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Massachusetts law about recreational boating

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases and web sources on recreational boating by the Trial Court Law Libraries.

Table of Contents

Best bets

Massachusetts boating law summary, Boat and Recreation Vehicle Safety Bureau.
Overview of the basic state boating laws.

Massachusetts boating safety guide, Boat and Recreation Vehicle Safety Bureau.
Provides links to “The Official Massachusetts Boat Safety Handbook,” personal watercraft safety law, a safety handbook, boating study guide, safer paddling video and accident report.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 90B §§ 1-19

  • §§ 2-4B identification numbers
  • § 5 classes of motorboats; required lighting, fire extinguishers, and signals
  • § 5A personal flotation devices
  • § 5C sewage discharge (see also MGL c. 21 § 27(12))
  • §§ 8-8B operating under the influence of alcohol and controlled substances
  • § 9 accident reports
  • §§ 9A-9B jet skis, surf jets, wetbikes
  • § 13A scuba divers
  • § 14 fines and penalties (see also MGL c. 21A § 10G and § 10H and MGL c. 266 § 63)

MGL c. 131 § 45 city or town can make and enforce boating rules for great ponds not exceeding 500 acres

MGL c. 140 § 194 licensing boat rental business on great pond

MGL c. 136 § 6 operation of boats for non-commercial fishing and recreation

MGL c. 231 § 85R no liability for injuries for race committee member or yacht club during boat race or regatta

MGL c. 231 § 85V tort immunity for volunteer at non-profit sailing program

Massachusetts regulations

302 CMR 12.07 boating rules on Department of Conservation and Recreation property

310 CMR 9.38 & 9.39  standards for recreational boating facilities, marinas, boatyards and boat ramps

323 CMR  motorboat tilting certificates, personal watercraft, and whitewater rafting

Federal laws

46 US Code § 2302 operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drug

46 US Code §§ 4301 et seq. safety standards for recreational vessels

Federal regulations

33 CFR Part 83 Navigation rules

33 CFR Part 95 Operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or a dangerous drug

33 CFR Part 100 Safety of life on navigable waters

Selected case law

Commonwealth v. Thompson, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 572, 32 NE 3d 1273 (2015) The defendant struck a moored sailboat, and his passenger died from her injuries.  The police officer responding to the accident placed the defendant under arrest.  After the defendant was treated at a hospital, the officer asked him for consent to give a blood sample for chemical testing.  The defendant moved to have the test results suppressed based upon a lack of effective consent.  “The statute prohibiting boating while impaired, like the motor vehicle OUI statute, contains an "implied consent" provision.”  The court found that “the constitutional standard for evaluating consent to a search” does not apply in this case.  The allowance of the defendant’s motion to suppress was vacated and the case was remanded to the Superior Court. 

O’Shaughnessy v. Besse, 7 Mass. App. Ct. 727, 389 NE 2d 1049 (1979) Passenger sued harbormaster and patrolman for injuries caused by speedboat collision with unlit floats.  The Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s allowance of the defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.  The court found that the statute does not require lights on a moored vessel, and the operator of the boat was also at fault for his handling of the boat.

Web sources

Massachusetts Marine Trades Association links to weather and tide charts.

Massachusetts Office of Fishing and Boating Access provides boat and canoe access sites in the Commonwealth.

U.S. Coast Guard information for recreational boaters such as education resources, safety checks, accident reporting, among others.

Print sources

Consumer law, 3rd ed., (Mass. Practice v.35) Thomson Reuters, 2010 with supplement. Chapter 7 Product Safety, J. Safety requirements for particular products, § 7:86 Boats-Federal Boat Safety Act; § 7:87 Boats-Remedies and defenses under Federal Act; § 7:88 Boats-Massachusetts regulation; preemption.

Criminal model jury instructions for use in the District Court, 3rd ed., MCLE, looseleaf. Part 5 Motor Vehicle & OUI Offenses, Instruction 5.700 Operating a Boat with a Blood Alcohol Level of .08% or Greater; Instruction 5.710 Operating a Boat While Under the Influence of Intoxicating Liquor.

LexisNexis practice guide. Massachusetts OUI law, 2020 ed., LexisNexis.
§ 16.06 Refusal of Breath Test; § 16.14 Boating Under the Influence.

The little book of boating law, American Bar Association, 2012.

Maritime law: navigating the seas, MCLE, 2009.

Maritime law: welcome aboard, MCLE, 2013.

Maritime mishaps and mistakes, Advanced Legal Studies, 2011.

Motor vehicle Massachusetts police manual 2019: the Massachusetts police reference for motor vehicle law, Law Enforcement Dimensions, 2019. Chapter 24, Boats & Other Crafts, pp. 24-1 – 24-20.

Municipal law and practice, 5th ed., (Mass. Practice v.18A) Thomson/West, 2006 with supplement. Chapter 20 Environmental Protection, § 20.9 Great ponds and other water bodies; § 20.11 Public trust doctrine.

Procedural forms annotated, 6th ed., (Mass. Practice v.10A) Thomson Reuters, 2009 with supplement. Chapter 42 Complaints-Negligence, D. BOATS, § 42:20 Swimmer against row boat operator; § 42:21 Boat operator against other operator; § 42:22 Boat operator to passenger of other boat; § 42:23 Allegation-Failure to provide adequate buoys or markers.

Real estate law, with forms, 2020-2021 ed., (Mass. Practice v.28A) Thomson Reuters. Chapter 26 Water Rights, § 26:8 Freshwater-Great ponds.



Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only


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Last updated: February 1, 2021