Boater Safety

Boating Safety
Boat Virginia is the official boating safety course of the

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Taking the safe boating course will allow you to get a Virginia boating license online.

FOCL’s Boating Safety Card

Through Boardmember Laura Walters, FOCL has produced a handy Boating Safety Card that succinctly summarizes safe and smart recreational boating practices for Claytor Lake–and all bodies of water! Click on the image above for a pdf file of the card that you can print out on your own or contact us and we’ll tell you how to obtain some of these already-printed, handy, double-sided and durable cards.

FOCL also sponsors local boating safety courses throughout the year.
Check our Calendar Page for information regarding our next class.

Equipment Regulations

Claytor Lake boatersafety

  1. The operator, each rider, and anyone being towed behind a PWC must be wearing a USCG approved Type I, II, III or V life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are prohibited.
  2. Except non-motorized vessels.
  3. Applies to boats where one of the following conditions exists: permanently installed fuel tanks; closed compartments under thwarts and seats where portable fuel tanks are stored; double bottoms not sealed at the hull or which are not completely filled with flotation material; closed living spaces; or closed stowage compartment in which combustible or flammable materials may be stowed.
  4. Must carry one B-II or two B-1. A fixed system equals one B-1.
  5. Must carry one B-II and one B-1 or three B-1. A fixed system equals one B-1.
  6. See Navigation Lights.
  7. Education requirement is being phased in through July 1 2016. Applies to all PWCs and all motorboats with engine of 10 hp or greater.
  8. A sufficient means of making a sound signal (4-6 seconds) in duration.

Life Jackets

Nearly all boating-related fatalities are the result of drowning and most of these fatalities could have been prevented if a life jacket was worn.

There must be one wearable (Type I, II, III, or V) USCG approved life jacket for each person on the boat. The life jacket must be the appropriate size for each intended wearer.

  • Each wearable life jacket needs to be “readily accessible” if not worn. Readily accessible means the life jackets are Claytor Lakeout in the open ready for wear or stowed where they can be easily reached. Readily accessible life jackets cannot be in protective coverings or under lock and key.
  • In addition, you should check each life jacket for proper fit. This is especially important for children. Check the Does Your Life Jacket Really Fit section.
  • A Type V life jacket needs to be worn according to the manufacturer label to meet safety requirements.
  • This requirement applies to all boats including paddlecraft (canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards).

In addition to the wearable life jacket, there must be at least one (1) USCG approved Type IV throwable (ring buoy or seat cushion), on vessels of 16 feet or greater. The regulation to carry a Type IV does not apply to (1) personal watercraft; (2) non-motorized canoes and kayaks of 16 feet or greater; (3) racing shells, rowing sculls, racing canoes, and racing kayaks; (4) sailboards; and (5) vessels of the United States used by foreign competitors while practicing for or racing in competition.

  • Each Type IV throwable must be immediately available. “Immediately available” means the life jacket shall be quickly reachable in an emergency situation. An immediately available life jacket cannot be in a protective covering, in a closed compartment, or under other equipment. There is no requirement to have a line attached.

All life jackets must be in good and serviceable condition. A life jacket that displays any of the following is not in good condition:

  • Metal or plastic hardware used to secure the life jacket on the wearer that is broken, deformed, or weakened by corrosion; or
  • Webbings or straps used to secure the life jacket on the wearer that are ripped, torn, or which have become separated from an attachment point on the life jacket; or
  • Any other rotted or deteriorated structural component that fails when tugged; or
  • Rips, tears, or open seams in fabric or coatings, that are large enough to allow the loss of buoyant material; or
  • Buoyant material that has become hardened, non-resilient, permanently compressed, waterlogged, oil-soaked, or which shows evidence of fungus or mildew; or
  • Loss of buoyant material or buoyant material that is not securely held in position.

Inflatable Life Jackets must meet all the requirements for life jackets listed above plus the following:

  • A properly armed inflation mechanism, complete with a full inflation cartridge and all status indicators showing Claytor Lakethat the inflation mechanism is properly armed;
  • Inflatable chambers that are all capable of holding air;
  • Oral inflation tubes that are not blocked, detached, or broken;
  • Inflation status indicators that are not broken or otherwise non-functional;
  • The inflation system of an inflatable life jacket need not be armed when the life jacket is worn inflated and otherwise meets the requirements above.

Federal Life Jacket Rule for Children Under 13 Years Old—No person may operate a recreational vessel on federal waters with any child under age 13 on the vessel unless each child is either:

  • Wearing an appropriate life jacket approved by the Coast Guard; or
  • Below deck or in an enclosed cabin.

In Virginia, this rule is enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard or other federal agents and applies on waters over which they have enforcement jurisdiction. Most waters in Virginia are considered federal waters.

A Special Note about Inflatable Life Jackets

Inflatable life jackets are lightweight, comfortable to wear and take up about one-tenth the storage room of conventional foam-filled life jackets. Most are USCG approved only for persons 16 years of age and older who are not engaged in whitewater or skiing activities or riding on PWC. They are a great choice for adults on the water!

Does Your Life Jacket Really Fit?

How do you know if a life jacket really fits you? First, check the label to make sure the life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved. Life jackets (or PFDs) come in a couple of basic sizes: infant, child, and adult. Within those basic sizes, there will be a range (Small, Medium, Large, etc.) of sizes. The label will indicate the basic size and the size range, which will include a weight range and usually also a chest size range. After you check the label, make sure you move on to the second step, try it on! Before every boating season, try on your life jacket. Make sure that it fits correctly. What does a correct fit mean? It should be snug, but not tight. Lift your arms over your head, can you turn your head left, right, and over your shoulder or has the life jacket ridden up and is in the way of moving your head? For a child, have them stand with their arms to their sides. Lift the life jacket up by the shoulders. The life jacket should not move more than 3 inches, no higher than the child’s ears. If the life jacket does move up more than 3 inches, it is too big and the child can slip right out—get a smaller life jacket! A younger child’s life jacket should also include a crotch strap—this will help insure the life jacket stays on. Finally, practice using the life jacket in shallow water. Make sure it is snug enough to stay put and not ride up over the chin and ears when in shallow water. Have children practice in shallow water with their life jacket so they don’t panic in case of emergency.

Fire Extinguishers

fire_extinguisherAll boats over 26 feet must have USCG approved, adequately charges fire extinguishers aboard. In addition, all motorboats under 26 feet that have one or more of the following conditions must also carry fire extinguishers:

  • Permanently installed fuel tanks.
  • Closed compartment under thwarts and seats wherein portable fuel tanks may be stored.
  • Double bottoms not sealed to the hull or which are not completely filled with flotation material.
  • Closed living spaces.
  • Closed stowage compartment in which combustible or flammable materials may be stowed.

All fire extinguishers must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, must have an efficient change, and must be in good and service-able condition.

Claytor Lake

Backfire Flame Arrestor

All powerboats, except outboards, that are fueled with gasoline must have a USCG approved backfire flame arrestor on each carburetor.


No person may operate a boat built after July 31, 1980, that has a gasoline engine (except out-boards) unless it is equipped with an operable ventilation system that meets USCG standards.

For boats built after April 25, 1940, and before August 1, 1980, (with engines using gasoline as fuel and other fuels having a flashpoint of 110°F. or less) the following is required:

At least two ventilation ducts fitted with cowls or their equivalent for the purpose of properly and efficiently ventilating the bilges of every engine and fuel tank compartment. There shall be at least one exhaust duct installed so as to extend to the lower portion of the bilge and at least one intake duct installed so as to extend to a point at least midway to the bilge or at least below the level of the carburetor air intake.

For boats which are built after July 31, 1978, but prior to August 1, 1980, there are no requirements for ventilation of the fuel tank compartment if there is no electrical source in the compartment and if the fuel tank vents to the outside of the boat.

The operator of the vessel is required to keep the system in operating condition.

Sound Producing Devices

whistleThe navigation rules require sound signals to be made under certain circumstances. Meeting, crossing, and overtaking situations described in Navigation Rules are examples of when sound signals are required. Recreational vessels are also required to sound fog signals during periods of reduced visibility. Having some means of making an efficient sound signal capable of a 4-second blast audible for 1 mile is required. A whistle or air horn is acceptable if your vessel is not equipped with a horn. All vessels, including paddlecraft, must carry a sound-producing device.

Muffling Device

The exhaust of an internal combustion engine on any motorboat shall be effectively muffled. The muffling device shall exhaust at or below the water line or it shall be equipped with mechanical baffles. The use of cutouts is prohibited.

Marine Sanitation Devices (MSD)

Vessels with installed toilets and marine sanitation devices shall be in compliance with federal regulations which set standards for sewage discharges from marine sanitation devices. Vessels without installed toilets or without installed marine sanitation devices shall not directly or indirectly discharge sewage into state waters. Sewage and other wastes from self-contained, portable toilets or other containment devices shall be pumped out at pump-out facilities or carried ashore for treatment in facilities approved by the Virginia Department of Health. Smith Mountain Lake is a “No Discharge Zone.”

Pump Out Stations

A complete list of pump out stations is available at the Virginia Department of Health’s website or by calling VDH at 804-864-7473.

Visual Distress Signals

All power boats 16 feet or greater in length shall be equipped with visual distress signaling devices at all times when operating on coastal waters. This regulation applies to all coastal waters and those rivers 2 miles or more wide at the mouth and up to the first point the river narrows to less than 2 miles.

Boats less than 16 feet, manually propelled boats (rowboats, canoes, kayaks, etc.), and open sailboats under 26 feet with no motor, are required to carry only night visual distress signals when operated on coastal waters at night.

Recreational boaters may carry additional visual distress signals over the minimum number of VDS required.

Note: It is illegal to display a visual distress signal unless immediate assistance is needed.

If using pyrotechnic signals, must have 3 night signals plus 3 day signals or 3 day/night combination signals. If using non-pyrotechnic signals, you must have 1 day signal and 1 night signal.


Pyrotechnic visual distress signals must be:

  • USCG approved
  • in serviceable condition
  • readily accessible.
  • not expired
  • Launchers produced before January 1, 1981, intended for use with approved signals are not required to be USCG approved.

USCG approved Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals include:

  • Pyrotechnic red flares, hand-held or aerial;
  • Pyrotechnic orange smoke, handheld or floating;
  • Launchers for aerial red meteors or parachute flares.

Non-pyrotechnic visual distress signaling devices must:

  • Meet USCG requirements.
  • Be in serviceable condition
  • Be readily accessible.

USCG approved Non-pyrotechnic visual distress signals include:

  • Orange distress flag with black square and black ball, for daytime use;
  • Electric distress light for night use.

The following points will be used as the “cutoff points” for enforcement of the visual distress signal regulations on the coastal waters in Virginia. These points can be found on the appropriate nautical chart.

  1. Entrance to Hampton Roads up to where the waterway is reduced to 2 nautical miles which is a line drawn between Old Point Comfort and Fort Wool.
  2. York River up to where the waterway is reduced to 2 nautical miles which is a line drawn between Sandy Point and Tue Point, which is in the vicinity of Tue Marshes Light.
  3. Mobjack Bay up to, but not including, the Severn, Ware, North and East rivers.
  4. Entrance to the Piankatank River where the waterway is reduced to 2 nautical miles which is a line drawn from Cherry Point at Gwynns Island across the river to the opposite shore, which is in the vicinity of Piankatank River Lighted Buoy 6.
  5. Rappahannock River up to where the waterway is reduced to 2 nautical miles, which is a line drawn from Parrott Island to Cherry Point, which is just before you get to the first highway bridge.
  6. Those parts of the Pocomoke and Tangier Sounds which fall within Virginia.
  7. Where the uncharted inlets of the Atlantic Ocean are reduced to 2 nautical miles in width.

Recreational boats, while underway, are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.

No other lights shall be exhibited that could impair the visibility of required running lights or impair the visibility of approaching vessels.

Lights Used When Anchored

An anchor light is a 360 degree (all-round) white light exhibited where it can best be seen and visible for 2 miles.

Special Lights for Enforcement Vessels

Enforcement vessels of the VDGIF, the USCG, and other law enforcement agencies may display a rotating or flashing blue light. When such a light is observed you should stop immediately and maneuver in such a way as to permit the boarding officer to come alongside or aboard.

By federal law, blue lights may only be displayed by enforcement vessels of the federal, state or local governments, and have the same effect on the water as the rotating or flashing blue lights on law enforcement cars traveling our highways.

Navigation Lights — Power Driven Vessels

Figure 1navigation_lights_fig1 Figure 2navigation_lights_fig2
navigation_lights_fig3Figure 3 navigation_lights_fig4Figure 4

Vessels Less Than 12 Meters (39.4 ft.) in Length

  • Vessels or sailboats using power: the lighting arrangement in Figure 1, 2, 3, or 4 may be used.
  • Sailboats using sail alone: the lighting arrangement in figure 5, 6, or 7 may be used.

The white masthead light or all around white light must be at least 1 meter (3.3 ft.) higher than the colored sidelights.

Vessels 12 Meters but Less Than 20 Meters (65.5 ft.) in Length

  • Vessels or sailboats using power: the lighting arrangement in Figure 1 or 2 may be used. The lighting arrangement in Figure 3 may be used if the vessel was constructed before December 24, 1980.
  • Sailboats using sail alone: the lighting arrangement in Figure 5, 6, or 7 may be used.

The white masthead light or all around white light must be at least 1 meter (3.3 ft.) higher than the colored sidelights.

Unpowered Vessels

A vessel under oars and sailboats less than 7 meters (23 feet) in length may display those lights prescribed for a sailing vessel, but it they do not, they shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern (Figure 8) shining a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

International Rules (Past the Line of Demarcation)

Beyond three nautical miles of Viginia’s coastline, if your power-driven vessel is less than 23 feet (7 meters) in length and its maximum speed does not exceed 7 knots, then it may display an all-round white light, and if possible, sidelights instead of the lights previously prescribed.

Navigation Lights — Sailing Vessels

Figure 5navigation_lights_fig5 Figure 6navigation_lights_fig6
Figure 7navigation_lights_fig7 Figure 8navigation_lights_fig8

Speed Laws

Claytor Lake

“No Wake”

  1. “No wake” is defined as the slowest possible speed required to maintain steerage and headway.
  2. It shall be unlawful to operate any motorboat greater than no wake speed in areas marked with regulatory “No Wake” buoys.
  3. It shall be unlawful to operate any motorboat greater than no wake speed when within 50 feet or less of docks, piers, boathouses, boat ramps, and people in the water. This definition does not prohibit the pulling of a skier with a rope of less than 50 feet, nor a person accompanying the motorboat (wake surfing) provided the motorboat is propelled by an inboard motor.

Slacken Speed

Operators shall reduce speed to avoid endangering persons or property by the effect of the motorboat’s wake when approaching or passing vessels under way, lying to, at anchor, or made fast to the shore; or, when approaching or passing piers, docks, or boathouses; or when approaching or passing persons in the water or using water skis or surfboards.

Safe Speed

A safe speed is a speed less than the maximum at which the operator can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and stop within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

In establishing a safe operating speed, the operator shall take into account: visibility, traffic density, ability to maneuver the vessel (stopping distance and turning ability), background light at night, proximity of navigational hazards, draft of the vessel, limitations of radar equipment, and the state of wind, sea, and current.

Unsafe Practices

It is unlawful to allow any person to ride or sit on the bow, gunwales, transom, or on the decking over the bow of the vessel while under power unless such motorboat is provided with adequate guards or railing to prevent passengers from falls overboard. Passengers or other persons aboard a watercraft may occupy these areas of the vessel to moor or anchor the watercraft, to cast off, or for any other necessary purpose.

Navigation Rules


Most boating accidents are the result of a collision, either between two vessels, or between a vessel and a fixed or submerged object. For this reason, boat operators are cautioned to follow the established Navigation Rules, especially maintaining a proper lookout and safe speed. Remember the three basic rules of navigation:

  1. Practice Good Seamanship – it is the responsibility of every vessel or PWC operator to take all necessary action to avoid collisions. Such action should be taken in ample time to avoid a collision and at a safe distance from other vessels.
  2. Keep a Proper Lookout – every operator must keep a proper lookout using both sight and hearing at all times. Watch and listen for other vessels, radio communications, navigation hazards, and others involved in water activities.
  3. Maintain a Safe Speed – safe speed will vary depending upon conditions such as wind, water conditions, navigation hazards, visibility, surrounding vessel traffic, and the maneuverability of your vessel.

The boat operator is responsible for knowing and following all of the applicable navigational rules. Copies of the rules may be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, 202-512-1800. The stock number is 050-012-00192-8. Or on the web.

  • Right Side = Starboard
  • Left Side = Port


Head-on (bow to bow)

When two power-driven vessels are meeting head-on or nearly head-on, each shall alter her course to starboard (right) so that each shall pass on the port side of the other. A head-on situation exists when a vessel sees the other ahead or nearly ahead and by night she could see the masthead lights of the other in a line or nearly in a line or both sidelights.

Give-way and Stand-on Vessels

Give-way and Stand-on is the terminology used to describe the appropriate action of each vessel in crossing and passing situations.

The “give-way” vessel is the vessel that must take early and substantial action to keep well clear of another vessel.

The “stand-on” vessel shall maintain course and speed unless it becomes apparent that the vessel required to keep out of the way (the “give-way” vessel) is not taking the appropriate action. If the stand-on vessel must take action to avoid a collision, it must avoid turning to port for a vessel on her port side.

An action taken to avoid a collision needs to be positive, made in ample time and large enough to be apparent to the other vessel. If necessary to avoid a collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel must slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing engines.

In crossing situations, power boats must giveway to sailing vessels under sail regardless of the angle the power-driven vessel approaches the sailing vessel.



When two power-driven vessels are crossing, the vessel which has the other on her starboard side shall give way and keep out of the way and avoid crossing ahead (in front) of the other vessel.

When taking action to stay out of the way, make it early, substantial and well clear of the other boat. Avoid making a succession of small alterations of course or speed. If you are directed by the Rules to stay out of the way, then make your turn large and obvious so as to be readily apparent to another vessel both visually or by radar. This is especially true at night, when the only visual indication of your course change is the alteration of your boat’s lights.



Any vessel overtaking any other shall give-way and keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.

When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether it is overtaking another, it shall assume that this is the case and act accordingly.

If you are being overtaken (passed), you are the stand-on vessel and should maintain your course and speed. The vessel overtaking you should notify an intent to pass by making an appropriate sound signal. One short blast of the horn or whistle means “I intend to overtake you on your starboard side” and 2-short blasts means “I intend to overtake you on your port side”.

When two sailing vessels are approaching one another in a crossing situation, one of them shall keep out of the way of the other as follows:

  • When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other;
  • When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward; and
  • If a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or on the starboard side, she shall keep out of the way of the other.

Windward side is deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the main-sail is carried.

Restricted Visibility

The following rule applies to vessels not in sight of one another when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility:

Proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility. A power-driven vessel shall have engines ready for immediate maneuver.

Except where it has been determined that a risk of collisions does not exist, every vessel which hears apparently forward of her beam the fog signal of another vessel, or which cannot avoid a close-quarter situation with another vessel forward of her beam, shall reduce her speed to the minimum at which she can be kept on course. She shall if necessary take all way off (slow down or stop) and in any event, navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over.

Sound Signals for Restricted Visibility

  • Whistle means any sound producing device capable of producing a blast.
  • Short Blast = a blast of about 1 second.
  • Prolonged Blast = a blast of from 4-6 seconds’ duration.

In or near an area of restricted visibility, whether by day or night, the following sound signals shall be made:

  • A power-driven vessel making way through the water — one prolonged blast at least once every 2 minutes.
  • A power-driven vessel underway but stopped and making no way through the water shall sound at intervals of not more than 2 minutes two prolonged blasts in succession with an interval of about 2 seconds between them.
  • A sailing vessel, whether underway or at anchor, shall sound one-prolonged blast followed by two-short blast at least once every 2 minutes.

Responsibility Between Vessels

Except where otherwise required:

A power-driven vessel shall keep out of the way of:

  • A vessel not under command;
  • A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver, such as a tug boat or deepdraft freighter;
  • A vessel engaged in (commercial) fishing;
  • A sailing vessel.

A sailing vessel shall keep out of the way of:

  • A vessel not under command;
  • A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver, such as a tug boat or deepdraft freighter;
  • A vessel engaged in commercial fishing.

Departure From Regulations to Avoid Immediate Danger

At times it may be necessary to depart from these rules in order to avoid immediate danger. When, from any cause the vessel required to keep its course and speed finds itself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, the operator shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision. This action does not relieve the give-way vessel of its obligation to keep out of the way. The give-way vessel is that vessel required to take early and substantial action to keep well away from other vessels by stopping, slowing or changing course.

Narrow Channels

In narrow channels, the operator of every vessel shall, when it is safe and practicable, keep to that side of the fairway or mid-channel which lies on the right side of such vessel. The operator of a vessel under 65.6 feet in length underway, fishing or at anchor in narrow channels shall not interfere with the passage of large, deepdraft vessels that can safely navigate only inside such channels.

Personal Watercraft (PWC) Regulations

pwcA personal watercraft is a motorboat less than 16 feet in length which uses an inboard motor powering a jet pump as its primary motive power and which is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling on, rather than in the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel.

PWCs must follow all rules and regulations for motorboats. There are additional rules and regulations for PWC operators as follows:

  1. It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a PWC, or the owner or any person having control to authorize or knowingly permit a person to operate a PWC, unless the operator is at least 16 years of age. Any person age 14 or 15 may operate a PWC if they have successfully completed an approved boating education safety course, carry proof of successful completion of such course, and show this proof upon request by a law enforcement officer.
  2. It is unlawful to operate a PWC unless the operator, each rider and anyone being towed by a PWC is wearing a Type I, II, III, or V USCG approved life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are prohibited.
  3. If the PWC is equipped with a lanyard-type engine cut-off switch, the operator must attach the lanyard to his person, clothing, or life jacket.
  4. It is unlawful to operate a PWC after sunset or before sunrise.
  5. It is unlawful to operate a PWC while carrying passengers in excess of the number for which the craft was designed by the manufacturer; including towed passengers.
  6. A person shall be guilty of reckless operation who operates any PWC recklessly so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person, which shall include, but not be limited to: (1) weaving through other vessels which are underway, stopped, moored or anchored while exceeding a reasonable speed; (2) following another vessel or skier, crossing the path of another vessel or skier, crossing the path of another vessel more closely than is reasonable and prudent; (3) crossing between the towing vessel and a skier; or (4) steering toward an object or person and turning sharply in close proximity to such object or person in order to spray or attempt to spray an object or person with the wash or jet spray of the PWC.
  7. PWC operators must maintain “no wake” operation when within 50 feet or less of docks, piers, boathouses, boat ramps, people in the water and vessels other than PWCs. PWCs may tow a skier with a rope less than 50 feet. No wake is defined as “The slowest possible speed required to maintain steerage and headway.”

The above provisions do not apply to participants in regattas, races, marine parades, tournaments or exhibitions approved by the Board of the VDGIF or the USCG.

Towed Sports Safety

The boating law contains several provisions relating to the towing of persons on water skis, aquaplanes, and similar devices, and the manipulation of such devices by the person being towed.

  1. All boats towing a water skier(s) or other persons on towed devices MUST have ONE of the following:
    • a. Persons being towed must be wearing a USCG approved life jacket or
    • b. There must be an observer on the boat (in addition to the operator) who is in a position to observe the progress of the skier.
  2. A person(s) being towed on water skis or other device may not operate in a reckless or dangerous manner.
  3. A person(s) being towed on water skis or other device may not operate while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription narcotics and illegal drugs.
  4. The operator of the boat towing a water skier(s) or person(s) on another towing device may not manipulate or control the boat so as to cause the person(s) being towed to collide with any object or person.
  5. Water skiing behind a motorboat (or towing of people on other devices) is allowed only between one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. Check the official sunrise and sunset times for your area.
  6. Water skiing behind a PWC (or towing of people on other devices) is allowed only between sunrise to sunset. Check the official sunrise and sunset times for your area.


Boating laws are enforced primarily by Conservation Police Officers employed by VDGIF. These officers have full police powers and have the right to lawfully stop and board your boat at any time to check for proper registration and required safety equipment.

Unlawful Acts

  • Reckless operation of boat, water skis, or aquaplane.
  • Operating, while intoxicated, a boat, aquaplane or water skis.
  • Operating or giving permission to operate an unregistered motorboat.
  • Operating or giving permission to operate a boat with an expired Certificate of Number.
  • Operating a motorboat with number improperly displayed.
  • Operating a boat with unauthorized number displayed.
  • Failing to carry the Certificate of Number on board or refusing to show it to inspecting officers.
  • Operating a registered motorboat more than 90 days in Virginia without registering it here.
  • Failing to report a change of address of a registered motorboat owner within 15 days.
  • Failure to report loss or abandonment of a registered boat within 15 days.
  • Failure to exhibit lights as required by law between sunset and sunrise.
  • A vessel operator failing to stop, render assistance, give name and address at the scene of an accident or failing to file an accident report within 10 days.
  • Towing a water skier not wearing a USCG approved life jacket without an observer in the boat.
  • Operating a motorboat without a muffled exhaust or with a cutout on the exhaust.
  • Failure to obey regulatory water markers.
  • Operating a motorboat or skis in an area designated for swimming.
  • Engaging in snorkeling or scuba diving in waters open to boating without displaying a flag (no boat shall approach closer than 25 yards when flag displayed).

Boating Accident Reporting

As the operator of a vessel, you are required by law to file a formal, written report of your boating accident with the VDGIF under certain circumstances.

When a Report is Required

A formal, written report must be filed with VDGIF when there is:

  • Damage over $2000 by or to the vessel or its equipment;
  • Injury (requiringmedical help beyond First Aid) or loss of life; and/or
  • Disappearance of any person froma vessel.

To inform Law Enforcement about an accident that has just occurred, please call your county or city law enforcement group, sheriff’s office, Conservation Police Officer, or Department dispatcher (800-237-5712) or 911.

When a person dies or disappears as a result of an occurrence that involves a vessel or its equipment, the operator is required by law to notify the VDGIF in Richmond, Virginia, or the most immediately available Department Conservation Police Officer without delay and by the quickest means possible.

Time Frame for Reporting

Written reports must be filed within the following time frames from the boating accident:

  • 48 hours, if a person dies within 24 hours of the accident;
  • 48 hours if a person involved is injured and cannot perform usual activities;
  • 48 hours if a person disappears from a vessel;
  • 10 days if an earlier report is not required but becomes necessary; and/or
  • 10 days if the boat or property damage is in excess of $2000 or total boat loss.

How to File a Written Accident Report

Boating Accident Report forms can also be obtained from local law enforcement authorities, Department Conservation Police Officers, VDGIF website, and all Department offices. You may submit the completed forms in person or send them to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Boating Accident, 7870 Villa Park Dr., Suite 400, P.O. Box 90778, Henrico, VA 23228. The boat operator or owner usually completes the form unless she/he is physically unable to do so.

Duty to Stop and Render Assistance

It is the duty of every operator involved in a collision to stop and offer assistance. Operators involved in a collision, who knowingly fail to comply with this law when the collision or accident results in serious bodily injury to, or the death of, any person, shall be guilty of a Class 6 Felony. When a collision or accident results in only property damage, the operator who does not comply with this law shall be guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

Boat Theft Prevention

When Buying a Boat

  • Be careful because it could be stolen.
  • Be certain that the boat’s description on the title matches the boat you are buying. Check year, make, length, and hull identification number.
  • Be sure the model and serial number on an outboard motor have not been removed, tampered with or altered.
  • Be suspicious of a fresh paint job on a late model vessel.
  • When buying a used vessel, try to deal with a reputable marine dealer or a broker licensed by the state.
  • If the price seems too good to be true, there is a good chance that the boat is stolen.

Equipment Identification

  • Mark all equipment when purchased.
  • If your boat was built before 1972, it may not have a hull identification number.
  • It is a good idea to inscribe that registration number onto some unexposed location on the interior of your boat.
  • Document boat contents.
  • Store gear/electronics when not in use.

Trailerable Boats

Stealing a boat is much easier if a thief can hitch up to your boat on a trailer and drive away. These tips may help.

  • If possible, store the boat and trailer in a locked garage.
  • Store boats in the back or side yard out of sight.
  • Store the boat with the trailer tongue not easily accessible.
  • Park another vehicle or other large object in front of the trailer.
  • Remove one trailer wheel.
  • Purchase a good quality trailer hitch lock and use it—even if stored inside.

Vessel Security

There are several things that can be done to reduce the risk of vessel theft.

  • Lock Marine Hatch.
  • Lock the Forward Hatch.
  • Lock Windows

Report It

If your boat, trailer, or gear is missing, report it immediately to the following groups. Use your written and photographic marine record to give specific and complete information.

  • Local law enforcement agencies.
  • Your insurance company.
  • Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
  • The dock or harbormaster.
  • Neighboring boaters.
  • Local newspapers.

Capsizings and Falls Overboard

Capsizings and falls overboard are the leading cause of fatal boating incidents. To help lessen the chance of capsizing or falling overboard, follow these basic safety tips:

  • Always wear your life jacket.
  • Stay low in the boat and maintain 3 points of contact. Keep 2 feet and 1 hand, or 2 hands and 1 foot in contact with the boat at all times. If seated, you have one point of contact on the seat, and still need to maintain 2 others – such as 1 foot, 1 hand, 2 feet, etc.
  • When loading supplies into a boat, have one person get into the boat and then hand that person the supplies.
  • If retrieving an item from the water, maneuver the boat close to the object and use a boathook or paddle. If you do need to reach outside the hull of the boat, keep 3—points of contact.
  • Keep an even, balanced load.
  • Do not attach the anchor line to the stern of the boat.
  • When pulling up the anchor, stay low in the boat and well balanced.
  • If in rough waters, head the bow of the boat anywhere from directly into the seas up to a 45 degree angle depending on sea state and vessel construction.
  • Follow the information stated on the “Capacity Plate.” Never exceed the allowable weight, horsepower rating, or maximum number of people.

2009-2012 VDGIF Claytor Lake Accident Statistics


View Claytor Lake Accident Statistics 2009-2012 in a larger map

Accident Data Pie Chart

Accident Vehicle Pie Chart

Time Accident Pie Chart