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The beautiful pristine lakes and streams of the Sawtooth Mountains are enticing on a warm summer day. Whether a slow sunset cruise, a fishing tournament, or a peaceful glide on a paddle board- the rules, registrations, and safety precautions are similar but can vary depending on the watercraft. Boat owners and passengers can benefit from knowing the legalities (and safety precautions) before heading out onto Idaho waterways this boating season.

Legal docs

Non-motorized vessels (kayaks, SUPs, canoes, etc.) do NOT need to be registered. They do, however, require an invasive species sticker. Registration is required if a trolling motor is attached to any watercraft under 16 feet.

Everything else – motor boats, jet boats, jet skis, drift boats, etc., will need to be registered and have an invasive species sticker. Boats over 12 feet with an outboard motor need to be titled in the state of Idaho. Idaho boating legislation.


Life Vests

Idaho code states that all watercraft must have life vests on board for all passengers. Life vests are required for those 14 years and younger on boats 19 feet or less. A proper fit for all passengers is critical.

Fire extinguishers

The state of Idaho requires that boaters carry a fire extinguisher on their boat at all times. The fire extinguisher must be Coast Guard-approved, rated for marine use, and be type B or ABC. 


Boaters must carry a horn or whistle to inform other boaters of their presence or dangerous conditions.

Under the influence

In Idaho, it is illegal to operate any boat while under the influence of an intoxicating substance, such as drugs and/or alcohol. A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 or higher (0.02% or greater if you are under 21) is illegal when operating motorized vehicles.

Electrical storms

If you cannot leave the water during an electrical storm, take cover in the boat cabin. Avoid touching any metal or electrical devices. If your boat does not have a cabin, stay as low as you can in the boat.

Reporting accidents

Any accident resulting in damages of $1,500 or more, injuries beyond first aid, a missing person, or a fatality, must be reported to the local sheriff’s office. 


If traveling at night, or between sundown and sunrise, boaters must have navigation lights. These include:

  • Masthead lights
  • Sidelights
  • Stern lights
  • All-around lights: If the watercraft is shorter than 39.5 feet, an all-around light can be used. This is important if the sidelights go out for whatever reason. If the watercraft is longer, a separate masthead and stern light are required.

Boaters may also be required to have flashing lights and towing lights.

Towing- skiers, tubers, etc. 

A skier-down flag is an orange or red flag at least 1-foot square and required when towing someone. This informs other boaters that at least one person is in the water. Idaho also requires a competent observer on board in addition to whoever is driving the boat when towing tubers, wakeboards, etc. 

Have fun and be safe this summer! 

To learn more visit: Frequently Asked Boating Questions | ID Dept Parks & Rec