricted area on any lake at greater than “slow, no wake speed.”
  • Operate a vessel at greater than “slow, no wake speed” on lakes that are 50 acres or less and have public access, unless such lakes serve as thoroughfares between two or more navigable lakes.
  • Operate a vessel at greater than “slow, no wake speed” within 100 feet of a swimmer, unless the vessel is assisting the swimmer.
“Slow, No Wake Speed” means a speed at which a vessel moves as slowly as possible while still maintaining steerage control.

Unsafe Condition is placing or leaving in public waters any vessel that is not safe to operate. Law enforcement officers may instruct the operator to take immediate corrective action or return to mooring if any of the following “unsafe conditions” exist.

  • The vessel is overloaded or overpowered.
  • There are insufficient personal flotation devices, fire extinguishers, backfire flame arrestors, ventilation systems, or navigation lights.
  • The vessel is leaking fuel or has fuel in the bilges.
Boaters riding on the bow
It is illegal to ride on the bow or gunwales while the boat is moving.
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