Missouri Boating Laws

Missouri has some of the most scenic lake country in the entire planet.  We all know from watching the hit Netflix series Ozarks that the Lake of the Ozarks with over 1,100 miles of shore line has more water front than the entire state of California!  Whether you are planning on spending time in Party Cove down in the Ozarks, fishing at Table Rock lake or spending time on any of our many rivers and waterways, it is important to make sure you have everything you need to operate your watercraft safely and legally. 

Use our guide from attorney Gonzalo Fernandez to understand Missouri boating laws.

First and Foremost, Necessary Documents and Procedures


For any motorized watercraft or sail boat over 12ft:

You need to register and title  motorized watercrafts with the Missouri Department of Revenue within 60 days of purchase. This includes jet skis!

Boating License

If you were born after January 1, 1984, you need a Missouri boater safety identification card indicating that you passed the Missouri Boater Education test. Residents of Missouri can get this status added to their driver’s license in lieu of carrying their boating license.

Operating a Motorized Boat

What class of boat do I have?

Depending on what class of motor vehicle you have, some of the requirements needed to operate your boat in Missouri  will change. 

  • Class A: <16ft
  • Class 1: 16-25ft
  • Class 2: 26-39ft
  • Class 3: 40+ ft

What equipment do I need for my boat?

  1. Make sure you have both your boat registration and boating license with you or on the boat
  2. Make sure you have enough coast guard approved life jackets for all passengers
    1. These life jackets need to located in an easy to reach area that is not obscured
  3. Ensure that you have proper number and type of fire extinguishers for your boat class
    1. Class 1 and A
      1. One B1 type fire extinguisher
    2. Class 2 
      1. One B2 type fire extinguisher; or
      2. Two B1 extinguishers
    3. Class 3
      1. Three B1 type fire extinguishers; or 
      2. One B2 type and one B1 type fire extinguisher; or 
      3. A fixed fire extinguishing system and one B2 type fire extinguisher; or 
      4. A fixed fire extinguishing system and two B1 type fire extinguishers.
  4. Make sure your vessel has a working horn or whistle
  5. Make sure you have throwable floatation device if your boat is over 16ft long
  6. If you plan on operating your watercraft from sunset to sunrise, make sure you have proper navigational lights

What do I need when riding a motorized boat?

  • Children under the age of 7 on a non-contained water craft must wear a floatation device
  • The driver must have a lanyard-type engine cutoff switch on them if offered by manufacturer

Operating a Jet Ski in Missouri

What equipment needs to be on the jet ski?

  1. Make sure you have your boating license and jet ski registration
  2. Make sure you have enough coast guard approved life jackets for all passengers
  3. Ensure that you have a B1 fire extinguisher
  4. Make sure your vessel has a working horn or whistle

What do I need to know about riding a jet ski?

  • You and anyone else onboard must be wearing a coast guard approved  life jacket
  • The driver must have a lanyard-type engine cutoff switch on them if offered by manufacturer
  • Children under the age of 14 cannot operate a jet ski unless someone over the age of 16 is accompanying them

What if I want to drink on a motorized boat?

Missouri’s DWI laws apply to all motorized vehicles which includes boats.  When people get in a boat they seem to get swept away by the fun and the scenery and they forget that they are operating a piece of heavy high speed machinery, which they can not due under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  The same rules that apply to driving a car also apply to a boat when it comes to alcohol.  The legal blood alcohol limit in Missouri is .08%

  • You cannot have 4 gallon containers or beer bongs on your craft except in the Mississippi, Missouri, and Osage rivers.

Penalties for boating while under the influence include a Class B misdemeanor + completion of approved boating safety course for the first conviction

What if I’m planning on using a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard?

All you need to do is make sure you and any other passengers have appropriate life jackets on and enjoy! If you’re boating  after sunset, you will need to make sure you have proper lighting.

What does a coast guard approved life jacket include?

Over 80% of drowning victims were reported not wearing a life jacket. Ensuring you and all your passengers have proper approved life jackets can help to minimize drowning risks.

  • Almost all approved life jackets will include a label inside indicating details such as appropriate activity, performance summary, and third-party testing verification
  • They must be appropriately sized for each person aboard
    • This means that the life jacket cannot rise about the users chin when in use
  • Make sure life jackets are stored in an area where they can be easily obtained and unobscured

Violations of Missouri’s life jacket law can result in a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.