Boating is a fantastic leisure activity that many Alabama residents enjoy, but it is vital to know the state’s boating laws to avoid dangerous accidents, legal penalties and having to deal with a personal injury attorney.

Prohibited Actions While Boating

It is illegal to create a wake while boating in Alabama waters when approaching or passing another vessel. A wake is the wave created by a watercraft as it moves through the water and it can potentially damage or even capsize another vessel if it is too close. It is also illegal to create a wake when entering or leaving any marina or harbor area.

All boaters must also abide by posted navigational markers, buoys, and water speed limits at all times. Boat operators must ensure they do not exceed their vessels’ carrying capacity and have adequate safety equipment on board for every passenger.

Boating Under the Influence

Operating a watercraft under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs is illegal, just as it is with a motor vehicle on the road. Penalties for violations are the same as motor vehicle DUI violations, and boat operators must consent to a breathalyzer or chemical test if a police officer requests one during a stop.

Reporting Accidents

All boat operators should immediately report any accident that causes significant property damage, bodily injury, or death to the police. Additionally, a boat operator must file a report within ten days of such an accident to the Marine Patrol Division of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Regulations for Safe Boating

All operators, passengers, or anyone towed in a watercraft must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Any violation will lead to a minimum $100 fine and associated court costs. All personal watercraft that do not have self-circling features must have “kill switches” attached to operators. For example, a Jet Ski operator will generally wear a lanyard or wristband that attaches to the watercraft. If the operator falls from the vessel, the lanyard will detach and cut off the engine.

No one under the age of 12 may operate a personal watercraft in Alabama, and operators 14 years or older may operate a personal vessel alone with proper licensing. Operators of the age of 12 or 13 must have a supervisor who is 21 or older onboard.

Boat operators must also have personal flotation devices for every passenger on a watercraft and all passengers must wear their flotation devices at all times while onboard. Additionally, a watercraft should also have several throw-able flotation devices.

Protecting Yourself on the Water

All boat operators and passengers must ensure they meet Alabama’s boating regulations at all times. The Alabama Marine Police regularly patrol coastal and inland waters in Alabama and will stop vessels or operators in violation of these regulations. If you own a vessel and plan to take passengers for a boat outing, make sure your vessel has the appropriate markings, light fixtures, and safety equipment before every trip. If you are a passenger, make sure you wear a personal flotation device suitable for your size at all times.

It is extremely important to be careful while boating in busy waters where there are other watercraft and swimmers. It can be difficult to spot a swimmer’s head poking out of the water, and a passing boat may knock a swimmer unconscious or cause severe injuries from the boat’s propeller. If you are on a boat in Alabama and anyone suffers an injury in your party or due to your boat operator’s actions, contact emergency services immediately and provide them with as much information as possible about your location so emergency responders can locate you and offer assistance.