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Maine Boating Laws

Practice Safe Boating on Maine Waters


(1) During an authorized regatta, race, boat exhibition or water ski exhibition the operator of a watercraft shall not cross or traverse the course or area of such an event when the warning flag is displayed, except in an emergency.

(2) It is illegal to operate a watercraft to molest wild animals or wild birds so as to pursue, molest, harass, drive or herd any wild animal or wild birds, except as may be permitted during the open season on that animal.

(3) Personal watercraft may not be operated during the hours between sunset and sunrise.

(4) When watercraft are approaching each other head on, or nearly so, each watercraft shall direct their course to the right and pass on the port side of each other and at a distance and speed so that the wake of each will not endanger the other.

(5) When a watercraft desires to pass another watercraft on either side in the same direction, the overtaking watercraft shall keep clear of the overtaken watercraft and shall not pass until it is safe to do so, and then at such speed and distance so as not to endanger the overtaken watercraft. The overtaken watercraft has the right-of-way until the overtaking watercraft has safely passed.

(6) When watercraft approach each other at right angles or obliquely, the watercraft approaching on the right (starboard) side has the right-of-way and the other watercraft which has such watercraft on its right side shall keep out of the way of the other by directing her course to starboard so as to cross the stern of the other watercraft, or stop and reverse if necessary to avoid collision.

(7) Watercraft under sail alone or being propelled by oars or paddles have the right-of-way over watercraft propelled by machinery, except when overtaking as described in No 2.

(8) In narrow channels, streams, thoroughfares, every watercraft shall keep to the right of the middle of the channel in the direction which it is traveling when it is safe and practicable to do so.

(9) It shall be the duty of every operator to abide by these rules. However, where immediate danger exists the operator shall, if necessary, depart from these rules to the extent necessary to avoid collision.


The U. S. Coast Guard and Maine law require that you must have USCG approved PFDs on your recreational boat. The number and type of PFDs that you will need depend on the size of your boat, the number of people on board and the age of the people on board. Your PFD's must be in good and serviceable condition. If they become torn or water-soaked to the point that they will not dry out, they should be replaced. PFDs must also be readily available. They should not be stored away or kept in their original packaging.

Watercraft Under 16 feet in length:

  • If your boat is less than 16 feet long, or is a canoe or kayak of any length you must have a Type l, ll, lll, or IV PFD for each person on board (UNTIL MAY 1,1996 WHEN YOU WILL BE REQUIRED TO HAVE A WEARABLE (TYPE 1,11, or III) PFD FOR EACH PERSON ON BOARD ON ALL WATERS - TYPE IV WILL NO LONGER BE CONSIDERED A SUITABLE PFD).

Watercraft 16 feet or longer:

  • If your boat is 16 feet or longer, you must have one wearable PFD (Type l, ll, lll) for each person on board, plus at least one throwable device (Type IV) on board. For example: If you have 3 people on board your 16 foot boat, you need 4 PFDs - 3 wearable PFDs and 1 throwable device.


While wearing your PFD is not normally required by law, there are four exceptions to this.EFFECTIVE MAY 1.1995:

  • Children 10 years of age and under must wear a Type l, ll, lll PFD while on board all watercraft.
  • Anyone canoeing or kayaking on the Saco River between Hiram Dam and the Atlantic Ocean between January 1st and June 1st must wear a Type l, ll, lll PFD.
  • Anyone operating or riding on a personal watercraft (jet-ski, etc.) must wear a Type I or II PFD.
  • Any person being towed on water-skis, surfboards or similar devices must wear a life jacket, life belt or similar lifesaving device.


(1) Canoes owned by a boys' or girls' summer camp located upon internal waters in Maine and duly licensed by the Dept. of Human Services and utilized by campers under the direction and supervision of a camp counselor at least 18 years of age or older during training and instruction periods on waters adjacent to the main camp within a distance of 500 feet from the shoreline of that camp, shall be exempt from the PFD requirements.

(2) Log rafts carrying not more than 2 persons and used on ponds or lakes or internal waters of less than 50 acres in area, are exempt from carrying personal flotation devices.

Navigational Lights

Every watercraft in all weathers operating on inland waters from sunset to sunrise shall carry and exhibit the following lights when underway and during such time no other lights which may be mistaken for those prescribed shall be exhibited. Every white light prescribed by this section shall be of such character as to be visible at a distance of at least two (2) miles. Every colored light prescribed by this section shall be of such character as to be visible at a distance of at least one (1) mile. The word "visible" in this subsection, when applied to lights, shall mean visible on a dark night with clear atmosphere.

(1) Motorboats of Classes A and 1.

  • a. A bright white light aft to show all around the horizon.
  • b. A combined light in the fore part of the vessel and lower than the white light aft, showing green to starboard and red to port, so fixed as to throw the light from right ahead to two points abaft the beam of their respective sides.

(2) Motorboats of Classes 2 and 3:

  • a. A bright white light in the fore part of the vessel as near the stem as practicable, so constructed as to show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of twenty (20) points of the compass, so fixed as to throw the light ten (10) points on each side of the vessel; namely, from the right ahead to two (2) points abaft the beam on either side.
  • b. A bright white light aft to show all around the horizon and higher than the white light forward.
  • c. On the starboard side a green light so constructed as to show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon often (10) points of the compass, so fixed as to throw the light from right ahead to two (2) points abaft the beam on the starboard side. On the port side a red light so constructed as to show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of ten (10) points of the compass, so fixed as to throw the light from right ahead to two (2) points abaft the beam on the port side. The said side lights shall be fitted with inboard screens of sufficient height so set as to prevent these lights from being seen across the bow.

(3) Watercraft Under Sail:

  • Each motorboat and any other type of watercraft when propelled by sail alone, shall carry only the combined light or separate side lights as appropriate to its class, and in addition, one white light at the stern so constructed that it shall show an unbroken light over an area of the horizon of 12 points of the compass so fixed as to show the light 6 points from right aft on each side of the vessel.

(4) Watercraft Under Sail and Motor:

  • When propelled by sail and machinery any motorboat shall carry the lights required by this section for a motorboat propelled by machinery only.

(5) Watercraft Manually Propelled:

  • All other watercraft, not propelled by machinery, such as rowboats, canoes and rafts, and which are only operated by hand power, rowed, paddled or navigated by the current shall have ready at hand a lantern or flashlight showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

(6) Watercraft At Anchor:

  • Any motorboat anchored on solely internal waters from sunset to sunrise, while occupied by a person or persons, may display in lieu of the above navigation light, a single white light showing all around the horizon (32 points).

(7) Enforcement Lights:

  • Only those watercraft used by any law enforcement officer authorized to enforce this regulation or any of the laws of Title 12, Chapter 715, are permitted to use or display a distinctive blue colored, pulsating or revolving light for the purposes of enforcing these laws on the waters of this State in addition to any other navigation lights required.

(8) Towboats:

  • Towboats, when towing booms or rafts of wood products on solely internal waters of this state, shall display, in addition to the required lights for said watercraft, a flashing or pulsating amber light on either or both the towboat and the towed raft.

(9) International Lights:

  • Any watercraft using International Waters between sunset and sunrise must display lights required under International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (Colregs 1972). Lights under International Rules may be shown on inland waters.


The following persons are exempt from carrying visual distress devices suitable for day use, however they must carry on board U.S. Coast Guard approved visual distress signals suitable for night use when operating between sunset and sunrise.

  • a. A person competing in any organized marine parade, regatta, race or similar event;
  • b. A person using a manually propelled boat; or
  • c. A person using a sailboat of completely open construction, not equipped with propulsion machinery, under 26' in length.

Other Boating Links

Boating - Maine has some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers in the country to enjoy open water boating. Come experience the waters of Maine.

Registration Information - All motorboats of any size, including airmobiles and personal watercraft, must be registered in Maine to be used on the waters of this State, except the following….

Motor Size Restrictions On Internal Waters - The Commissioner of Inland Fisheries & wildlife may adopt and amend rules governing the horsepower (manufacturer's rated horse-power of the machinery; includes the aggregate of all such propellant machinery) of motors used to propel watercraft on all internal waters of this State.

Navigational Requirements - These requirements cover all navigational requirements for all waters in the State of Maine.

Personal Watercraft Requirements - •Any person under 16 years of age may not operate a personal watercraft which includes jet-skis. •A person between 16 & 18 years of age may operate a personal watecraft if they have successfully completed an approved education course, or if they are accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older. Proof of age and course completion must be possessed while operating a personal watercraft. •Anyone operating or riding on a personal watercraft must wear a Type I, II or III PFD. •The parent or guardian of a minor under 18 years of age is responsible for the minor’s actions while operating a personal watercraft. •Personal watercraft may not be operated during the hours between sunset and sunrise.

Liability Laws - No person may throw, drop, deposit, discard or otherwise dispose of litter in any manner or amount: in or on any public highway, road, street, alley, public right-of-way or other public lands, except in containers, receptacles, or on property that is designated for disposal of garbage and refuse; or in any fresh water lake, river, stream, tidal or coastal water or on ice over the water. When any litter is thrown or discarded from a watercraft both the operator of the watercraft, unless it is a watercraft being used for the carriage of passengers for hire, and the person actually disposing of the litter are in violation of this section. This subsection does not prohibit persons who fish, lobster or otherwise harvest from the water from returning to the water harvested products, bait and similar materials that naturally originate in the water.


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