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The Three Most Common Boating Violations and How to Avoid Them

By James Moffitt

Photos by Meghan Marchetti/DWR

Now is the time to be on the water! Virginia has some incredible fisheries and waterways worth exploring or relaxing on. However, it’s important to remember that boating safety should always come first. We recently spoke with Sgt. Tyler Bumgarner, a 16-year veteran of Virginia’s Conservation Police force, to learn about some of the most common boating violations and what can be done to avoid them.

If you have questions or need a refresher on boating safety and education, you can visit DWR’s boating page.

Safety Device Violations

“This is something that we’ve been seeing a lot more of, especially with paddlecraft. You have to have a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), or lifejacket, readily available,” said Bumgarner.

According to the Virginia DWR required equipment list, there must be one wearable U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on the boat. This includes paddlecraft (canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards). Boats 16 feet and greater also require throwable flotation devices aboard.

Bumgarner explained: “We would really prefer that people wear their life jacket at all times, but it’s not required. It is mandatory to have a serviceable life jacket for every person aboard. This is especially important with children, and you need to make sure their safety device fits and is in serviceable condition.”

Visual Distress Signals

Another common violation is a lack of visual distress signals. According to the boating regulations, all power boats 16 feet or greater in length shall be equipped with visual distress signaling devices at all times when operating on coastal waters. This regulation applies to all coastal waters and those rivers 2 miles or more wide at the mouth and up to the first point the river narrows to less than 2 miles.

The types and amounts of signals you may be required to carry will vary depending on your vessel. You can always get the exact information you need in DWR’s Fishing and Boating regulations and on the DWR website.

“We see a lot of people that have visual distress signals that are no longer in serviceable condition,” said Bumgarner. “Maybe you left them in your boat and they got wet, or they’re just very old. We recommend that people inspect them at the start of every season to make sure they are in good condition.”

Navigation Lights

Another very common violation is a lack of navigation lights, according to Bumgarner. With summer fishing heating up, this becomes especially important for those early morning trips or when you are planning to stay out past dark.

According to DWR’s Boating regulations, recreational boats, while underway, are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.

The boating regulations also explain proper positioning and when and how the lights should be used in greater detail.

“A lot of times when people don’t have navigation lights it’s because they didn’t check them before going out,” said Bumgarner. “In some cases, the lights may not be functional and weren’t tested before going out. Or, if people are using detachable lights, they forgot to pack them before their trip.”

Advice From a CPO

Bumgarner went on to explain that practicing common sense and conducting a safety inspection of your vessel before the season are great ways to help avoid these boating violations. “Make sure that what you have is in good, serviceable condition,” he said.

The last piece of advice Bumgarner offered was this: “Always have a float plan. Keep an eye on the weather, and do your best to be prepared. If you’re unsure, contact your regional CPO. We’re here to help.”


James Moffitt is an outdoors writer, hunter, and angler based in Richmond.

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  • June 23, 2023