Lake Minnetonka Boating Regulations and Restrictions
Lake Minnetonka Basic Requirements
Marine engines or motorboats
40 mph daytime
20 mph nighttime
5 mph slow minimum wake in marked quiet waters areas, within 150 feet of shore, within 150 feet of swim areas or swimmers, scuba flags, or docks (except dock from which operating)
Slow no-wake speed (5 MPH or less) within 300 feet of the shoreline, within 150 feet of any swimmer, anchored boat, person fishing, mooring, dock or other water structure (unless the personal watercraft is being driven perpendicular to the shoreline and to or from the nearest point of water 300 feet from the shoreline or parallel to the shoreline from one location to another in a manner which is not repetitive).
Requirements for Surfers, Skiers and Tubers
In addition to adhering to laws as they apply to all boats, boat operators towing a person(s) on water-skis, tube, a surfboard, a saucer, or a similar device must obey these laws also.
- WAKESURF LAW NEW FOR 2020 boats that create waves big enough for people to surf without the need of a tow rope, must stay 200 feet away from the shore, docks, swimmers and other boats.
-The skier towed must wear a PFD or there must be a PFD carried on board the boat for the skier. It is strongly recommended that anyone being towed wear an impact-tested PFD designed for water-skiing.
-Water-skiing and similar acts are prohibited between one hour after sunset and sunrise the next day. PWCs may tow or operate only between 9:30 am and one hour before sunset.
-Water-ski tow ropes may not be longer than 150 feet in length unless a permit is obtained from the county sheriff.
Requirement for Observing the Skier or Tuber
Every boat towing a person(s) on water-skis or a similar device must have:
-An observer, other than the boat operator, who is continuously watching the person being towed
-A wide angle rearview mirror.
If towing a person on water-skis or a similar device behind a PWC, there must be:
-An additional person on board the PWC to act as an observer (this observer does not have to be facing backward) or …
A factory-installed or factory-specified wide-field rearview mirror.
No motorboats in Bruhn Channel.
No person shall operate any watercraft or boat, on Lake Minnetonka which is capable of exceeding a noise level on the A scale measured at a distance of 50 feet or more from the watercraft or boat of: 80 decibels in the case of marine engines or motorboats; or 79 decibels in the case of personal watercraft water jet pump engines manufactured after January 1, 1992.
Size of Watercraft
No person shall maintain, locate, store or operate a boat or watercraft on Lake Minnetonka which is either a) more than seventy (70) feet in length or b) more than twenty (20) feet in width; provided, however, that the foregoing shall not apply to boats or watercraft which are used exclusively for dredging, construction, lake maintenance or similar activities, and which do not carry passengers for hire.
Watercraft equipped with a toilet and macerator pump, which shreds waste before it’s pumped out of a holding tank, will have to remove the pump prior to entering Lake Minnetonka.
Minnesota law requires one U.S. Coast Guard approved, properly sized, and easily accessible life jacket for each person on the boat. All children under 10 are required to wear an approved life jacket at all times while in a boat.
Motorboats regardless of fuel type, with an enclosed accommodation compartment, must be equipped with a functioning marine CO detector system installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Minnesota Basic Legal Requirements For Boating
Which Boats Require Registration?
Requirements for boat registration vary from state to state. In Minnesota, you must have a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) License Certificate (registration card) and validation decals to operate a boat legally on Minnesota’s public waters. Exceptions to the registration requirements include:
- Vessels currently registered in another state or a foreign country and not kept in Minnesota for more than 90 consecutive days
- Vessels documented with the U.S. Coast Guard
- Duck boats during the duck hunting season, rice boats during the harvest season, and seaplanes
- Non-motorized watercraft 10 feet in length or less
License Certificate (Registration Card)
The registration card must be carried on board whenever the boat is operated.
The registration card and validation decals are obtained by submitting the proper application form and fee in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles (where you license your car) or at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) License Center located at 500 Lafayette Road in St. Paul. For renewals, you may register online at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/watercraft/index.html.
The registration card must be signed, onboard, and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the boat is operated. You are not required to carry the registration card onboard when operating a non-motorized canoe, kayak, rowing shell, paddle boat, sailboat, or sailboard, but must produce it within a reasonable time if an enforcement officer asks to see it.
Displaying the Registration Number and Required Decals
The registration number and validation decals must be displayed as follows.
- Number must be painted, decaled, or otherwise affixed to each side of the bow on the forward half of the boat, placed to be clearly visible.
- Number must read from left to right on both sides of the boat.
- Number must be in bold, BLOCK letters, at least 3-inches high.
- Number’s color must contrast with its background.
- Letters must be separated from the numbers by a 3 to 4 inch space or a hyphen. For example: MN 3717 ZW or MN-3717-ZW.
- No other number, letter, design, or insignia may appear within 24 inches of the registration number or the validation decals.
- Validation decals must be affixed on both sides of the bow, placed to the stern or rear of the registration number within four inches of the number. Only decals that are current may be visible, so remove expired decals before applying new ones.
Non-motorized canoes, kayaks, rowing shells, paddle boats, sailboards, and sailboats must display the validation decal on each side of the forward half of the boat, but are not required to display the registration number. On non-motorized sailboards and sailboats, you may place the decals on the stern if it is impossible, because of the boat’s design, to place them on the bow.
PWCs also are required to display the registration
number and validation decals.
Hull Identification Numbers
The Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a unique 12-digit number assigned by the manufacturer to boats built after 1972.
Hull Identification Numbers:
Distinguish one boat from another—the same as serial numbers distinguish one car from another.
Are engraved into the fiberglass or on a metal plate permanently attached, usually to the transom.
You should write down your HIN and put it in a place separate from your boat in case warranty problems arise or your boat is stolen.
Who May Operate a Motorboat (Other Than a Personal Watercraft)
These restrictions apply to motorboat operators less than 12 years old:
For engines 25 horsepower or less, those under 12 years old may operate with no restrictions.
For engines more than 25 horsepower through 75 horsepower, those under 12 years old must have someone at least 21 years of age on board who is within reach of the controls.
For engines over 75 horsepower, no one younger than 12 may operate, even with an adult on board.
Other restrictions apply to motorboat operators 12 to 17 years old. Motorboat operators from 12 to 17 years of age may operate engines of 25 horsepower or less with no restrictions. For engines over 25 horsepower, operators 12 to 17 years of age must have either:
A watercraft operator’s permit or...
Someone at least 21 years old on board who is within reach of the controls.
Operators visiting Minnesota, who already possess a valid watercraft operator’s certificate or permit issued by their home state, don’t need to obtain another one from Minnesota.
Who May Operate a Personal Watercraft (PWC)
You must be 13 years of age or older to operate a personal watercraft on Minnesota’s public waters.
PWC operators 13 years of age must have either:
Someone at least 21 years old on board or...
A watercraft operator’s permit and be under continuous observation by someone at least 21 years old.
PWC operators 14 to 17 years of age must have either:
Someone at least 21 years old on board or...
A watercraft operator’s permit.
Requirements Specific to PWCs
In addition to adhering to all boating laws and age restrictions, PWC operators have requirements specific to their watercraft.
-Anyone operating or riding on a PWC must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (PFD or life jacket).
-Operation of personal watercraft is permitted only between 9:30 a.m. and one hour before sunset.
If the PWC is equipped with a lanyard-type ignition safety switch, the lanyard must be attached to the person, clothing, or PFD of the operator.
-You may not operate a PWC if any part of the spring-loaded throttle system has been removed or tampered with so that it interferes with the return-to-idle system.
-PWCs may not be operated in a manner that endangers life, limb, or property. PWC operators may not weave through congested waterway traffic or jump the wake of another boat within 150 feet of that boat. This includes other personal watercraft.
-PWCs must travel at slow-no wake speed (5 mph or less) within 150 ft. of non-motorized boats, shore, docks, swim rafts, swimmers, or any moored or anchored boat. PWCs must also travel at slow-no wake speed when passing through emergent or floating vegetation.
-You may not operate a PWC while facing backward.
-It is illegal to chase, harass, or disturb wildlife with your PWC.
Mandatory PWC Rules Decal
Personal watercraft are required to have a “rules decal” (provided at no charge by the DNR) affixed to the PWC in full view of the operator
The Minnesoata Watercraft Operators Permit
Watercraft Operator’s Permit—Operator’s permit education materials can be obtained from the DNR, sheriff’s offices, and some schools and marine dealers or by taking this Boat Minnesota online course and passing the test at the end.
Examples of Illegal Operating Practices
In Minnesota, it is unlawful to operate your boat in disregard of the rights and safety of others. Examples of unlawful operation include:
-Operating a boat in a careless or reckless manner
-Operating a boat without the safety equipment required by law
-Exceeding the carrying capacity or horsepower rating of the boat
-Allowing occupants to ride or sit on gunwales, bow, transom, sides, stern, or decking over the bow sides when a boat is underway, unless adequate guards or railings are provided
-Operating a boat or allowing others to operate your boat while under the influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance
-Operating a boat so that its wash or wake endangers, bothers or interferes with any person or property
-Operating a boat within an area set aside as a swimming area
-Operating a boat above a slow, no wake speed in areas marked as no wake zones
Boating While Intoxicated (BWI)
Minnesota law prohibits anyone from boating while intoxicated (BWI)—that is, operating a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or other illegal chemicals. Alcohol and drugs cause impaired balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, impaired judgment, and slower reaction time. Alcohol is a major contributor to boating accidents and fatalities.
Minnesota law states that a person is considered to be boating while intoxicated (BWI) if he or she:
-Has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater
-Is under the influence of alcohol
-Is under the influence of a controlled substance or any other illegal chemical.
It is illegal for the owner of a motorboat to knowingly allow the boat to be operated by someone under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or any other illegal chemical.
Boat operators should always be considerate of other boaters, even when stopping to anchor or moor. Keep in mind that it is unlawful to operate a watercraft in a manner that obstructs or tends to obstruct navigation or attach a watercraft to any buoy or marker other than a mooring buoy.
Markers and Buoys
Private waterway markers or buoys may not be placed in the water overnight without a permit from the county sheriff.
Overview of Personal Flotation Device Law (PFD)
All watercraft must be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets, called personal flotation devices (PFDs). The quantity and type depend on the length of your watercraft and the number of people on board and/or being towed. Each PFD must be in good condition, be the proper size for the intended wearer, and very importantly, be readily accessible! Readily accessible means you must be able to put the PFD on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency (boat sinking, on fire, etc.). PFDs should not be stowed in plastic bags or in locked or closed compartments, and they should not have other gear stowed on top of them.
Boat operators should ask everyone on their boat to wear a PFD whenever on the water. PFDs can save lives, but only if they are worn!
An emergency situation (rough water, rapid onset of bad weather, or dangerous boating traffic) can occur suddenly—leaving little or no time to put on life jackets. Life jackets are very difficult to put on once your are in the water. Be a smart boater, and have everyone on board your boat wear their life jackets at all times.
Specific PFD Requirements
-All watercraft must have at least one Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device that is USCG–approved and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and/or chest size.
-All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible.
Children under 10 years of age must wear a USCG–approved PFD when on board a boat that is underway unless they are:
-In an enclosed cabin or below deck or…
-On an anchored boat that is being used as a platform for swimming or diving or…
-On board a charter (passenger) craft with a licensed captain.
-In addition to the above requirements, one Type IV USCG–approved throwable PFD must be on board boats 16 feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) and immediately available in event of emergency.
-A U.S. Coast Guard–approved Type V device may be substituted for any other approved device if it meets the same requirements and is noted on the Type V device (e.g., “Equivalent to an approved Type III device”).
-Anyone riding a PWC must wear a PFD. Persons being towed behind a watercraft should also wear a PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for these activities.
Requirement to Carry Fire Extinguishers
All motorboats should carry an approved fire extinguisher. Both state and federal laws require fire extinguishers on motorboats carrying or using fuel or other inflammable fluid in any enclosure of the boat.
Approved types of fire extinguishers are identified by the following marking on the label—“Marine Type USCG Approved”—followed by the type and size symbols and the approval number.
Use this chart to determine the type and quantity of fire extinguishers required for your vessel.
Length of Vessel
Without Fixed System
With Fixed System *
* refers to a permanently installed fire extinguisher system
Less than 26 feet
26 feet to less than 40 feet
two B-I or one B-II
40 feet to less than 65 feet
three B-I or one B-II and one B-I
two B-I or one B-II
Overview of Navigation Lights Law
Vessel operators must make sure that their vessels are equipped with the proper navigation lights and use the lights during these conditions:
-When away from the dock between sunset and sunrise
-During periods of restricted visibility such as fog or heavy rain
-No other lights that may be mistaken for required navigation lights may be exhibited. Note: Blue or red flashing lights are restricted to use by law enforcement vessels only.
The required navigation lights differ depending on the type and size of your vessel. The common lighting configurations for recreational vessels are discussed below. For other configurations and requirements for larger vessels, see the U.S. Coast Guard's Navigation Rules.
Lights Required for Power-Driven Vessels Less Than 65.6 Feet When Underway
If less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) long, these vessels must exhibit the lights as shown in Figure 1. Remember, power-driven vessels include sailboats operating under engine power.
The required lights are:
-Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) long, at least one mile away—on a dark, clear night.
-An all-round white light (if less than 39.4 feet long) or both a masthead light and a sternlight. These lights must be visible from a distance of at least two miles away on a dark, clear night. The all-round white light (or the masthead light) must be at least 3.3 feet (one meter) higher than the sidelights.
The red and green lighting must conform to the illustration here. Red should be on the left side of the bow and green on the right side of the bow.
Lights Required for Unpowered Vessels Less Than 65.6 Feet When Underway
Unpowered vessels are sailing vessels or vessels that are paddled, poled, or rowed.
If less than 65.6 feet long, these vessels must exhibit the lights as shown in Figure 2. The required lights are:
-Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet long, at least one mile away—on a dark, clear night.
-A sternlight visible from a distance of at least two miles away.
An alternative to the sidelights and sternlight is a combination red, green, and white light, which must be exhibited near the top of the mast.
Lights Required for Unpowered Vessels Less Than 23 Feet When Underway
If less than 23.0 feet (7 meters) long, these vessels should:
-If practical, exhibit the same lights as required for unpowered vessels less than 65.6 feet in length.
-If not practical, have on hand at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light as shown in Figure 3.
To prevent a collision, vessel operators should never leave shore without a flashlight. Even if you plan to return before dark, unforeseen developments might delay your return past nightfall.
Lights Required for All Vessels When Not Underway
All vessels are required to display an all-round white light visible for two miles whenever they are anchored away from dock or moored in an area other than a designated mooring area between sunset and sunrise.
Requirement to Carry Visual Distress Signals
Visual Distress Signals (VDSs) allow boat operators to signal for help in the event of an emergency. VDSs are classified as day signals (visible in bright sunlight), night signals (visible at night), or both day and night signals. VDSs are either pyrotechnic (smoke and flames) or non-pyrotechnic (non-combustible).
Boats on some waters with joint state and federal jurisdiction need to be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard–approved visual distress signals (VDSs). The only body of water in Minnesota where VDSs are required is Lake Superior.
All boats, regardless of length or type, are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise. Most boats must carry day signals also; exceptions to the requirement for day signals are:
-Recreational boats that are less than 16 feet in length
-Non-motorized open sailboats that are less than 26 feet in length
-Manually propelled boats
VDSs must be U.S. Coast Guard–approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible.
Note: It is prohibited to display visual distress signals while on the water unless assistance is required to prevent immediate or potential danger to persons on board a boat.
Requirement to Have Sound-Producing Devices
In periods of reduced visibility or whenever a boat operator needs to signal his or her intentions or position, a sound-producing device is essential. Meeting head-on, crossing and overtaking situations are examples of when sound signals are required.
On Minnesota waters, the requirements for sound producing devices are:
-Motorboats 16 feet to less than 26 feet must carry a hand, mouth, or power-operated whistle or horn capable of producing a continuous sound for two seconds and audible for at least one-half mile.
-Motorboats 26 feet to less than 40 feet must carry a hand or power-operated whistle or horn capable of producing a continuous sound for two seconds and audible for at least one mile.
-Motorboats 40 feet or longer must carry a power-operated whistle or horn capable of producing a continuous sound for two seconds and audible for at least one mile.
The only boat that may carry a siren is a government patrol vessel.
Common Sound Signals
Some common sound signals that you should be familiar with as a recreational boater are as follows.
-A short blast lasts one second.
-A prolonged blast lasts 4-6 seconds.
-One short blast tells other boaters "I intend to pass you on my port (left) side."
-Two short blasts tell other boaters "I intend to pass you on my starboard (right) side."
-Three short blasts tell other boaters, “I am operating astern propulsion.” For some vessels, this tells other boaters, “I am backing up.”
-One prolonged blast at intervals of not more than two minutes is the signal used by power-driven vessels when underway.
-One prolonged blast plus two short blasts at intervals of not more than two minutes is the signal used by sailing vessels.
-One prolonged blast is a warning signal (for example, used when coming around a blind bend or exiting a slip).
-Five (or more) short, rapid blasts signal danger or signal that you do not understand or that you disagree with the other boater's intentions.
Minnesota law requires the following for trailers:
-Trailers may not exceed 45 feet in length. No trailer load may exceed 8½ feet in width or 13½ feet in height.
-Brakes are required on trailers with a load capacity of 3,000 pounds, or more.
-Taillights are required on all trailers. Larger trailers also require clearance and/or marker lamps. Signal and brake lamps are recommended.
-Safety chains are required. Safety chains should be crossed so the coupling will not fall to the road if the trailer becomes unhitched.
Overview of Pollutant Disposal Laws
It is illegal to discharge waste, oil, or trash into any state or federally controlled waters. This is for very good reasons:
-Sewage carries disease and other pollutants that are harmful to people, aquatic plants and animals.
-Trash thrown into the water can injure swimmers and wildlife alike. It can also plug engine cooling water intakes.
-Pollution is unsightly and takes away from your enjoyment of the water.
Signs like these are posted at marine sanitation pump-out stations in Minnesota.
Boat operators need to be aware of the following regulations for waste, oil, and trash disposal that apply to both federally controlled and state waters. The Refuse Act prohibits throwing, discharging, or depositing any refuse matter of any kind (including trash, garbage, oil, and other liquid pollutants) into the waters of the United States.
Discharge of Sewage and Waste
Under state law, toilets on board boats must be no-discharge devices (see exceptions below). Waste must be retained on board for proper disposal after returning to shore.
If you have a recreational boat with permanently installed toilet facilities, it must have an operable marine sanitation device (MSD) on board. All permanently installed devices must be U.S. Coast Guard–certified.
There are three types of MSDs.
-Types I and II MSDs are usually found on large boats. Waste is treated with special chemicals to kill bacteria before the waste is discharged. Types I and II MSDs with “Y” valves that direct the waste overboard must be secured so that the valve cannot be opened. This can be done by placing a lock or non-reusable seal on the “Y” valve or by taking the handle off the “Y” valve.
-A Type III MSD, the simplest and most common, consists of holding tanks or portable toilets. It requires only a small storage space and is simple to operate. Type III MSDs have the least effect on the environment since the waste is to be discharged on shore into a local sewage treatment facility.
Type I and II USCG–certified treatment/discharge marine sanitation devices are currently legal only on the Mississippi River below Lock and Dam #2 (at Hastings) and on Lake Superior. This is a result of the federal preemption of state law. MSDs on boats less than 65 feet in length must be USCG–certified Type I or II devices.
Minnesota waters are threatened by a number of species of exotic plants and animals, which often spread between waterways by hitching a ride on boats and trailers. When moved into new waters, these species rapidly multiply, damaging the water resource. It is illegal to transport any aquatic plants, the Ruffe, Round Goby, Zebra Mussel, Sea Lamprey, or other prohibited exotic species on public roads or to launch a boat or trailer with these species attached.
How to Stop the Spread of Nuisance Species
You can stop the spread of nuisance species by doing the following:
-Remove any visible plants and animals from your boat, trailer, and boating equipment before leaving any waterway.
-Drain water from the motor, live well, bilge, and transom wells at the ramp or access before leaving any waterway.
-Empty your bait bucket on land. Never release live bait into a waterway.
-Wash and dry your boat and boating equipment to kill harmful species that were not visible at the waterway. Before transporting your boat to another waterway, either rinse your boat and trailer with hot tap water, spray your boat and trailer with high-pressure water at a car wash.
Allow your boat and equipment to dry for at least five days.
What You Must Do If Involved in an Accident
By law, you must stop and render whatever assistance is necessary to any person involved in a boating accident unless the action would endanger your own boat, crew, or passengers.
By law, boat operators involved in an accident must report the accident by the quickest means possible to the county sheriff where the accident or incident occurred if it has resulted in:
-Property damage of $2,000 or more or …
-Total loss of a boat or …
-Personal injury or …
If a second boat or other property is involved, the operator must provide his or her name and address, the boat registration number, and the owner’s name and address to the other operator or owner.
The Lake Minnetonka Sherif Water Patrol can be reached at https://lmcd.org/about-the-lmcd/water-patrol/
DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the information on this website is correct and up-to-date, no representation is made or warranty given (either express or implied) as to the completeness, accuracy or currency of the information it contains. PLEASE VERIFY PRIOR TO IMPLEMENTING ANY REGULATORY INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE.
Source MN Department of Natural Resources®
Source Lake Minnetonka Water Patrol®
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