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Safety secrets: Maine's boating laws you've never heard of

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Boating rules are unusual things: no one really studies them. Think about it. In order to go hunting, you have to take and pass a hunter's safety course. This requires you to study safety tips and laws about hunting. In order to drive, you have to take a driving test. Again, you have to study the rules. Every student coming out of driver's education has spent agonizing hours memorizing mundane details from rules of the road and traffic laws. When it comes to boats and other water transportation, however, people are left on their own to learn the laws. So what can get you in trouble in the water? Here's a look at some of the laws on Maine's books that range from sensible to bizarre.

Watch out for the bird -- According to a summary of boating rules compiled by, it is illegal to 'pursue, molest, harass, drive or herd any wild animal or wild birds, except as may be permitted during the open season on that animal.' In other words, steer clear of big bird and you'll be all set. 

Children must always wear a life jacket -- Or so we thought. According to the same summary mentioned above, children 10 years and under must always wear a life jacket. The exception? When they are at summer camp. The summary says that the canoes must be owned by the summer camp, operated 500 feet from the shoreline, and under the supervision of a camp counselor who is at least 18 years of age.  

But Tom Sawyer never wears a life jacket -- According to Maine Navigational Laws, that's perfectly fine. State of Maine boating laws state that 'Log rafts carrying not more than 2 persons and used on ponds or lakes or internal waters of less than 50 acres in area, are exempt from carrying personal flotation devices.' Looks like Tom and Huck weren't rebels after all. 

License and registration please -- So we all know that you should carry your license with you on land, but what about water? The boating laws in Maine say that you must possess proof of age when operating a personal watercraft, such as a jet-ski. This is because in Maine you must be 18 to operate a jet-ski, or accompanied by someone who is. You may drive a jet-ski between the ages of 16 and 18 if you have successfully completed an approved education course. 

There you have it, some of the most overlooked regulations of Maine's waters. If you would like to receive an official copy of Maine Boating Laws and Rules by mail, you can do so by calling (207) 287-8000. You can also purchase the e-book by visiting


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