Newport Harbor Boating Regulations

The basics, as indicated in the reference guide to state boating laws:


  • Minimum operator age is 16. Adult supervision and education for minors are required. Licensing is required for all operators of all personal watercraft (PWC). There is no minimum age for certification.
  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD) Rhode Island law requires all children age 12 and under to wear a life jacket whenever a recreational vessel up to 65 feet is under way and the children are on deck, even in the cockpit. All vessels are required to have wearable life jackets on board, they have to be the right size, in good condition, USCG approved, and there has to be one for each person in the boat. (This law also applies to dinghies.) Vessels 16 feet in length and longer have an additional requirement to carry an approved type IV throwable USCG-approved flotation device. PWC Operators and passengers are required to wear a lifejacket. Anyone towed behind a vessel, such as water skiers, tubers, wakeboarders, or other devices, must wear a USCG-approved life jacket.
  • A boater with blood alcohol concentration of .08, under the influence of a controlled substance or drugs will be considered intoxicated. All state and local police agencies will be enforcing “boating under the influence” laws.
  • Illegal Dumping is subject to a $500 fine and/or one year in jail. Rhode Island is a zero discharge state, meaning no waste, treated or untreated, may be discharged in state waters. This prohibits a Y-valve through-hull discharge and requires Y-valves to be locked. Second offenses double the punishment: a $1000 fine and a year in jail.
  • No water skiing in Newport Harbor. Towing skiers outside the harbor require an onboard observer, at least 12 years old with an unobstructed view. A “skier down” flag is not required, but a kill-switch is. Water-skiers must be at least 12 years old.
  • Don’t tow a water skier in heavily traveled or restricted waters, such as swimming areas, narrows, winding channels and areas containing docks, floats and buoys. If a skier tumbles, the boat should approach skier from the leeward side. Stop the motor before taking the skier aboard, and be careful not to swamp the boat when doing so. In smaller craft, it is normally safer to take skiers aboard over the stern.
  • Lights Ensure that when operating your vessel at night, your running lights work and are properly displayed. Dinghies should have a lantern (light) that can be displayed if approached by another vessel.
  • Speed/Safety 5 MPH, no-wake speed limit in public harbors is enforced. Keep a sharp lookout when operating your vessel. Newport and vicinity is a very busy and congested area. Obey speed/wake signs and buoys and watch your wake at all times, this will help prevent injuries and damage to moored and docked boats.
  • Every Motorboat on RI waters must be registered. The number must be painted or attached to the bow of the boat and the certificate of number must be aboard when underway.
  • Accidents resulting in damage over $100, injury, or death must be reported to the Department of Environment Management, Division of Enforcement, 83 Park Street, Providence, RI 02903. General Information 401-222-6800, After Hours Emergencies 401-222-3070.
  • Scuba divers must use flags. Boaters must leave a 50-foot radius around dive flags to ensure the safety of the divers below or on the surface. Divers must be certified and wear large-volume buoyancy control devices and submersible pressure gauges. Spearfishing is allowed with a recreational saltwater fishing license from RI or a reciprocal state (NY, CT, MA and ME), but guns may only be loaded and unloaded in the water. Divers unfamiliar with RI waters should check with dive shops for information, events and dive sites.
  • HUNGRY? Licenses are required for the removal of lobsters. Penalties for illegal removal are severe and strictly enforced.


Photo: Onne van der Wal