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Boating Basics

The three-day July 4 holiday weekend is a great time to launch your boat and have some fun on Kentucky’s waterways. Before you begin your float, however, make sure that you’re both legal and safe.

Start with the boat’s registration. All boats powered by a motor must be registered through a county clerk’s office. This includes canoes powered by a trolling motor. Canoes, kayaks, boards, or johnboats powered only by muscle and a paddle do not need to be registered.

If you’re using a motorboat and haven’t had it out this year, perform some basic safety checks and make sure everything operates properly. Boats 16 feet and longer must have a whistle, horn, or other signaling device. If you carry anything combustible in your boat—gas tank, propane tank, or even a lantern slung over the side of your canoe—you must have a fire extinguisher in good working condition on board. 
One of the most important items to carry is a personal flotation device, what most folks call a life jacket or life preserver. Its nickname is well-deserved.

“Rarely does anyone drown in a boating accident when they’re wearing a life jacket,” notes Zac Campbell, boating education coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “You may think that you may not need a life jacket, but an accident can happen at any time. You should at least wear it if you’re under way.”

Every boat must have a correctly sized life jacket for every person on board. Canoeists, kayakers, and paddle boarders must have them as well. State law requires kids under 12 to wear a life jacket in an open boat while it’s under way. Adults aren’t required to wear a life jacket while boating, but must have one readily accessible. However, it’s a good idea for everyone to wear one while the boat is under way.

Kentucky also sets age limits on who can operate the more powerful boats and personal watercraft.

Children under 12 cannot operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a motor greater than 10 horsepower. Youth between 12 and 17 must pass the Kentucky boating safety education course before they can operate any kind of boat with a motor greater than 10 horsepower. People older than 17 are not required by law to have this safety training, but it’s highly recommended.

For more information about Kentucky’s boating regulations, see the Kentucky Fishing & Boating Guide or go online to Have a safe summer on the water.

See the latest fishing reports on Kentucky Afield TV, airing statewide on KET at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 7:30 p.m. Central on Saturdays, and 4:30 p.m. Eastern, 3:30 p.m. Central on Sundays. The program also airs on KET2 and KETKY; check online at for schedules.

DAVE BAKER is editor of Kentucky Afield magazine, with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Visit or call  (800) 858- 1549 for more information.

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