Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report

February 27, 2002





By: Joseph R. Holstead, Research Analyst

You asked for information about boat registration, regulation and penalties, and storage.


Connecticut law requires that all boats with motors, regardless of size, and 19.5 feet or longer sailboats (powered only by sail), be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles and numbered before launching. The majority of boating laws and regulations are based on circumstances and conditions that have caused boating accidents and fatalities in the past. Department of Environmental Protection regulations govern speed, age for operators, proper navigation and operation, mooring, and more.

All information in this report regarding boating registration and regulations can be found in the DEP's 2002 Boater's guide at The sections relevant to this report are attached.

Local zoning regulations govern storage of boats on personal property.


Connecticut law requires that all boats with motors, regardless of size, and sailboats, which are 19.5 feet or longer and powered only by sail, be registered and numbered by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) before launching. Evidence of ownership must be presented at registration. All operators of Connecticut numbered boats must possess a Connecticut Safe Boating Certificate.

Boaters receive an identification number and a certificate of registration, as well as two validation decals, once the DMV receives their application and fee. The registration certificate is valid until April 30 of the following year. But the Connecticut vessel number stays with the boat as long as it is registered in the state.

A certificate of number or registration or a certificate of decal or registration must be on board whenever the owner or any person he authorizes is aboard. Rented boats can carry a rental agreement in lieu of a certificate.

Vessels that are at least five tons and wholly owned by a U.S. citizen (including vessels used exclusively for pleasure) must be documented with the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard issues a certificate of document annually with an official number. This number must be permanently marked in a clearly visible fashion on the exterior of the hull.

Documented vessels and vessels numbered by another state, which are moored, docked, or operated for more than 60 days in Connecticut during any calendar year must obtain a Connecticut certificate of decal and display a current Connecticut validation sticker on both sides of the bow. They do not need a Connecticut vessel number. Their owners must obtain a Connecticut Safe Boating Certificate.

A boater who changes addresses must inform the DMV's, Marine Vessel Section in writing within 15 days of moving. The boater must cross out the old address and write in the new one on the back of the certificate. If a boat is sold, stolen, or destroyed, the boater must also write within 15 days to the DMV and return the certificate with a note containing the new owner's address or stating that the vessel was stolen or destroyed. After a boat is sold, stolen, or destroyed, a boater may register a newly purchased vessel for $1. If the new vessel is larger, the DMV will adjust the fee accordingly.

Position of Vessel Numbers and Decals

The numbers assigned to a boat must be displayed in a distinctly visible manner on the boat's port and starboard bow. The decals or paint displaying these numbers must be at least three inches tall and a distinctly different color than that of the boat.

Penalties. Failure to number a vessel or have corresponding documents, failure to display registration decals, failure to carry vessel registration, failure to display vessel registration, and altering or defacing registration or certificate of number all carry a $60 fine (CGS 15-140(e)-144(c)).

Operation of a vessel without number and registration carries a $120 fine for a first offense with penalties increasing and the vessel being subject to seizure pending proof of payment of numbering or registration fees for subsequent violations (CGS 15-144(h)).

Operation of a boat without a certificate or vessel operator license carries an $80 fine (CGS 15-140 (e)).

See attachment 1 for more information on registration.


DEP boating regulations govern the following areas, which are explained below with the corresponding infraction fines or penalties:

1. Speeding

2. Reckless operation

3. Operating under the influence

4. Hazardous conditions

5. Age restrictions

6. Riding on decks and gunwales

7. Diving and underwater operations

8. Water-skiing

9. Boating accidents and accident report

10. Required reporting by towboat operators

11. Mooring to buoys

12. Interference with navigation

13. Marine event permits and markers

Attachment 2 contains a list of infractions and fines.

Speed Regulations

Within 100 feet of shore, dock, pier, float, or an anchored or moored vessel, no one may operate a motorboat at a speed over six miles per hour unless taking off or landing a water-skier. When within 100 feet of buoys marking a restricted swimming or boat access area, vessels must be operated at the minimum speed necessary to maintain steerageway.

When no limits are posted, a boat's operator must travel at a rate that will not endanger others. For example, the boat must be able to stop safely within the clear distance seen ahead by the driver. A boater must reduce speed when passing near marinas, fishing areas, swimming areas, a vessel at anchor, or similar places.

Operators are responsible for damage caused by their wakes. Because speed limits vary for certain conditions and areas, a boater must comply with posted regulatory signs and other regulations (listed below). Every vessel must, under crowded conditions or in reduced visibility, go at a moderate speed with careful regard for existing circumstances and conditions. Actions such as speeding in confined or restricted areas, as well as skiing at prohibited times or in restricted areas, can also be construed as reckless or negligent operation.

Penalties. Speeding fines vary from one body of water to another. In general, speeding violations are infractions that draw an $80 fine, (CGS 15-139 (b)).

However, speeding that results in an accident, injury, or that is accompanied by threatening driving of a vessel may be considered reckless operation.

Reckless Operation

Reckless operation is the failure to exercise the degree of care necessary to prevent endangering another person or anyone's property. It can be the result of operator ignorance, carelessness, inattention, or indifference.

A person commits reckless operation in the first degree when he operates a vessel at such speed or maneuvers a vessel in such a manner as to result in death, serious physical injury, or damage to property over $1,000. A second-degree offense is one that endangers anyone's life, limb, or property.

Penalties. First degree reckless operation can carry a fine of $1,000, imprisonment up to six months, or both. A second-degree offense carries a $120 fine.

Anyone guilty of reckless operation of a vessel in the first degree or second degree while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, or both, may be fined, imprisoned, or both. Operating under the influence carries additional penalties.

Operating Under the Influence

No one may operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. An operator must also be free from physical or mental disabilities that might interfere with controlling the boat. Water-skiing under the influence is also illegal.

A person is considered to be under the influence if the ratio of alcohol in his blood is ten-hundredths of 1 % or more of alcohol, by weight.

Penalty. A person found to be operating under the influence is subject to a fine of $420, and he cannot operate a vessel or water-ski for 24 hours after his arrest.

Hazardous Conditions

Enforcement officers can stop a boater and require him to return to the nearest mooring if they discover a hazardous condition on his boat. The boat's operator must then correct the unsafe condition before proceeding.

Especially hazardous conditions are:

1. inadequate number of personal flotation devices (PFDs) or fire extinguishers,

2. overloading,

3. failure to display required navigation lights,

4. fuel leakage,

5. fuel accumulation (other than fuel tank),

6. failure to meet ventilation requirements,

7. failure to meet carburetor backfire flame arrestor requirements, and

8. excessive leakage or accumulation of water in the bilge.

Penalty. The hazardous conditions listed above are infractions that carry fines of $60 to $80 (CGS 15-129 (a) (1) – (7) – 15-133 (e)).

Age Restrictions

A child under age 12 who has been issued a safe boating or personal watercraft operation certificate may operate a vessel powered with a motor of greater than 10 horsepower only when he is accompanied on board by a person at least 18 years old who has been issued a safe boating personal watercraft operation certificate.

Penalty. This infraction carries an $80 fine (CGS 15-140 (h)).

Riding on Decks or Gunwales

While underway in a motorboat, boaters must not ride on the bow, gunwale, transom, or in any position that is obviously dangerous.

No operator of a moving vessel may allow any person to be on a decked-over bow (i.e., flooring that extends over the bow or the very tip of the boat) of such vessel, unless the vessel is equipped with a handrail that encompasses the bow and everyone on the bow is inward of the handrail. On moving vessels with open bows not decked-over, no operator may allow any person to sit or stand on the gunwale at the bow. These provisions do not apply to people in or on the bow of vessels that are anchoring, mooring, otherwise docking, or proceeding at a dead slow speed.

Penalty. Improper riding on decks or gunwales carries an $80 fine (CGS 15-139 (b)).

Diving and Underwater Operations

Anyone involved in underwater swimming or diving must display a clearly visible red flag with a white diagonal stripe (a diver down flag). The flag must be two-sided, not less than 13 inches high and 15 inches long. The white diagonal stripe must be reflective if the flag is to be used at night.

No one may operate a vessel or drive a water-skier within 100 feet of a device marking the location of an underwater swimmer or diver. Under no circumstances can a diver surface or swim more than 50 feet from this flag.

No more than four divers may use the same diver flag unless it is displayed from a boat, in which case the number of divers must be limited to the legal capacity of the boat. In federal waters, a blue or white flag (ALPHA flag) is used to indicate underwater operations from a vessel. The state's diver down flag may be used in addition to this in federal waters.

Penalty. The fine for failure to use a diver down flag, buoy, or other device and the fine for operating a vessel within 100 feet of a diver down flag is $60 (CGS 15-135 (a) – (c)).


Water-skiers must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) while skiing, except for those who are skiing barefoot and are wearing a specifically designed “barefoot wetsuit.” Skiers who doing trick skiing movements while wearing standard double trick skis at least eight inches wide and not over 46 inches long, and being towed at not more than 20 mph using a tow rope not over 50 feet long also, do not have to wear the Coast Guard PFD.

The operator of the boat must have a responsible observer who is at least 12 years old to assist him and monitor the water-skier's progress. The water-skier, observer, and the boat operator must use hand signals for communication. The maximum length of a towline measured from the tow post to the skier's tow handle is 100 feet. No part of the towline may be elastic.

Penalty. The fine for skiing in a prohibited area, reckless skiing, and failure to have an observer while towing a skier, is $80 (CGS 15-134 (a) – (d)). Violations of boating safety regulations carry an $80 fine (CGS 15-139 (b)).

Boating Accidents and Accident Reports

The operator of a vessel involved in an accident must remain at the accident scene and assist any other vessel or person involved, if it is possible to do so without endangering his own vessel or the people aboard. The operator must also give his name, address, and vessel identification number to the other boat operator(s) or owner of the damaged property.

The operator of a vessel involved in a boating accident that results in any of the circumstances noted below must immediately notify the nearest law enforcement agency, and within 48 hours of the accident report the matter in writing on a DEP form. The circumstances requiring a report are:

1. death of any person from whatever cause,

2. disappearance of any person from on board, and

3. any injury requiring medical attention beyond simple first aid.

An operator must report any accident resulting in property damage above $500 within five days of the accident on DEP forms. If the operator cannot make out the report, the owner or survivor of the accident must do so.

Penalties. Failure to notify a law enforcement agency and make a written report to the DEP of a boating accident involving death, serious injury, or disappearance results in a $120 fine (CGS 15-149 (a)).

Failure to make a written report to the DEP of a boating accident involving property damage in excess of $500 carries a $60 fine (CGS 15-149a (a)).

Required Reporting by Towboat Operators

Except in an emergency, a vessel towboat operator for hire must first notify federal, state, or municipal law enforcement authorities and the owner of the vessel before towing a recreational vessel that has been involved in a boating accident or that has been abandoned. If circumstances warrant it, a vessel should be immediately towed to safety to prevent its loss or injury to passengers, but the towboat operator must notify the proper authorities immediately upon reaching safe harbor. Failure to notify law enforcement authorities and the vessel owner is an infraction that results in a $60 fine (CGS 15-149a (b)).

Mooring to Buoys

Only mooring buoys may be used for mooring. Mooring to a navigation buoy or other aid to navigation or regulatory marker is an infraction with an $80 fine (CGS 15-133 (f)).

Interference with Navigation

In order to avoid interfering with navigation, a boater must (1) never obstruct a channel or fairway or interfere with the travel of other boats, (2) avoid anchoring in heavily traveled areas, and (3) not block launching areas. Interference with navigation is an infraction that results in an $80 fine (CGS 15-133 (b)).

Marine Event Permits & Markers

No marine parade, regatta, race, tournament or exhibition is permitted on the waters of the state except when authorized by the DEP. Placement of any marker other than a diver's flag requires a permit. A violation results in a $60 fine, (CGS 15-133 (e)).


Several different law enforcement agencies enforce Connecticut's state statutes and regulations and federal navigational laws. The U.S. Coast Guard patrols federal waters (Long Island Sound) and enforces federal laws. Municipal police officers, state conservation officers, town marine officers, lake patrolmen, and certified harbormasters are empowered to enforce state boating regulations. In their jurisdiction, enforcement officers have authority to stop and board boats to check for compliance with federal or state law or to search without warrant, upon probable cause, whether other laws have been violated.

Law enforcement vessels engaged in enforcement activities may display a flashing blue light or audible signal. When they see a vessel with flashing blue lights or hear an audible signal, operators must slow down, yield right of way, or if signaled to do so, stop their vessels.

Flashing blue lights are forbidden for other than law enforcement vessels, except flashing yellow lights are allowed on high speed ferries, submarines, and air cushion vessels. Other vessels may display flashing white lights for emergency or other signaling. Only law enforcement vessels can use sirens, but any vessel may be equipped with a theft alarm that cannot be used as an ordinary warning signal.

See attachment 3 for more information on all of the above regulations and restrictions.


Storage of boats on personal property depends on a municipality's or town's local zoning regulations. For example, Norwalk's zoning regulations specifically address the storage of recreational vehicles in residential zones and vary from zone to zone. In Bristol, no more than two recreational vehicles, including boats, maybe kept on a person's property. Wallingford regulates both boats and RVs by size. Anything 20 feet or less may be kept in a driveway, but those over 20 feet cannot be in the driveway, but must be kept in a side or rear yard. They must also be covered (screened) from October - April.

Attachment 4 lists local water regulations and boat launching information for the entire state.