Understanding Massachusetts Recreational Boating Laws in the Covid-19 Era
With Massachusetts gradually opening up after what seems like endless weeks cooped up at home, many people are looking forward to enjoy the rest of the summer out on the water. Of course, nothing is exactly the same as it was last year. Although recreational boating, whether on the sea or on lakes and rivers, is certainly now possible, boaters must make sure they understand both normal state boating laws and those rules which have been imposed because of the response to Covid-19.
Massachusetts is currently in a relatively good situation as far as the pandemic is concerned. Both daily cases and deaths have come down dramatically. The state government is about to move to Phase 3 of the response to the virus. But anyone who has paid attention to the spike in infections and the reversal of new found freedoms in the South and West of the country should realize that personal responsibility and adherence to each set of rules as they are released shouldn’t be taken lightly. It would be a shame to get out on the water and then discover that the state has to go back to the restrictions of the last few months.
The following article sets out the Massachusetts state’s normal boating regulations that affect recreational boaters irrespective of the status of the pandemic. The current Covid-19 rules as they apply to boaters are superimposed on top of boating regulations because of the need to keep the virus suppressed.
Massachusetts boating laws
All motorized water craft need to be registered with registration numbers fixed in such a position that they are visible on the outside of the vessel.
State minimum safety equipment is similar to that required by federal boating laws.
Life preservers should be worn by:
- anyone out on the water who is less than 12 years old;
- water skiers;
- kayakers or canoeists between 15th September and 15th May;
- all PWC (personal water craft /jet ski) users.
All motorized vessels except for PWCs should be equipped with:
- an anchor;
- manual bailer;
- paddle or oars on any vessel less than 16 feet in length;
- boarding ladder if towing a water skier.
Most vessels except for PWCs and any vessel not equipped with a motor should have:
- a fire extinguisher;
- distress signals;
- navigation lights;
- life preservers;
- signaling devices.
Age limits on boating in Massachusetts
- Personal watercraft (PWC) users must be a minimum of 16 years old.
- No-one can operate a motorized vessel who is less than 12 years old, unless supervised by a competent adult (i.e. 18 years or older).
- Anyone between 12 and 15 years old must have completed a basic boating course and hold a boating safety certificate while underway. An adult must supervise anyone within this age range without this certificate.
- 16 and 17 year olds must also hold a boating safety certificate to operate a PWC.
Prohibited boating practices in Massachusetts
No recreational boater should:
- operate a vessel of any kind under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The legal limit for alcohol while operating a boat is the same for driving a vehicle on a public road, i.e. a BAC of 0.08;
- operate a vessel at more than 6mph within 150 feet of someone who is in the water swimming, a marina, water-skier, boat ramp or launching area, a moored or docked boat;
- operate a vessel without navigation lights;
- operate a vessel with other people sitting where they could fall overboard (e.g. on the bow or gunwales);
- operate a vessel at night while towing a water skier;
- operate a vessel in a dangerously overloaded condition.
Requirement to report an accident
If an accident occurs while out on the water in which someone is injured, there is a fatality, or there is property damage of more than $500, then MA Environmental Police should be notified straight away and an accident report should be filed within 5 days for all non fatal accidents and 2 days for fatalities.
PWC specific rules
- both operator and passenger should wear life preservers;
- the cutoff or kill switch and safety lanyard should be physically attached to the operator;
- obey all rules for motorized vessels as stated above within 150 feet of anyone in the water, a boat ramp, marina, moored boat or water skier;
- not operate the PWC between sunset and sunrise;
- do not use high speed when the water space is congested with other water craft.
Covid-19 Regulations as They Apply to Recreational Boating
- All boating facilities including inland and coastal boat ramps are open for use. The ramp will be considered closed if there are no parking spaces available. Ramp use for launching boats and canoes should be conducted without loitering. Boaters should not remain in the vicinity of other boaters for any length of time and at all times maintain social distancing.
- Social distancing should be maintained at all times, even on a boat, unless all the people on the boat are from the same household. Social distancing means maintaining a distance of 6 feet apart. Where this is impossible, face masks must be worn by all people aged over 2.
- No group sizes more than 10 are allowed together. This applies to the number of people permitted on any single boat as well.
- Watercraft should not raft up together and should maintain a distance from other watercraft while afloat.
- Fish measuring, weigh-ins and price allocation should be done virtually where practical. If done in-person, social distancing guidelines as stated above should be observed.
- Note that the state is moving from Phase 2 to Phase 3 of the response on Monday 6th July. Regulations as they apply to recreational boating may change as the level of response changes and boaters should make sure they are aware of any new changes as they are made.
Penalties for failing to adhere to boating rules and Covid-19 response regulations
Most or all of these rules as given above are basic common sense and designed to keep everyone safe and ensure that anyone who uses the water for recreational purposes are able to enjoy themselves. There are a variety of penalties for infringements, ranging from fines, confiscation of equipment through to criminal charges, e.g. for boating while under the influence.
If you believe that you need counsel, you should contact the Law Office of Richard Mucci in Winchester, MA to speak to a sympathetic and experienced lawyer to discuss your legal options.